Slack CTO Cal Henderson
Between March 10 and March 25 this year, Slack’s concurrent users rose from ten million to 12.5 million, as more people were forced to work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. WIRED spoke to Slack’s co-founder and CTO Cal Henderson about how communication has changed under lockdown and which work trends will continue once the pandemic is over.
How will the workplace change post-Covid-19?
We’re never going to see a return to how things were back in January – a lot of major companies are going to embrace remote working permanently. Part of that is because the tools now enable it. We’ve seen that people can be as productive in this hybrid remote office reality, without a really big drop in productivity.
What will the physical office look like?
Is the office much more oriented around shared meeting spaces? Is it about collaboration as opposed to a place you go and do individual-focused work? We had already seen a shift in our offices just over the last six years, where we now have as many seats in shared spaces, like meeting rooms or collaborative spaces, as we do desk seats. I think it’s hard to imagine that a couple of years from now we would have an assigned desk for everybody at the company.
Is there anything we’re doing more of now that will continue post-pandemic?
One of the pre-Covid challenges for teams that were semi-distributed was that the majority of the team was in the office and maybe one person was in another office or one person was working remotely. That person is at a big disadvantage. They miss out on a lot of the communication and decisions and that kind of informal conversation…
And so I think that [there will be] a shift towards recording, whether it’s video recording or whether it’s sending in a tool like Slack a recording of work that happens, so that it levels the playing field for whether people are physically in an office together or whether they’re distributed.
How can people best use Slack when working remotely?
Turning meetings into a conversation in Slack can’t be done for every kind of meeting, but I think something that we’ve seen a lot of our customers find success with is eliminating status check meetings and turning that instead into a stand-up inside Slack or into a channel inside Slack.
Trivago has been a Slack customer for quite a while and the organisation has built quite a lot of employee engagement materials and bots on top of their Slack instance.
One of the things that they’ve been doing throughout the crisis is send each employee a few questions on Slack each week to gauge how they’re doing — things like understanding how their work contributes to the goals of the organisation, or asking if they’re happy with how frequently they’re being recognised or if the level of communication from their manager is high enough, or if they understand what their team is working on. Gathering that data has helped them to understand bright spots or weak spots in the organisation and address those.
It’s not just the bringing of the work on to the platform, but also understanding and focusing on employee wellbeing and team morale and team health as well.
Which other tools will help us work more effectively?
We saw a really big spike in people receiving news through Slack, so plugging into news sources, whether that’s things like Twitter or the Harvard Business Review – getting information straight into their Slack instances.
More importantly, we’re seeing a big increase in usage of collaborative tools, things like Donut, which is a tool for doing stand-ups or getting to know people or setting up virtual coffee dates. And I think that kind of structured socialising within the workplace is needed in a distributed way. Otherwise, how do you meet random people? Or how do you spend time with people outside of meetings? Things like Loom, which is asynchronous video messaging, which we’ve seen quite a lot of usage of.
One of the challenges of being a remote workforce, and having to switch so suddenly to it, is that it requires a whole bunch of skills for leaders and managers. Not all companies had that kind of training ready to go. So services like Hone, which is leadership and career development training focused on remote teams – apps like that we’ve seen really big usage in.
Alex Lee is a writer for WIRED. He tweets from @1AlexL
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