5 key takeaways from Frontiers Tour London

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Image Credit: Chris Morgan

Frontiers Tour London really had it all. There were exciting Slack feature announcements, thought-provoking discussions on collaboration, and motivational tales of human achievement.

Many of the lessons we learned at the gorgeous Magazine London venue were instantly applicable, while others will help us in years to come. Whether you were present to see it or simply want to know what all the fuss was about, here are some key takeaways from this year’s Frontiers Tour London.

1. Achieving alignment is critical …

“There is one fundamental challenge. It’s the creation and maintaining of alignment,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said during his opening keynote.

Alignment may be thought of as the achievement of common purpose and shared consciousness throughout a company. That can be hard to reach, however, without access to company leaders, especially if you’re an individual contributor. In fact, our State of Work report recently found that most knowledge workers (72%) feel either somewhat aligned, unaligned or agnostic.

“There’s a weird feeling of disaffection that comes from a lack of context, from not knowing why you’re doing this, not knowing the context for this issue,” Butterfield explained. “That’s the reason that a CEO gets on a stage at companywide meetings and talks about the vision and mission and objectives—trying to make everyone understand how their work fits into the larger mission.”

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Stuart Templeton, head of UK Slack and Jody Ford, former CEO of Moonpig and Photobox

2. … And Slack channels can help

But a company’s objectives can pivot quickly, and how many all-hands meetings can a company have? Jody Ford, the former CEO of the greeting-card company Moonpig and photo-printing business Photobox, believes there’s a better way: Move the work into Slack channels.

“Culturally, it was the right thing to do,” Ford said. “I’d done the top-down communication.” Moving teams and companywide communication into channels allowed him to be present in everyday conversations, without it feeling like broadcasting.

And it’s not just Photobox. Countless customers spoke up about the increased transparency and alignment that came with simply moving their work into channels. When a rapid digital transformation proved necessary for customers such as the travel booking site Kiwi.com, the luxury fashion platform Farfetch, and the media company Bonnier News, moving their work into channels was invaluable.

Butterfield even had an example straight from Slack. While trying to close a deal with Oracle, the integrated cloud applications and platform service, Slack set up a channel. It started with a dozen people, but as the deal progressed and Slack grew as a company, the channel reached more than 100 people. The entire process took nine months, and in that time anyone who was added to the channel had all the context they needed.

“I never once asked anyone for a status update,” said Butterfield. “I could just look at the channel. I could see everything that was happening.”

david pavlik cio kiwi slack frontiers london 2019

“Slack alone will not make you agile, but if your organization wants to evolve, there is no better platform to enable agility.”

David Pavlik
CIO of travel booking site Kiwi.com

3. A rapid pace of change must be met with the right tools

Everyone knows work is changing, and nearly every company that took the stage spoke about how quickly it’s happening. We heard tales of frenetic transformation from companies in sectors ranging from fashion to flights, photography to finance.

David Pavlik, the CIO of Kiwi.com, spoke about how Slack was capable of evolving with the times. For Kiwi.com, Slack transformed from a communication tool into a productivity platform. But now? “It’s our company automation platform,” Pavlik said.

For example, a bot scrapes the websites of nearby restaurants for their daily menus and sends them to a channel. Employees driving into the office can check where parking spots are and then reserve them right from their phone in #parkingspots-sharing.

Most impressive of all is a bot named Bachus that safeguards users against missing critical information. For instance, if an important responsibility, like IT incident triage, is assigned to an individual but goes unseen, Bachus follows up with a message to the user. If the recipient ignores that message, the bot will remind him or her once more. Eventually, it automates a PagerDuty role to a new user.

“Slack alone will not make you agile,” Pavlik said, “but if your organization wants to evolve, there is no better platform to enable agility.”

Ultimately, Butterfield said, “We want everyone working together—that’s the magic.”

Speaker spotlight: Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson is a famed mountaineer, an acclaimed author and just a generally interesting dude. During Frontiers Tour London, he regaled the crowd with the captivating true story behind his best-selling book Touching the Void, about a climbing expedition gone wrong. 

Simpson survived what many wouldn’t have and learned some life-changing lessons along the way. He said he was hesitant to draw a connection between mountaineering and business, but we see many useful parallels. Here are five:

  1. The first sign of intelligence is a willingness to take risks—and benefit from the rewards gained."
  2. “Success is about choice, not chance.”
  3. “Risk-taking is not about blindly rushing in. It’s a learned, calculated skill. And failure is its teacher.”
  4. “The one thing a team needs is trust.”
  5. “Doing things backwards is never very easy.”
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Templeton and Imer Cakiroglu, global HR strategy director at Farfetch luxury fashion platform

4. From onboarding to company culture, Slack is instrumental

Many teams spoke about how Slack was helping them improve their company culture. Farfetch, for instance, uses Slack to live its company values in a deliberate way. “It’s immediately inclusive,” said Imer Cakiroglu, the global HR strategy director at Farfetch.

That starts with onboarding. Having so much context in channels for new hires has been critical for onboarding new employees and giving them a sense of purpose and connection at the company. Farfetch even uploaded custom emoji representing each of its values, which it uses to flag every message that lives up to them.

And it’s an especially important time to remember those values, since the company has experienced explosive growth. It now sells products from more than 3,200 brands spanning 700 boutiques and has more than 15 offices across the world. “Slack is helping us to think globally by staying connected,” Cakirogulu said.

It’s also given Farfetch reliable access to the droves of vendors it works with daily. In fact, the company has nearly 5,000 active users in its Slack workspace, and only 3,200 of them are employees. That means that every day in Slack, Farfetch is working with more than 1,000 vendors, contractors and boutiques, thanks to guest access.

“TaskUs might be theoretically a third-party service agency, but shared channels actually make it feel like they’re part of our team, which has been fantastic. You’re never going to make friends over email, but we get to build better relationships with [our partners] every day because of Slack.”

Will Sprunt
CIO of Deliveroo food delivery service

5. A better way to collaborate is possible, no matter the industry

“It’s become clear to me that Slack has resonated with all kinds of businesses,” said Tamar Yehoshua, the chief product officer at Slack. During her discussion with Will Sprunt, the CIO of food delivery service Deliveroo, Yehoshua touched on Deliveroo’s use of shared channels to coordinate with restaurants and the customer service company TaskUs, ultimately eliminating coordination over email altogether.

“TaskUs might be theoretically a third-party service agency,” Sprunt said, “but shared channels actually make it feel like they’re part of our team, which has been fantastic. You’re never going to make friends over email, but we get to build better relationships with [our partners] every day because of Slack.”

From expanding accessibility and security features, such as Enterprise Key Management and data residency, to rolling out new ways to interact with external partners, as well as app integrations like an updated one with Salesforce, we’re constantly striving to ensure that Slack is suitable for all types of work. After all, as Butterfield said, “Our work is making your work better.”

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Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.