Collaboration

What we learned about work in 2019

From breakthroughs in collaboration to busting the myth of inbox zero, here are the biggest lessons we’ll carry into the new year

By the team at SlackDecember 23rd, 2019

Yes, yes, New Year’s Eve is, like any other day, just another spin of the ol’ planet earth. But this year’s been different, and we find ourselves on the cusp of 2020 feeling a bit reflective. After all, some tremendous things happened to us this year. We released shared channels. We listed on the New York Stock Exchange. We opened offices in Paris, Munich, Sydney, Tokyo, Denver and Chicago. And we brought a similarly robust number of feature improvements to the Slack app for your computer and phone.

But it’s not just Slack that’s changing. All around the globe, technology is becoming more accessible, more empathetic and, frankly, more interesting. And while hindsight’s for 2020, we think now is an appropriate time to look back at the trends that defined the year.

How to work better, together

By now, everyone knows collaboration is Good with a capital “G.” But learning to collaborate well? That’s quite a bit more complicated. This year we released our State of Work report—a survey of more than 17,000 knowledge workers, managers and executives (it was a whole big thing). We found three key ingredients to working well: Employees must communicate clearly with their coworkers, know who’s responsible for what, and feel empowered to take action.

Sounds like a trust fall is in order.

But what about when the people you work with don’t work for your company? External vendors and contractors present different challenges but often require a similar approach. That’s why 2019 was a breakout year for shared channels. A shared channel works just like a normal Slack channel, but connecting two organizations. They became available to all paid customers and were a major hit.

As our CEO, Stewart Butterfield, wrote, “As of October 31st, more than 26,000 companies have created more than 70,000 shared channels.” We know that number is hard to picture. That’s why we made this spiffy network map that shows how all of those connections come together:

That’s what collaboration looks like, folks, and we could write about it until the cows come home. So we will. At the family-owned Wickstrom Dairies, the cows are well fed, healthy and happy with a little help from Slack. “If we’re late, the cows have already lost interest in eating,” says dairy manager Jesus Rojas. “They don’t eat, we lose milk production. Through Slack, if we notice something is not right, we can immediately communicate that in the feed channel. Together we can put our ideas to work and see what the problem is.”

The real secret(s) to productivity

Trying to imagine “productivity” is a bit like trying to imagine a million dollars. You know it exists. But sometimes, when you’re endlessly scrolling a social network or staring blankly at yet another slide deck, it can even seem like a myth. And that’s OK. Sometimes it is a myth.

Take inbox zero. You know: that elusive dream that helps people finally make email good, usable and organized… by deleting all of their messages. 🤔

As it turns out, email—the problem child of productivity—is still a problem, whether you have one email or one thousand. That’s because, according to Merlin Mann (who coined the term “inbox zero”), it was never about reaching zero unread emails. It was about triaging communication and spending less time in your inbox.

Fortunately, if you use Slack, there are tools within our tool to help you become more productive. This year we released Workflow Builder, which enables you to automate routine tasks in Slack. You don’t need to know how to code or learn any tricky algorithms. With a few spare minutes, you can create a seamless way to collect equipment requests, report an outage in real time, deliver welcome messages to new teammates, and much more.

And less time spent on these types of tasks is important. Because in 2019, we all learned a whole lot about information overload. Sheena Iyengar, an expert on choice, estimates that the average knowledge worker must process, consciously or subconsciously, the equivalent of 174 newspapers of information every day. “The cost of choice and information overload is that people get distracted, make more errors due to multitasking, and are less good at engaging in creative problem-solving,” Iyengar says. Thankfully, she’s laid out a step-by-step guide to overcoming information overload.

Sometimes it’s not just your brain that gets overloaded, but your calendar too. That’s why many companies, like Cole Haan, are turning to Slack to cut down on their meetings. By using channels for daily syncs and status updates, everyone stays in the loop and gets a bit of time back to boot. “Every interaction we have is more efficient and meaningful because we’ve all been part of the conversation throughout the process,” says David Maddocks, the chief marketing officer of Cole Haan.

Navigating transformation in the workplace

We’ll admit, “transformation” is a bit of a five-dollar word. But this year, it’s on the top of everyone’s minds—and for good reason.

The World Economic Forum economist Saadia Zahidi reckons that knowledge workers’ day-to-day jobs are going to change by nearly 40%. To help with the transition, Zahidi has practical advice about how to futureproof your career. It starts with developing a few familiar, timeless skills: empathy, critical thinking, active listening, reasoning and complex problem-solving.

As you might imagine, our tools are going to change too—76% of knowledge workers report using more apps than they did five years ago, and that number is only growing.

Graphic illustrating that app usage is on the rise across both tech and non-tech roles.

That can make work… complex. Luckily, companies are finding intelligent ways to optimize for the proliferation of apps by adopting solutions that bring all of them into a single place.

That’s one of the benefits Target is enjoying from Slack. At the retailer, Slack is the central hub for all engineering communications. That’s especially helpful when the teams need to exchange information like URLs and IP addresses. Jay Kline, Target’s director of technology for engineering enablement, explains that “for most of the engineers, the biggest thing was going to be both threading and the ability to integrate in with their applications, like GitHub Enterprise and Jira.” Now engineers keep conversations organized and never have to sift through long email chains.

That’s a wrap

It’s been a pretty interesting year for us too. We changed our logo, we brought our Frontiers conference to San Francisco, London and Tokyo. But most important, we released dark mode. It was like we’d put someone on the moon. People were celebrating in the streets. (We’re barely joking.)

On a more serious note, we are, of course, immensely grateful to everyone who helped make this our best year yet. Your patience, your feedback and your trust has helped us shape Slack, each and every day, as it will for years to come. We’re thankful for you all.

Here’s to the next decade! 🥂

Thank you to the illustrators who have contributed to Slack HQ this year: Giacomo Bagnara, Josh Cochran, Ray Domzalski, Ryan Garcia, Robert Samuel Hanson, Josh Holinaty, Patrick Leger, Wenting Li, Abbey Lossing, Samantha Mash, Pete Ryan, Skinny Ships, Christina Ung, Kelsey Wroten and Ping Zhu.

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