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Slack is making work even more stressful—so we asked designers to reinvent it

Chat-based work apps are increasingly changing the way we work—and not always for the better. 5 designers offer less stressful concepts.

Open windows from Slack, Whats App, and Gchat in gradient colors on a grayscale background.

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You’re at home, streaming your favorite TV show, following a recipe, or on a video call with your family, and suddenly you hear the noise again. The familiar “knock brush” echoes from the screen, making your heart leap into your throat.

Maybe you’ve forgotten to put on your Do Not Disturb again, or maybe you never have it on at all—and so an unexpected Slack notification reminds you of all the work anxieties you thought you left behind for the day.

You’ve probably experienced something like this (many times) before: These days, with Slack, Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Workplace, WhatsApp, Notion, Gather, Trello, and many other communication apps at our fingertips, it can feel like work finds a way to reach us any time, any hour, any day. During the pandemic, remote work has led to more messaging, and online meetings, than ever before: According to Teams, users are sending 45% more messages than in pre-pandemic years. And chat-based work applications are increasingly changing the way that we work, too: Now, it can feel integral to reply as soon as a message from a boss, or client, appears on your laptop.

We spoke with five thought-provoking designers about the applications that are ruling their work screens, and how they’d like to see Slack and the like change for the better. Their ideas for alternative apps and features range from the calming to the sporty to the practical to the bizarre. But one message resonates across all of their concepts: In our age of notification abundance, it’s time we start putting ourselves, and our mental health, first.

1. An app that gives you a clean slate

An illustration with the web windows at an angle. Each features one logo from either What's App, Slack, and Gchat.
Illustration by Anita Goldstein.

“It would be cool to have more focus in the morning. I want a tool that starts your day by asking you what you’re going to do, and then makes that transparent to the rest of your team. This product would also communicate to me what my colleagues are working on that day—and who is free and who isn’t. It would know that from 11am to 1pm, two teammates are available, so I could spontaneously jump on a call with them rather than having to make a strict plan.

“The front end experience of this tool would be a calm, empty space. You’d write your day plan —and if you’re struggling, it would trigger previous tasks you’ve been doing for you to review. But each day, you’d always start with a clean page. Not something cluttered. And not a chat with thousands of unread messages.” Julia Shkatova, digital product designer

2. An app in the metaverse

An illustration of a green text bubble and a pink text bubble over a black circle in the center of a red composition.
Could a messaging app that integrates the metaverse encourage human interaction? Illustration by Gordon Reid.

“One of the biggest issues with working from home is the lack of proper human interaction: I’ve had days where the only face-to-face chat I have is with the postman.

“Encouraging the day-to-day interaction you have at the office would be my main priority if I were to design a work app: You’d pop over to someone’s desk and have a chat, or be able to create meeting rooms with Miro-style functionality where everyone can freely contribute. All of this while being very user friendly and not making my laptop sound like it's about to explode…

“Hopefully these functions would then eradicate pre-meeting anxieties, help teams build proper rapports again, and enable much more productive ideation sessions as you won't need two apps open simultaneously.” — Gordon Reid, founder of Middle Boop

3. An app for otter lovers—and kindness