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The Defense Digital Service fortifies government teamwork with Slack

The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest federal agency, charged with ensuring national security. Behind the scenes, the Defense Digital Service is a team of technologists working at the request of the Secretary of Defense and helping the DoD leapfrog the current state of technology for the federal agency. When it comes to coordinating communication between agencies and initiatives, the DDS trusts Slack, the secure channel-based messaging platform.

IT administrators and security professionals across the public sector can rest assured that Slack, with its FedRAMP Moderate–authorized platform, meets some of the most stringent security and compliance standards. That’s why DDS has been using Slack to support remote work, from helping the human resources division for the Washington Headquarters Service onboard approximately 1,200 new DoD employees during the Covid-19 pandemic—including more than 40 DDS employees—to coordinating hackathon events and protecting federal data.

Successfully onboarding more than 1,200 federal employees remotely

Taking the oath of office with Slack

At the start of the pandemic, DDS partnered with the Washington Headquarters Services, which provides administrative support services to the defense agency, because the human resources division feared it would have to stop onboarding new DoD employees. The oath of office—with the right hand raised and eyes on the American flag—is the first assignment every federal employee completes, and DDS realized it could harness Slack’s built-in voice and video capabilities to swear in and onboard new employees from the safety of their homes.

All Slack users can launch a call in a direct message with another person without ever leaving Slack. Organizations can also connect Slack to other voice and video conferencing services, like Zoom and Webex.

Exchanging onboarding documents remotely and securely

When in-person new-hire onboarding wasn’t possible, DDS turned to Slack channels to send and receive personnel documents. Slack channels are a single place to share messages, tools and files.

DDS and the WHS personnel office used channels to instantly exchange key onboarding documents with individuals and chat with them directly if needed. Rather than creating long, unwieldy email chains, teammates keep channels focused with threads, a feature that organizes topics in detail without adding clutter to a conversation’s main view. The pin feature also helps teammates easily find and access important documents and messages.

Helping admins connect employees to resources

For tracking and managing employees’ technical questions, administrators rely on Workflow Builder to help field requests. Workflow Builder is Slack’s no-code tool for automating routine tasks, so teammates can spend less time coordinating and more time on deep work.

Creating a workflow to capture and standardize these requests has helped DDS’ IT teams reduce back-and-forth communication. When teammates submit their help request in the #tools channel using Workflow Builder, the appropriate admin responds to the query directly in the channel using the threads feature. With Workflow Builder and channels, requests are easy to track and never get lost in the email shuffle.

Letting employees track key tasks

Slack’s reminder system helps DDS employees keep track of administrative tasks like completing timesheets. They simply type /remind, followed by the task they want to be reminded of and when. Reminders are great for one-time, same-day notes to yourself, like “/remind me to submit my timesheet,” but they can also be directed at a coworker’s username, a user group or a channel.

Securely collaborating with external partners in Slack Connect

DDS collaborates with about a dozen organizations across the federal government and private sector, from agencies like the Department of Homeland Security to tech contractors. Now that they are all operating remotely, security has never been more paramount.

Slack Connect is a secure and productive way for organizations to communicate with each other. With Slack Connect, DDS is moving conversations with partners out of email and into Slack. The benefits are big: faster communication, stronger relationships, more transparency and heightened security.

DDS uses a workflow to quickly add external partners to Slack. The workflow includes:

  • Employee name
  • Role
  • Organization
  • How long they should have access to Slack
  • Which channels they should access

Admins can then approve these requests directly in the relevant Slack channel.

The DDS says Slack Connect has helped it strengthen relationships with its partners. Every day, project managers across the agency drop requests in shared channels, and partners can reply with a detailed response or follow-up questions. If the answer is a simple response, like “On it,” they can use an emoji reaction instead.

In addition to their practical function, emoji are a tool that let teammates’ personalities shine through. At DDS, using some of their favorite emoji helps internal and external teammates establish rapport.

Defending cybersecurity with strong external communication

In 2016, DDS founded Hack the Pentagon, the federal government’s first-ever bug bounty program. During bug bounties, individuals research and disclose the security vulnerabilities of DoD websites and platforms.

Since the start of the program, there have been 26 bug bounty events, and Slack has become DDS’s home base for running and coordinating all of them. With Slack Connect, teammates at the DDS and DoD can work together to troubleshoot vulnerabilities, sharing critical documents and resolving problems in real time.

Reducing context switching and saving teams time

Finally, DDS employees emphasize how much Slack has saved teammates precious time. That’s because it connects the most popular workplace apps in a single place, making it easier to share information. DDS uses G Suite, Atlassian and GitHub directly in Slack. And when teammates don’t have to chase down tasks and messages across multiple platforms, they have more time to focus on the work that really matters—keeping federal data safe.