Slack, Asana, Harvest…Oh My! How to Deal With Client App Fatigue

By Halley Bondy July 10th, 2020

Victoria Morrison works as a freelance remote copywriter. Like many independent contractors, she is drowning in apps.

In the past few years alone, Morrison has used Asana, multiple Slack channels, Harvest, Trello, Teamwork, Clockify, third-party billing apps, and various CMS platforms.

“One of my clients even made their own ticketing system app,” she said. “It’s set up so that during busy days, I get up to 200 emails a day, and most of the time they have nothing to do with me.”

With digital transformation sweeping corporate America and remote work on the rise due to COVID-19, employers are increasingly asking—expecting—freelancers to join their company-wide platforms as well as register with third-party vendors like and Kalo.

In-house employees may find these apps manageable—or even hail them as an improvement over older, more manual ways of doing things. But contractors are struggling to wrangle the digital clutter.

The surge of remote-work apps

Sharon Adarlo, a freelance illustrator and writer, has seen a huge uptick in mandated app use since the pandemic hit. Because her clients’ staff members are remote for the first time, she suddenly had to learn the ins and outs of Canvas, Asana, Vendor Cafe, and more, all without official training or compensation for the time she spent getting up to speed.

“There are too many things to sign up for ever since the pandemic started,” Adarlo said. “Each app has a learning curve. I just think, another password I have to squirrel away? Another thing to learn?”

Emma Vincent, a freelance content manager and social media writer, often gets confused switching from app to app, job to job. “If I say ‘let’s do a 15-20 minute phone call,’ I get way more information than I do out of those 30 Slack messages,” she said. “There have been times when I missed things because they sent it in some other channel I didn’t know I was supposed to be using. Why do we have these 10 different ways to contact each other?”

How managers get it wrong

The apps themselves aren’t inherently problematic. When set up in advance with clear communication, a workflow app can be extremely useful. Some gig-work platforms—Contently among them—are essential tools for finding work or for drumming up business.

Problems arise when managers start using apps on a whim without testing them or surveying their workers about their needs. Or they mandate more apps or features than necessary.

Executive coach Brandi Nicole Johnson believes the influx of apps during the pandemic has led to some avoidable mistakes. “Traditionally, managers are not training employees on these apps. Also, managers need to seek input from their team and direct reports and ask, ‘What do you want to use?'” Johnson said. “Some managers are not seeking feedback. They need to ask employees after a month, then after 60 days, and ask: ‘Is this working the way we thought it would?'”

Sometimes, clients may be inconsistent about their usage of the apps, which creates confusion.

“Some managers say to use the tool, and they don’t use it themselves,” Johnson said. “They’ll say, ‘We’re going to provide project updates in Trello,’ and they send their updates in an email. Managers really need to be in alignment with the company.”

Are apps encroaching on freelancer boundaries?

With more digital points of contact, managers also have more visibility into how freelancers work. That constant connection could impede on professional boundaries that freelancers have developed over the years.

Emma, for example, discourages employers from mandating time-tracking apps. “I became a contractor so I could set and monitor my own hours.”

Platforms like Slack can degrade the boundary between contractors and staff. Employers can ping freelancers at any time, and because of the chat feature, workers are expected to answer more promptly than, say, over email.

“I like that you get a little bit of a water cooler vibe from Slack, but at the same time, it’s weirdly informal,” Emma said. “It almost makes you part of a staff, even if that’s not the relationship you were originally brought on for.”

Jessica Sweeney, vice president of product at workplace software solution company Limelight Health, argued that much of the boundary-setting falls on the freelancer. Sweeney strongly encouraged freelancers to draw lines in the sand with their managers ahead of time. They can also use Slack’s “status” function to mark that they’re away or not receiving messages.

“I very much appreciate a freelancer who is clear with me upfront about defining the rules of engagement,” Sweeney said. “Freelancers have to stay true to their boundaries. If you answer a call at midnight, they’re going to expect you to answer at midnight. Many managers need constant reminding, and there are ways to do it that are unobtrusive.”

Though programs like Zapier can consolidate notifications from thousands of apps, there is currently no “perfect” system to tame the chorus of notifications. As new workflow apps continue to flood the market, freelancers may have to decide what they’re willing to put up with—and rid the ones that don’t make the cut.

“In this time when we’re so inundated with information, it’s important for us to be mindful of what we’re consuming,” Johnson said. “If you don’t use it, let it go.”

*Some names have been changed by request of the sources in order to avoid compromising their relationships with their clients.

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Photo credit: Annemarie Gorissen