Slack pitches in to align teamwork across the enterprise

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright August 15, 2019
Collaboration vendor Slack adds new features for large organizations and a State of Work Report highlights alignment and enterprise teamwork

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One of the most impressive aspects of collaboration platform Slack's rapid growth is its penetration of large enterprise. No surprise, therefore, that the company is preoccupied with how to make teamwork and collaboration work better across large organizations of tens and hundreds of thousands of people. New product features and findings from a State of Work Report published overnight are its latest contribution to this effort.

The new product features introduce admin functions to automate highly repetitive tasks across large organizations. These include:

  • New announcement channels that create a single destination for key information, with posting permissions limited to administrators or other key staff such as internal comms teams and executives. These provide a consistent home for cross-company messages that previously may have been sent via email or in standard Slack channels.
  • New admin APIs to automate repetitive functions such as creating new workspaces with names, domains and descriptions, inviting channel members in bulk, managing app approvals across all workspaces in a Grid organization, and automating app approvals based on information held elsewhere, such as a database of pre-approved applications.

The State of Work Report is based on a survey of 17,000 global knowledge workers, managers and executives carried out by market research firm GlobalWebIndex (GWI). Respondents were based in ten countries and work in more than 40 industries at companies of all sizes and stages of maturity.

Aligned workers love collaboration

The focus of the survey was alignment — one of the big challenges for organizations as work becomes more distributed and fast-paced. The survey found was that communicating an organization's mission was an important contributor to a positive mindset among employees:

Throughout the data, aligned workers show a stronger sense of optimistic purpose, while unaligned workers seem adrift. When thinking about their company’s future revenue and workforce, unaligned workers are far likelier to predict significant decline, while aligned workers are more likely to forecast growth.

There's more good news from a collaboration vendor's point of view — aligned workers love to collaborate:

There is a direct correlation between alignment and how frequently knowledge workers communicate with their colleagues. The more often they connect with coworkers, the likelier they are to feel aligned, whether that communication happens through collaboration tools, emails, phone calls or other means. The inverse also applies: Alignment drops as the frequency of communication decreases.

The report also finds that there's a limit to the number of in-person meetings that people find helpful. The most effective way of communicating company strategy is via collaboration tools, although at 81% this is only just ahead of other methods. Even email announcements and company intranets get a 75% rating.

Switching apps hits productivity

The bad news is that even aligned workers are hitting challenges in the course of their work. The report finds:

Aligned employees are the most likely to have 10 or more meetings a day and the most likely to send or receive hourly emails, messages and phone calls. Additionally, 64% of aligned workers report spending 30 minutes or more switching between apps each day.

That half hour of lost productivity switching apps mounts up to a massive hit on effectiveness across a large organization — but the trend is getting worse not better:

Eighty-one percent of aligned employees report using more apps than they did five years ago, and 73% expect the number of apps they need to use to increase further.

The solution according to the study is to bring these apps together in a collaboration platform — an unsurprising conclusion given that this is one of the core features of Slack, although it's in fact a core feature of any effective digital collaboration framework. The report says:

The app overload effect is particularly profound at 'innovator' companies — those that adopt new products and services first ...

But these innovators seem to have landed on a solution. They are the most likely to feel that collaboration tools are an effective form of communication, at almost three times the rate of employees at laggard companies (those that are among the last to adopt new products and services). From the innovator standpoint, it’s clear that apps aren’t going anywhere. So the best, most effective approach is to consolidate them in a collaboration platform to stem the fragmentation of attention.

My take

One of the challenges of modern digital tools is making sure that organizations and the people within them understand how to use them. Even if the survey findings are inevitably self-serving, it's encouraging to see Slack focusing on educating organizations rather than simply offering a tool and letting them figure it out for themselves. People are the key to success here. As the report foreword puts it:

If anything, the true state of work is more people-powered than ever before.

Simply put, as automation rises, the work that is left requires a decidedly human touch, such as complex problem-solving and collaboration.

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