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Image Credit: Garrett Rowland
Slack Technologies Inc

Thinking Outside The Cubicle

Slack's workplace team on designing distraction-free workspaces

Below is an article originally written by Minda Honey for PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on September 12, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Slack senior director of operations Deano Roberts is like a global worksite whirlwind in reverse: Every place he passes through is left organized, orderly, and as it should be. And next up, Whirlwind Roberts has his sights set on disrupting open floor plans.

Roberts explains why he's done with this longtime office space go-to option. "The open floor plan, which was conceived in the late '50s by Herman Miller, was supposed to be the end-all when it came to collaboration productivity," he says. "But realistically, it works for about 40% of the population. For the other 60%, it causes some anxiety."

He has a few ideas about what makes a truly collaborative, highly productive workplace, and it ain't free cupcakes. "There's a diminishing return on free cupcakes, or kind of cliché fixtures in tech offices, like having a ping-pong table or an ironic beanbag chair or a life-size Jenga sitting next to your desk," he says.

"I would like you to show me the ROI of free cupcakes and ping-pong tables," says Roberts. "Because from what I've experienced, those things don't make you, or help you, do meaningful work. At worst, they're just a distraction."

Instead, Roberts and the workplace team have taken their design cues from Slack, the product, itself. In Slack, features like channels and search mean that information is at everyone's disposal. In that sense, the product's job is to be a resource that provides context and answers. "We want our workspace to do that too," says Roberts.

"If you need something, you should either logically know where to go get it yourself or, if you have to ask us for it, you know we're going to get it to you immediately," he continues. "This isn't to give anyone a sense of entitlement; it's because we want to remove distractions and improve everyone's productivity."

Image courtesy of Scott Schiller

"I would like you to show me the ROI of free cupcakes and ping-pong tables; because from what I've experienced, those things don't make you or help you do meaningful work. At worst, they're just a distraction."

– Deano Roberts, Senior Director of workplace operations at Slack

Ping-pong tables and free cupcakes aside, Roberts mentions that office spaces don't have to be totally devoid of fun or, at the very least, some breathing room. "We have just enough pleasantry," he says. "A wonderful barista bar, a tiny little music room, nap rooms, and nice little spaces that are quaint and interesting."

Even those design details were inspired by how Roberts and his team use Slack. "Probably 95% of my day I'm doing work, and 5% I'm palling around in the doodles channel," he says. "I think we've represented that well by physically accommodating the need for cognitive breaks in the workplace."

Equally passionate about overhauling the open office plan is Kristy Tillman, who recently joined the team as the company's global workplace design lead. In their efforts to make Slack's offices a "cultural beacon of experimentation in the workplace," Tillman says, there are a few unique kinds of spaces that her team has implemented to make the office more inclusive.

There are "tucked-away spaces for introverts who need to have some silence and be a little bit away from the foot traffic," she says. "Bookable rooms and un-bookable rooms for people to either schedule meetings or have impromptu ones. Restrooms are fragrance-free, and we have gender-inclusive ones for our nonbinary and transgender employees. And we're ADA-compliant [for disabilities] where that's needed, too."

Portrait illustrations by Jonny Ruzzo

While the team is thinking through ways of making their shared space even more functional for what Tillman describes as "a pretty wide swatch of folks," there is one group that she'd like to better serve: remote workers and teams in international offices. "I want to make their experience feel more cohesive, especially while working through audio and video," she says. "I want to make them feel like they know what's going on at the home office."

Tillman shares Roberts's vision for designing distraction-free workplaces that cater to the needs, personalities, and work styles of many. She describes being energized by the changes the workplace team is driving and what it could mean for other companies.

"You can dazzle people with really beautiful offices, but what's more important is that we're continuously honing our perspective about how we build our workplaces," says Tillman. "And to me, that is compelling work."

Slack Technologies Inc

How We Approach Professional Learning At Slack

Training to help people do their best work, not be a distraction from it

Below is an article originally written by Kristen Swanson at PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on November 11, 2016. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

What was the most important thing you learned over the last six months? Picture it in your mind.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Chances are… your mental picture looked nothing like this:

When asked, not many people cite traditional training as their most valuable learning experiences.

