Openness in the workplace

Navigating the disruption of work: The rise of openness

The benefits of bottom-up culture and empowered employees are too powerful to ignore, and email no longer makes the cut

By the team at SlackMarch 8th, 2021

This is the third installment of a five-part conversation about how work is changing, why it’s changing, and what the people who lead companies and teams can do about it. We hope it spurs some new ideas for your organization, and we invite you to share those ideas with us on the Slack Twitter feed (@SlackHQ).

In most countries, modern work grew out of a historically top-down business culture inherited from the Industrial Revolution:

  • Decisions were made by the most senior people, in closed rooms.
  • Access to information was tightly controlled and released carefully. Workers weren’t expected to need context to perform their highly specialized tasks.
  • New colleagues needed to be onboarded using high-overhead methods, like meetings and calls.

Email was the natural heir to this style of work and an enabler of it. One-to-one messages and closed threads, initiated and prioritized by the sender, were a good way to keep tight control of information and to insulate the workforce from decision-making.

Today, a bottom-up work culture is emerging in many countries, and the pandemic has accelerated this trend. Here, the default is openness, as more decisions are made in public forums. And email is rarely the medium of choice.

The pressure to deliver great customer experiences has been a major driver of the new open work culture: When a customer service agent is forced to work through five levels of approval just to give a customer a refund, the customer will go elsewhere next time. HubSpot is a well-documented example of an open, transparent culture that has scaled up successfully because it’s built around the customer.

Jeetu Mahtani, SVP of International Operations, HubSpot

“As part of getting the culture right, my goal has always been to make sure we continue valuing transparency and autonomy across all our teams globally.”

Jeetu MahtaniSVP of International Operations, HubSpot

Read the full guide on Navigating the Disruption of Work here.

The next normal: Work opens up

The trend toward more included and empowered employees feels inevitable. The dividends are just too great:

  • Better decisions made by better-informed people
  • More engaged people who feel like they’re a part of the company mission
  • Greater alignment across teams because everyone can see the company strategy and team priorities
  • The ability to pivot faster in response to changes for the customer or in the market
  • More efficient, lower-cost onboarding of new team members because all relevant conversations are available in one place
  • Better collaboration across departments and companies instead of data, knowledge and process silos that inhibit work

Old-school, command-and-control leadership styles will be with us for a while, and for some environments (like offshore oil rigs), they may be essential. But even there, the trend is accelerating toward open inclusiveness.

Get more done in Slack Connect

The rise of the extended enterprise—where value is increasingly delivered by ecosystems, not just single corporate entities—has led to the need to securely collaborate with partners, clients, suppliers, vendors and customer organizations. Slack Connect is a simple way to achieve this, and has already been adopted by 52,000 global organizations and counting.

Some standout numbers among these companies include:

  • Four times faster deal cycles for a sales team
  • 64% decrease in backlog tickets for a customer support team
  • Two times faster close in company acquisition for a business development team

The payment processing platform Stripe was an early adopter of Slack Connect, and has accelerated its use during the pandemic. Not only are sales reps there able to close deals faster, they’re redefining a “uniquely Stripe” sales process that involves engaging with prospects before, during and after the contract is signed. See how they did it, here.

Andrew Walsh, CEO, Iress

“If you’re interested in connecting with people, moving faster and improving engagement, then open up the conversations—don’t keep them closed in email.”

Andrew WalshCEO, Iress


The next imperative: Let the light and air in

The Slack State of Work study found that understanding the big picture is no longer the sole domain of the C-suite. We found a direct correlation between regular communication of company strategy and people rating their companies as “excellent” against a long list of attributes: career progression, collaboration, communication, effective use of technology, productivity, morale, training, work-life balance, culture and openness to feedback.

In many of the companies we admire most, the executive team doesn’t feel that their employees work for them. They work for their people. The “servant leadership” movement pioneered by Robert K. Greenleaf and Simon Sinek’s influential Leaders Eat Last are both built on this idea.

Serving your people starts with giving them the information they need to do their jobs and creating an open workplace that promotes knowledge sharing.

Katie Burke, Chief People Officer, HubSpot

“There is no physical barrier between our leadership team and the frontline employees, and that’s very intentional. That literally means you can access our CTO and co-founder and ask him a quick question about a project you’re working on.”

Katie BurkeChief People Officer, HubSpot

Email has had a good run and will continue to support some kinds of communication. But for today’s faster, cross-functional collaboration, it’s no longer the right tool.

The channel-based messaging that Slack enables is rapidly replacing email in companies that want an open, inclusive culture. Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield captures the idea: “Once all communication is moved into channels, everyone knows where to go to ask their question, to give their update, to get caught up. The impact of this is transformative.”

Up next: The last gasps of analog work.

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