Increase company-wide visibility, connect through video, and generally keep your team on the same page, even across time zones
Below is an article originally written by Matt Haughey at PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on November 15, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Remote work is increasingly going from a luxury to a workplace norm: 43% of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely in 2016, while 70% of the global workforce is now doing so once a week. Then there are distributed teams. As growing firms open new offices, you might be working with people in Lagos, New York City, or Shanghai, as well as across town.
Today, many of these far-flung colleagues are working together in Slack. With a few extra considerations, however, remote teammates can not only collaborate, but shorten the distance between them too.
The importance of trust and visibility
After talking to dozens of people in different industries about how they use Slack across distances, the topic of trust came up early and often in our conversations. Working with remote or distributed colleagues requires trust and creative thinking from all parties.
In the previous century, managers could track how many hours their employees sat at an office desk near them. Today, those metrics could be replaced by lines of code written, number of help tickets resolved, or number of pieces produced, but it's important to figure out ways to accurately and fairly measure the effectiveness of employees, regardless of their location.
For this reason, visibility is a key aspect Slack can provide to distributed teams. A well-organized, transparent Slack team with channels arranged by topic and projects makes it easier to see everyone's output, even those far from headquarters. When remote workers post as often to Slack as their onsite counterparts, chances are they're being just as productive.
Slack integrations can also help promote visibility among your remote and distributed employees:
- Programming tools like Github and Jira let engineering managers see the output of all their developers, wherever they may be.
- File and document apps like Google Drive and Dropbox let marketing teams keep tabs on everyone's work.
- For those in customer support, tools like Zendesk and Intercom can report into relevant Slack channels, letting managers see how well their help center team is faring around the globe.
Meanwhile, things like daily stand-up meetings can give every member of a team visibility and take place entirely in Slack.
Shortening distances with video
Every remote and distributed worker we interviewed relies heavily on video conferencing to maintain face-to-face connections with their team. Slack comes with its own built-in audio and video features. If your team prefers other tools, there are apps available from popular services like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and BlueJeans that also make it easy to start a video conference from Slack whenever you need one.
Screen-sharing is another aspect of Slack's own video conferencing feature worth noting. You can share your screen with others on a video call and allow them to either draw on your screen or enable a cooperative mode in which other people on a call can move their mouse around and interact with your shared screen. This feature is key for things like pair programming, when two people in different locations collaborate inside a single screen, writing software code together interactively.
Help your team connect
User profiles can help employees get to know one another, and once customized for your team, you can share location, languages spoken, current time zone, and direct reports below and managers above, as well as topics of expertise and other relevant personal details.
All this information is handy when you're doing cross-functional work with people you don't interact with daily, but it's especially the case for those working from afar. It helps them figure out the best time to schedule meetings and with whom, and even learn how to pronounce names correctly before the next company-wide event.
For distributed teams, time zones can be both an advantage and a challenge. In Slack, you may want to denote which channels are shared across distributed teams and set expectations that conversations are asynchronous—answers to questions may take longer to appear as offices come online at different times of day. Stating it clearly in the channel topic and purpose fields is a great way to communicate channel rules to your team. Some teams find that having offices post end-of-day summaries helps distributed teams catch up on activity as they get started each morning.
Teams may also want to set expectations around offline discussions that others might have missed—say, a discussion summarized and posted in a team channel after a few members had an epiphany over lunch, or ideas arising from hallway conversations posted into relevant channels. Both are great ways to create a culture of transparency and sharing that's more inclusive for everyone on the team.
Set expectations around offline discussions that others might have missed.
It's important that we not forget the power of a direct message over long distances. For each time you might think, I should pop by my coworker's desk and ask him about this when you're the same office, you can easily send a DM with your question instead if he happens to be far away. For managers and their direct reports, a DM also provides a quick method of private communication without the formality or structure of email.
Helping remote teammates helps all teammates
Optimizing Slack for workers near and far certainly helps those who work in different locations, but it can benefit everyone. Using Slack in this way means that parents with a sick child can work from home smoothly. If a manager needs time to recuperate after a broken ankle, she can stay home but continue to easily keep tabs on her team. If someone in your workforce has a disability that prevents him from being in an office space, Slack can offer a way to keep him productive and connected to everyone.
A culture of openness, transparency, and public discussions taking place in Slack is going to result in a good team culture at any company, but it's also a key to remote and distributed workers feeling like equal members of your team.
Next Chapter: A Pilot Program Aiming To Help Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Find Work And Succeed In Tech
Deepti Rohatgi, Slack's Director of Slack for Good and Public Affairs, on working with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Last Mile and John Legend's FREEAMERICA to create opportunity and shift perceptions
Below is an article originally written by Evie Nagy at PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on August 29, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
"By a show of hands, how many of you in here have made a bad choice," said Kenyatta Leal to a packed all-hands meeting at Slack HQ. The question, echoing the core of Bryan Stevenson's moving biography Just Mercy, was met by a sea of hands raised high.
