Navigating the new remote work reality

A perspective from Slack leadership

As business leaders everywhere navigate our new reality of remote work, we’re inspired and humbled by how organizations worldwide are bringing teams together in Slack. We’ve seen companies, universities and nonprofits align around new priorities in a matter of days, or even hours, while maintaining morale. 

Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield, Chief Product Officer Tamar Yehoshua and VP & General Manager of Platform Brian Elliott explored how companies, including Slack, are managing the transition as part of a virtual keynote for Enterprise Connect, a conference for communications and collaboration business leaders. You can watch the full presentation and find highlights and additional context below.

Watch the full video:

The new (non) normal of remote work

The coronavirus has forced people worldwide to fundamentally rethink the way we work. And it’s not simply about shifting to remote work, according to Butterfield.

“Working through a pandemic is not just working from home,” he says. “It requires an improvisational organizational agility that is hard to achieve in the best of times, let alone when employees are facing a home life where all the normal rules are off.”

While many enterprise companies maintain contingency plans, few had a playbook to navigate this crisis. Rather, they adapted on the fly and made business-critical decisions in minutes. Even in this unprecedented business environment, we watched Slack customers leverage our platform to transition their teams (mostly) seamlessly into a remote workforce, while maintaining employee engagement and productivity.

A channel-based messaging platform for the enterprise

To understand how these teams managed the transition with Slack, it helps to first understand what Slack is. Simply put: Slack is a channel-based messaging platform. Framed another way, it replaces email inside your company.

This is critical for both business as usual and in extreme circumstances, like a pandemic. With an inbox, each employee has a small, fragmented view of organizational knowledge. But with channels, everyone at the company can see a rich history of questions answered, decisions made, data collected and documents created.

Channels can correspond with anything—office locations, teams, projects, events and so much more. And “once all communication is moved into channels, everyone knows where to go to ask their question, give their update, to get caught up,” Butterfield says. “The impact of this is transformative.”

For situations like the coronavirus pandemic, channel-based communication has proven critical. We’ve seen more than 13,000 volunteers, including programmers, engineers, students and medical professionals, come together in Slack channels to develop protective equipment and ventilators to fill supply shortfalls. We’ve also seen doctors sharing Covid-19 data, scientists coordinating research and journalists covering the pandemic, all from within Slack.

A photo illustration by Slack to accompany piece on remote work
Work remotely in Slack

Best practices, tips and tricks for getting the most out of work with channel-based messaging—no matter your location.

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We noticed that many of our largest customers, including IBM, HSBC, Cvent and Intuit, relied on channel-based messaging to transition to remote work. “In times like these, it’s clear people and organizations need to shift the way they work,” Butterfield says, “and it’s been incredible to see our customers use and trust Slack in this new world, even in the largest enterprise organizations across the globe.”

Keeping users connected and productive

In this new reality of remote work, we’re committed to making it as easy as possible for our customers to use the tools they know and love from within Slack, including apps for calls and virtual meetings. We want to ensure users can stay connected and get caught up with a quick call without leaving the context of a project in Slack. Over the past month we’ve seen almost 350% growth in native Slack calls and use of apps such as Zoom, BlueJeans and Cisco Webex Meetings.

In response to rising demand for seamless calls, Slack added new phone functionality. Users can now make calls to phone numbers from Slack using Zoom Phone, Cisco Jabber, RingCentral, Dialpad and more. We’ve also introduced a Microsoft Teams Calls app, currently available in beta. With the new app, users can launch a Teams video or voice call right from Slack. They’ll also be able to see who’s on the call and when it started before joining,  making it easier to get up to speed quickly.

Use Microsoft Teams Calls app to:

  • Launch a Teams video or voice call right from Slack
  • See who’s already on the call and when the call kicked off
  • Set Microsoft Teams Calls as the default calling provider in Slack
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Features to support the enterprise

The new calling features are one small part of a larger push to help users stay connected and productive. With the spread of coronavirus, we fast-tracked a simpler, more organized user interface that would make it easier for newcomers to find their way around Slack. “We saw an increase in demand, and so we worked to get the changes out faster,” Yehoshua says. “We wanted to make sure to give the best experience we could to our customers who are trying to figure out how to stay productive during this challenging period.”

Beyond making it easier to onboard new users, we’ve been working hand in hand with customers to ensure that Slack meets all their needs, whether those are crisis management functionality or HIPAA compliance.

Here are just a few ways Slack aims to better serve customers:

  • Engagement: Slack has the engagement you need to transform the way your organization works. On average, users spend more than nine hours per workday on Slack, including 90 minutes of active usage. That activity adds up to more than 5 billion actions weekly.
  • Platform: Slack makes your employees more productive and your entire software investment more valuable by giving employees the ability to access more than 2,000 software tools from wherever they are. 
  • Shared channels: This new feature allows independent organizations to collaborate in the same Slack channels. So far, our customers have created over 100,000 shared channels.
  • Enterprise-grade: Slack is the only channel-based messaging platform that is enterprise grade at enterprise scale. We hold ourselves to a 99.99% uptime commitment and offer security and compliance support for adhering to financial and health-care regulations, including FINRA, FedRAMP, HIPAA and GDPR, to name a few.  

Collaboration ‘has never been more important’

Slack wasn’t designed with coronavirus in mind, but our mission to make work simpler, more pleasant and more productive is more relevant than ever. It has been humbling and rewarding to watch organizations across industries leverage our platform to respond to the crisis.

Remote Academia, a global hub for educators based in Slack, encompasses a network of more than 2,000 educators and 500 universities, including UC Berkeley, Yale and the University of Washington. When schools nationwide were forced to switch to virtual learning, Remote Academia leveraged Slack to ease the transition. The group spun up shared channels with partner institutions to quickly share best practices and resources. This rapid knowledge sharing enabled institutions to learn from one another and launch online courses faster and more effectively.

Whether your company is working on the Covid-19 frontline response or behind the scenes, or keeping grocery stores open, schools online and workers engaged and employed, we’ve all got a role to play, according to Butterfield.

“This work has never been more important,” he says. “If there’s ever been a time to focus on communication and collaboration … this is it. Your team and your companies are relying on you.”

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.