Collaboration

In it together: Unity unites its newly remote workforce in Slack

How the platform for 3D developers got 3,400 employees in 17 countries up and running remotely in less than a week

Author: Seth PutnamApril 15th, 2020Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara

This story is part of an ongoing series exploring how organizations are supporting remote work during the Covid-19 crisis. We hope these stories provide actionable tips and inspiration that organizations can use to make this transition a little bit smoother.

In January, as the coronavirus was starting to spread around the world, regional teams for Unity, a real-time 3D development platform with offices across the globe, sprung into action. Teams at Unity had to work with local governments to help employees secure supplies, learn how to navigate office closures and ensure that employees stay productive by using Slack, the channel-based messaging platform.

Unity activated its crisis management team (CMT) to figure out how to transition its global workforce of more than 3,400 employees to a new work-from-home reality. The CMT used Slack as a one-stop hub to instantly disperse critical information to its staff across 43 offices in 17 countries.

“We could never have released a response to Covid-19 in five business days without Slack,” says Amanda Taggart, Unity’s global director of PR, communications and events. “We mobilized around 50 people literally around the world, who worked in offices on a Friday, and started all of our employees working from home that following Monday.”

In the weeks preceding Covid-19, Unity averaged around 120,000 messages a day. Now they’re averaging more than 175,000 a day.

“In a time of such uncertainty, fear, and confusion, communication to our employees needed to occur in the most efficient way possible, which is why we turned to Slack.”

Amanda TaggartGlobal director of PR, communications and events, Unity

Providing human connection and support with Slack channels

Best known as the engine that powers half of all console, mobile and personal computer games, Unity’s technology also has major applications in other industries such as automotive, film, architecture, engineering and construction, giving designers the ability to more accurately visualize the large-scale spaces and machines they’re creating.

In spite of the changes in the wake of Covid-19, the work must go on. But with swirling employee concerns about workplace disruption, economic upheaval, family responsibilities and personal safety, Unity first focused on turning Slack channels—a single, digital space for multiple people to share messages and files—into a place of refuge for its workforce.

“The well-being and safety of our employees have always been priority No. 1,” says Taggart. “In a time of such uncertainty, fear, and confusion, communication to our employees needed to occur in the most efficient way possible, which is why we turned to Slack.”

After Unity directed its workers to shelter in place, engagement in the Slack channel #unity-all—a channel usually reserved for the company’s most important news—soared. The increase in engagement indicated employees’ deep need to feel connected and find answers to their questions.

One of Unity’s cornerstone values is “in it together,” which inspired the creation of a #talk-in-it-together channel designed to create and nurture professional human connection for employees. In a normal work climate, it’s easy to separate professional and personal lives because they happen in different physical locations. Now, however, colleagues are being honest about their struggles to achieve work-life balance.

When a software test engineer posted an image of his work-from-home station, an ironing board with two monitors perched precariously on top, he inspired a flood of similar shares.

Unnity technologies slack channel WFH

“I am enjoying seeing the #wfh-setups pics in this channel to pick up on some of the chatter I would normally hear walking between floors,” wrote Dave Rhodes, Unity’s chief revenue officer, in the channel. “It’s like the hallways of Unity are talking.”

Then there was the time when Kim Jabal, Unity’s chief financial officer, confessed that she had fed her kids frozen pizza for lunch—and dinner too. Suddenly a #talk-pizza channel was born, and in it people lightheartedly debated deep dish vs. thin crust and set up a poll to put their allegiances on the record.

Unity technologies Slack poll

And for history buffs, there’s #talk-on-this-day, a channel that features facts from that day in years past.

Sharing valuable advice on working (and parenting) from home in Slack

As helpful as it’s been to keep things light, employees have been helping each other out with more serious issues too. For parents of small children, there’s #talk-parents and #wfh-with-toddler, two channels that have become lifelines for advice, commiseration, and often hilarious stories and photos.

In #work-from-home-tips, Unity’s veteran remote workers have shared tips for adjusting to the work-from-home lifestyle, reminding each other of the importance of sticking to a schedule, getting some fresh air, setting up a dedicated workspace and taking breaks.

During this unprecedented time, Unity’s executives have found that it’s essential to be honest about the difficulties everyone is experiencing simultaneously.

“Being calm and focused on work helps, but sometimes it’s not enough,” Ruth Ann Keene, Unity’s chief legal officer and general counsel, shared in a Slack channel. “Not only is it hard at work, it’s also hard at home, in my community and with the people I love. Acknowledging how hard it’s been though has really helped me get through it so far.”

In a world of uncertainty, Unity’s employees have come to count on these channels as safe spaces to share and decompress while working remotely.

Continuing to bring visions to life (remotely) with Slack

All the support Unity’s teams get from Slack channels have laid the groundwork for big-time products to be launched. In just a weekend, the company was able to introduce Unity Learn Premium (three months of all-access technology for free) and Create with Code, which offers free virtual classes for would-be coders.

“Getting two initiatives off the ground was no easy feat,” says Taggart. “We launched both initiatives in four days, a truly Herculean effort thanks to Slack.”

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