What We Learned From Slack Frontiers About Remote Work and Collaboration Tools

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AND WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW TO PRESERVE YOUR TEAM’S SLACK COMMUNICATIONS

Hanzo was proud to participate this year in Slack Frontiers, Slack’s annual user forum. Slack Frontiers went fully virtual, as most conferences have, and had a record-breaking 18,800 registrations. If you had never used Slack before, the conference itself was a true showcase for the value Slack brings for connecting global teams and helping them engage. One such example, was the #social-yelling channel which attracted more than 300 people in full ALL CAPS JOY over the course of the event. Following is a little message regarding the social goal of the channel.

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This channel fostered community with strangers that had people joking, sharing questions, posts from other channels and lessons they learned.

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Of course, much of the conversation at the conference was about workplace transformation and the overnight switch to remote work in early 2020. To better understand the challenges and benefits of remote work, Slack recently conducted a global survey of more than 9,000 office workers, asking what the best—and worst—parts of remote work have been.

The Remote Employee Experience Index found that “connection is the biggest challenge” for remote workers. Now that people are working from scattered locations and often on asynchronous schedules as they try to juggle homeschooling and other obligations, how can teams stay connected and focused? How can organizations bring back more of the connection of a physical workspace without removing the advantages of remote work for those who find it more rewarding?

Fortunately, Slack’s collaboration tools offer answers to these questions. For every downside to remote work, Slack has a potential solution. Here’s what you need to know to use Slack responsibly to offset a dispersed workforce’s disadvantages.

REMOTE WORK IMPEDES CONNECTION; SLACK BUILDS CONNECTION

In the good old days—aka before February 2020—teams stayed connected by sharing a physical workspace. It was easy to get an answer to a question: pop next door to your co-worker’s office. Making a connection was all but unavoidable, with employees crossing paths in the hallways, the lunchroom, and even the restroom. In-person meetings (remember those?) ensured that teams saw and heard each other regularly.

Now, of course, all of that physical closeness has evaporated, but the need for connection hasn’t. New employees still need guidance. Co-workers still need to feel solidarity with their teams. Departments still need to stay on the same page with how they manage work. And beyond the organization’s needs, many employees realize that—increased productivity at home notwithstanding—they miss their close work friends.

But connecting isn’t dependent on physical closeness. Remember that social-yelling channel, I mentioned earlier? Imagine the energy you can create with colleagues collaborating.

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Slack’s whole raison d’être is keeping teams connected and communicating. Teams can use dedicated Slack channels to get answers to their questions, check in on their projects’ status, and troubleshoot thorny issues. Managers can stay in touch with their reports and provide meaningful mentorship regardless of physical separation. And work friends can use social channels to keep up-to-date on each other’s families, vent about homeschooling demands, and crowdsource which stores have toilet paper in stock.

EMPLOYEE OBLIGATIONS REQUIRE DIFFERENT SCHEDULES; SLACK STREAMLINES ASYNCHRONOUS WORK

Of course, 2020 hasn’t just sent employees home from the office: it’s also sent children home from school or daycare, shortened store hours, and increased the difficulty of many household errands and chores. As a result, many employees find that they need to “fit in” their work schedule around their other duties. That means that work is not only physically separated; it’s also temporally disjointed.

Slack, again, provides an answer. Unlike a meeting, a knock on the door, or a phone call, Slack posts, and messages are neither time- nor time zone-dependent. They will be there, chronologically sorted, when you can get to them. If a team member has an urgent need, they can send their request to the entire team, increasing the odds that someone will jump in and help. Alternatively, you can set up an “urgent” channel and ensure that someone monitors that channel at all times. Slack communications enable workplace flexibility around not only space but also time. Plus, each user can set their notification settings to their preference, leading to our third point.

ONE SIZE NEVER FITS ALL; SLACK ENABLES WORKSPACE CUSTOMIZATION

Slack’s workplace survey pointed out that not everyone has responded to working from home in the same way. Some workers have relished the freedom to set their schedules; others have languished without in-person social contact or clear boundaries between work and home. Organizations need to find solutions that are as diverse and individualized as their employees.

Fortunately, Slack can be customized to meet a wide variety of communication preferences. Individuals can follow whatever channels they choose, including or omitting “social” channels or participating only in those relevant to their lives. They can set notifications for different levels of urgency and mute them during “off” hours. Employees can mark themselves as “away” during vacations, children’s class times, or meetings. Of course, individuals can choose to use Slack as much, or as little, as they prefer, getting to know their colleagues or staying focused on their work.

Of course, there is a caveat to all the advantages of Slack: your organization must be prepared to integrate Slack communications into its information governance, ediscovery, and compliance recordkeeping pipelines. Slack data—like Slack itself—is unique, which means it can be challenging to manage.

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