"Now, I want you to imagine just for a second what life would be like if you were judged the rest of your life for that bad decision."
Leal speaks from experience. As a founding member of The Last Mile and a returned citizen himself, he was in the first class of a program that has, in the nine years since its inception, seen 393 students graduate.
The Last Mile, currently operating in seven prisons across the U.S., teaches students to build websites and applications, all without access to the internet. The program boasts a zero percent recidivism rate — meaning that not one of the people who graduated has reoffended. During incarceration, The Last Mile focuses on three pillars:
- Education: The full-time program trains incarcerated students on marketable computer coding skills.
- Experience: Through TLM Works, an in-prison workforce development program, graduates of the coding program gain work experience, earn market wage and create a portfolio of work.
- Expansion: The coding program is designed to be easily replicated across the country.
And then comes the moment of return, and of taking those skills into the workplace. And for that, there's a need for a fourth pillar — that of partnership with companies who can help turn those skills into a career.
A blueprint for change
"We need to tackle this issue from all different directions," says Leal. "For folks returning back to the community, the stigma that they're impacted by is a huge challenge. We've come up with thousands of ways to make sure a plastic bottle or aluminum can gets a new life, but we don't do anything to make sure someone who gets out of prison does. We need to have that same kind of mindset when it comes to human beings, that same kind of passion and persistence."
Enter Next Chapter: an initiative that we at Slack, in partnership with The Last Mile, the Kellogg Foundation, and FREEAMERICA, have been working on for the past two years to help bring returning citizens back to work and shift perceptions around formerly incarcerated individuals. Through Next Chapter, we are building a year-long apprenticeship program to train and mentor three graduates from The Last Mile — and in doing so, we hope to create a blueprint that other companies will use to train and hire talented people who have been incarcerated.
At a special employee all-hands meeting last week, Leal discussed the hopes for this new program with Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, producer, activist and founder of FREEAMERICA John Legend, comedic actress, writer, sketch and improvisational comedian Robin Thede, and our CEO Stewart Butterfield. This conversation — and the unveiling of Next Chapter itself — was the culmination of an ongoing dialogue at Slack about criminal justice reform, in particular the opportunity to help returning citizens find jobs in tech and business.
We are grateful to Robin Thede, Kenyatta Leal, and John Legend for being our partners and launching Next Chapter with us last week.
There is a pressing need for skilled knowledge workers, one that will only increase moving forward. Coding is something that any smart, hardworking person can learn, given time — and if there was one thing The Last Mile students had a lot of, it was time. We believe that talent is equally distributed. With the right training, we hope to provide opportunities for those who would not only thrive at Slack, but also fill the massive shortage of engineering talent that the tech community needs from an often-overlooked population.
The way forward
Along with The Last Mile and leading experts in the field, we've set out to devise an effort to help these returning citizens find skilled long-term employment and shift perceptions around re-entering individuals.
"This program couldn't just be about providing training, or even job opportunities to our apprentices," says Rodney Urquhart, a member of the Developer Relations team who has been instrumental in getting the program established at Slack. "We've worked hard to build a safe and special culture at Slack, where people who come from different backgrounds can thrive just as well as those who followed traditional paths."
The power of partnership
None of this could have been done without our partners in Next Chapter. Make no mistake about it, we're not positioning ourselves as experts in criminal justice — we make enterprise software. We are in the business of thinking about the way people work, where and how they work, and, of course, the people that do that work. We know how much we have to learn — and we're humbled and grateful to be working with three organizations full of experts.
- The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with years of experience in the criminal justice system, racial equity issues, and vulnerable communities, have helped to make this program a reality.
- FREEAMERICA, founded by John Legend, has been working to change the national conversation about and transform America's criminal justice system, and will help amplify our efforts and encourage other companies to consider similar programs.
- And, of course, The Last Mile, who bring not only the talent and skill of their graduating students — our apprentices — but also the expertise of Kenyatta Leal, whom we will be hosting as our first Re-Entry Director, overseeing the apprenticeship program here at Slack HQ.
We're just getting started. We have much to learn, but we're committed to this, to our three apprentices this year, and to whatever comes next. If you're interested in building a program like this at your company, or to find out more about the Next Chapter, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Deepti Rohatgi is Slack's Director of Slack for Good and Public Affairs.
1 The Last Mile
2 "Shadow Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System," The Sentencing Project, August 14, 2013.
3 "Recidivism," National Institute of Justice, June 17, 2014.
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."
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.