From desert sun to virtual space: Taking our annual global sales event fully digital

As a leader, keeping your team safe and healthy is paramount. Here's how we reworked a major event at Slack in response to the coronavirus threat

Robert Frati, Slack's SVP of Sales and Customer Success

It was 7 Nov 2019, and I was looking forward to sharing a much anticipated, organisation-wide update – the formal announcement of our annual Global Sales Offsite.

GSO is a huge event for us. It’s the one time of the year that our entire sales and customer success team gets together to share best practices, communicate important updates and align on plans for success and growth. It’s an event that I’m passionate about. Some even call it ‘Bob’s wedding’. I put a lot of thought into planning, focus on details and go the extra mile to make it an amazing experience for everyone.

It’s more than an event. It’s a unique opportunity to educate, to inspire, to motivate and, most importantly, to share gratitude. I’m eager to thank everyone for their efforts and contributions and share broad recognition for individual and team achievements. Beyond that, there’s a bit of magic that comes with bringing together diverse teams from across the globe.

Slack UI for digital event planningSlack UI from 11/4 asking employees to book travel for GSO

Little did we know that by late February, all this planning for the event, scheduled to take place in Phoenix, would be at risk. The global health crisis that is the coronavirus was making it increasingly evident that we’d be far more concerned with health and safety than motivational speakers. We kept a close eye on world events and made sure that our sales team and partners stayed in the loop with frequent updates in the main GSO planning Slack channel. It’s where everyone knew to look for news and announcements.

Slack UI saying GSO is still happening

As more information became available, it became clear that cancellation was our only option.

It was rough. We had a large, cross-functional team who had poured their hearts and minds into making this an amazing experience. Yet in the end it was an easy decision. We knew it was the right thing to do, unquestionably.

UI saying GSO is cancelled

So what next? This is where the major pivot really spun into action.

We analysed our options: Do we fully cancel GSO? Defer? Go digital? Go digital now or later? Or maybe some hybrid approach with some digital experiences and some regional office engagement? ‘Dynamic environment’ doesn’t really capture it. Imagine the chaos!

Thankfully the core GSO ‘SWAT’ team was already assembled in a dedicated Slack channel, so I was able to gather the right people in real time. Together, we made tough decisions with the help of having everyone’s eyes on the same information.

We decided: Keep the date and go digital.

Slack UI of GSO core team

Slack UI of GSO core team

Clarity is great. But now… how do we pull this off?

The list of questions was long and varied:

  • How do we take three days’ worth of content and compress it into one?
  • What is the right length of sessions given this brand-new context?
  • How do we keep the focus on our core event principles: education, alignment, recognition, motivation and inspiration?
  • And the biggest question of them all: How do we do this in an all-digital format???

Here’s the CliffsNotes version: We crystallised everything into what we believed were the most high-value, highly engaging and easy-to-consume segments over a six-hour time frame. Three days of workshops, presentations, social events and more, transformed into only six hours of content.

There’s a tonne that went on behind the scenes to successfully pivot from a live event to a digital one at a rapid pace. This included an amazing team and timely, transparent communication across a number of Slack channels. Since we had months of pre-work done in context-relevant channels, it was easy to quickly cascade updates and adjust to a new venue and format. This included collaboration across our core #gso-swat-team to build out content with key cross-functional partners (#gso-2020-mktg-roadmap and #gso-2020-prod-roadmap), channels to build and deliver our online learning guide (#gso-2020-learning-guide) and a channel to drive our new digital approach (#gso-2020-digital-presenters).

We delivered the GSO 2020 Digital Event over Zoom Webinar and paired that broadcast with so many interactive aspects through Slack channels. It was the perfect match.

Slack UI for digital event planning

[Related content: To learn more about the tactical changes that we made to pull this pivot off in less than ten days, read our companion post.]

GSO announcement in Slack UI

Our session opened with a high-energy video and brief origin story of our team. We progressed with insightful vision and roadmap sessions with product and marketing leaders, killer demos and super-inspiring live discussions with customers.

We shared instant feedback with product and marketing teams in Slack channels, including which parts of the roadmap excited the sales team the most and wishlists for the future. The ability to instantly connect global team members with our chief product officer in channel for real-time feedback was another incredible moment. Because Slack is built for engagement (our users average nine hours per workday on Slack), the virtual conversation flowed, and participation levels were incredibly high.

 

Slack UI in sales channel about product updates

I’m especially grateful that we were able to keep the live customer conversations on the agenda, only now virtually. There is no substitute for candid, compelling and personal customer stories.

Hearing first hand from leaders at Fortune 500-recognised brands on how and why they are standardising on Slack globally as their channel-based messaging platform is educational and inspiring. Slack, they shared, has been instrumental in helping remove friction, massively accelerate communication, drive alignment and speed up business – all in a very human way. They highlighted that this is especially true in a fast-paced, geographically distributed, functionally diverse and highly dynamic environment. Like the one that we’re all in right now.

Slack UI for digital event planning

In reading through our Slack channels and in rounding out our feedback on the day, it was clear that the event was a big success. Of course, there were a few speed bumps. A little construction noise here or audio disruption there. In reflecting back on our decision to keep the event and go all digital, there was definitely some trepidation and uncertainty.

But once the call was made to charge ahead, it was amazing to see the degree of clarity and shared sense of purpose that a compelling event – and its supporting channels in Slack – can bring to a team. We went for it. And we pulled it off.

Slack UI of employee praising how GSO was pulled off
Slack UI of employee praising GSO

Here’s to the power of teamwork! Huge thanks to everyone who contributed to making this happen and a huge thank you to our global team for rolling with the punches as we pivoted to digital. I’m still looking forward to seeing everyone in person as soon as possible.

On the theme of teamwork: We’re all in this together! Our extended team at Slack is on call and eager to help however we can.

We’re offering webinars and one-on-one consultations with Slack experts to offer tips and best practices while working remotely with Slack.

About Slack

Slack has transformed business communication. It's the leading channel-based messaging platform, used by millions to align their teams, unify their systems, and drive their businesses forward. Only Slack offers a secure, enterprise-grade environment that can scale with the largest companies in the world. It is a new layer of the business technology stack where people can work together more effectively, connect all their other software tools and services, and find the information they need to do their best work. Slack is where work happens.