How organizations are making hybrid work with Slack 'digital HQ'

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood October 17, 2022
Two companies - Bolt and - share their experiences of how they’re managing new hybrid work expectations.

Creative group of business people brainstorming putting sticky notes on glass wall in office © Flamingo Images - Shutterstock
(© Flamingo Images - Shutterstock)

A generation ago, dot coms tried to attract Gen X-ers into their new offices with foosball tables, lunchtime yoga and Beer Fridays.

Now, today’s digital-born companies seem to be trying to refresh the fun - offering more social and out of hours activities to regularly tempt people back to the real estate they’ve expensively invested in.

The twist: this time, they are trying hard to create equally fun but also productive parallel digital spaces.

That seems to be at least one way to understand how commercial users of the Slack workplace collaboration system are trying to make hybrid/return to office work for both them and their employees.

Two global Slack users shared their experiences of using the company’s self-styled ‘digital HQ’ this week in the wake of the Salesforce subsidiary’s new research on UK knowledge worker’s current experience of back to office.

These were Estonia-headquartered Bolt, a provider of ride-hailing, car sharing, and food delivery, which claims 100 million-plus customers in 45 countries, and - headquartered in Tel Aviv and provides low code/no code-based ‘Work OS’ to companies globally. Both are heavy users of Slack, with Bolt claiming almost no emails are generated inside the company apart from for specific external clients who are not on the system. It is sending at least 150,000 Slack messages per day, as a result.

The representatives commenting on the use of the collaboration platform were Bolt’s Head of Head Of Internal Communication, Mathis Bogens, and Team Leader, Johnny Clarke. 

We want offices to be used

While not mandating 100% return to work, both brands do want their teams back in their physical spaces at least some of the time. Mathis said:

In our last poll, 60% of employees said they want to work from the office three days, some four days, but fewer than 10% of our people want to still be 100% remote. So, we want to offer flexibility, but at the same time, we have built these nice offices and we want people to come and work from there, because there is no point in investing in real estate if people don't come and work in it.

Clarke agreed. He said: 

We just opened a new London office a few months ago and there’s another big opening in Miami soon - so for us, the office is definitely a big part of the work, and how that collaboration goes. Our ideal is to have everyone back three days a week.

New-Look Offices For Both Meetings And Solo Work

But the way those buildings function as workplaces has had to change, too, say both organizations.

Digital calendaring to maximize human-to-human office interaction is now standard, for example. Bolt uses Slack to help employees be sure that if they go in, for example, there will be other team members there too, so it’s never a wasted journey. also has installed a process to ensure that the entire team comes in on a communally agreed same day, so everybody's there. 

Bogens said: 

You don't want people to come to the office and not have a place to work which might give them a bad feeling, so they won't come next time.

Managers are also trying to make back to office not just about toil. In fact, they almost expect the work they pay people for (doing the marketing or cutting code) to be done off-site now - the so-called ‘deep work’ that requires focus. However, they also recognize that not all their employees - Bolt’s average staffer age is 28 - have the luxury of having such spaces at home, so need to cater for that in the workplace.

Clarke said: 

Not everyone has the privilege of having an extra room where they live, so we have quiet spaces for that now in the office.

Bogens added: 

We now have lots of meeting rooms with three to 10 seats but also one seat booths which are heavily used as well. Engineers especially love to use these, spreading out their screens to see all their coding world occurring in front of them. And all managers must schedule at least four hours of focus time in their calendars each week now, too.

FOMO in the office

So, brands are encouraging staff back by not mandating full return, making sure they will meet people they need to physically be with once back, and changing environments to accommodate some of the work habits, like deep work time, that individuals built up in lockdown.

But they are also trying to jazz up the whole office experience, too. Bolt now schedules - and publicizes on their internal comms channels as much as possible - multiple non-direct work experiences in the office, like Candy Fridays, mass Eurovision watching, and Bad Movie nights. Bogens said: 

We want people to see that things happen now in the office besides just work to make the office look a bit more interesting than staying at home. We use FOMO here - sharing lots of photos about the fun you missed, so people who decide not to come to the office can see what they missed.

Again, Clarke’s team is doing similar. They added:

monday is a very big company but in the UK we’re a small team, so we’re now all about Monday morning full team meetings where we get some updates but also do a lot of celebrations - which create nice experiences, and everybody sits together at lunch.

A digital workplace playing field?

In parallel with these new office management techniques - which also include encouragement of multiple employee social groups to maintain team spirit and engagement with the company, like sports clubs - both firms say that digital working is also now firmly embedded in their work practices.

Bogens said: 

This digital-first way of working is about bringing the people, but also the applications and the technology, the workflows, the business processes, and the automation behind making it all work, together into one place, so regardless of who you are, what demographic you sit in, what geography you sit in, your experience for your digital platform is the same across the board. 

The benefits of that are people are happier, they can work from a physical location in an office, and work remotely, but really do what's best for them with the technology there to support them doing the work that they need to do.

Clarke agreed and said: 

Slack, in essence, is an enabler of a lot of personal communication like WhatsApp - but it's nice to have separation and know that all my work happens on Slack. We don't we don't see ourselves as having one type of person, and Slack is part of that as well, as it is a very flexible system that enables people to consume the data the way they want, but everybody's on the same platform and people are consuming it in their own ways.

That’s enabling people to work in the way we want, which is the real point of hybrid. With a system like this people get enabled in a way that works well for them but are all still part of the same team.

Speaking for the vendor, Daniel Hansens, Slack’s Senior VP EMEA, concluded:

Think of omnichannel - which is about bringing together all the benefits and the capabilities of different channels into a single user experience that people can choose themselves which way they go.

Ultimately, that’s what we're talking about here as well: we're talking about enabling an employee experience to let people engage with each other, but also with the company they work for in the way that suits them.


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