In lots of companies, on-the-job training is greeted with a deep, guttural groan. It's a mandatory evil, a long series of tasks that take people away from their core work for little benefit. Given that our mission at Slack is to make people's working lives more productive, these traditional models don't cut it for us.

And so, we're thinking about professional learning differently.

Instead of asking: How do we get people to do…

We ask: How might we build a system where the most people possible can succeed?

To answer this critical question, our learning and development team takes a three step approach:

Step One: Pull, not push

At Slack, virtually every learning experience we offer is optional and open to all. This creates a democratic environment where learners are motivated by curiosity, relevancy, and a deep business need.

Instead of "pushing" lots of mandatory content, we allow people to "pull what they need" from an integration between Slack and Bridge, our learning management system. Each learning experience is brief, targeted, and modular. Given that a "search first culture" is one of the core assumptions underlying Slack (the product) — that is, proactively look to see if the answers you need exist before asking a question — it makes sense for our learning program to reflect that as well.

And, because we can't meet every demand, we offer a professional development stipend for every employee to pursue external programs as needed.

Step Two: Active learning

We offer a wide array of online and in-person learning experiences each month on topics ranging from public speaking to negotiating to handling unconscious biases in the workplace. Whenever possible, we want people to interact with what they're learning.

Repeated research has shown that adults learn best when they are thrust into problem-solving experiences, not piles of content.

At Slack, it's common to find groups of people exchanging feedback, role playing, or building prototypes. This makes it more likely that people will transfer their learning back to their day-to-day work experiences. And, of course, that's really important.

Step Three: Communities of learners

When planning what we'll tackle next, our learning team at Slack is often heard repeating the phrase "the more the merrier!" This is because we need a diverse set of stakeholders to help us determine which types of learning are most needed.

We're always looking for the intersection of learner curiosity and business needs. Because we spend a lot of time talking about our goals as a company, this happens quite naturally.

Every quarter we collaboratively choose which learning experiences will have the biggest impact on our team. Our team of collaborators spans across many departments, roles, and levels.

Once designed, many of our courses are facilitated by internal experts from deep within Slack. For example, our leadership academy is peppered with leaders from inside Slack. Who better than current leaders to understand what leadership means within our company?

Yea, but… Does it work?

Although it's early in our history, our strategies seem to be working. The aggregate net promoter score for our courses is 91, and aggregate comprehension scores are just above 80%. We're also seeing our attendees uplevel their work in their respective roles as reported by their managers. Of course, we have much more to learn, but these early results seem to show the investment we're making is a good one.

The more we learn together, the better we'll be able to tackle what's next.

Kristen Swanson is Slack's Director of Learning and thinks backpacks are better than purses.

Slack Technologies Inc

Why ‘business as usual’ is killing team performance

Research by Deloitte's Center for the Edge reveals that culture, not process, will drive organizations in the future

We've been consumed by the notion that efficiency is the way to generate value for a very long time," says Andrew de Maar, Head of Research and Strategy at Deloitte's Center for the Edge.

According to de Maar and his team's research, leaders are so consumed with process and productivity, they often miss out on championing a much more critical component of long-term success: people.

Technology can be helpful to improving a work group's performance, but it's not the only answer. Ultimately, it's the practices of the people and the way they work, and how they come together to do that work that can either foster a piece of technology's potential or extinguish it.

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Slack Technologies Inc

Setting New Hires Up For Success

Speed up onboarding with these integrations for Slack

Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published via Medium on June 7th, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

While a well-equipped desk with a new laptop and a coffee mug might make for a nice introduction, it's how you prepare employees for their new position that matters most. "Faster onboarding means employees can more quickly do the jobs they were brought on to do," says a recent IDC research study, sponsored by Slack, that also finds that HR teams using Slack for employee onboarding are able to get people up to speed on their new jobs 24% faster.

Getting new hires fully briefed and trained up can be a lengthy process. By connecting various tools with Slack, you can run an effective and organized onboarding program that gives new employees immediate access to the tools and information they need to make a roaring head start.

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