Today, almost 500 days after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic, the world has fundamentally changed. While vaccines have allowed some of us to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel, many continue to struggle.
Almost all of us have faced loss and longing, unanswerable questions and new, daily hardships in the most mundane of tasks. But we’ve also shattered norms, abandoned old routines and rewritten what we thought were the ironclad rules of work. Today, though it is because of a wretched pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink and reshape how and where we work. (Spoiler alert: the raging debate between office and remote working is a false choice – it’s neither.) Okay, we won’t be going into the office every day, but we also won’t abolish our time together; the future of work is more about the digital tools that allow us to balance doing our best work with living our best lives.
Change is hard. Generational change is even harder – as individuals and especially as a society. We are drawn to the status quo and find comfort in what we know. But when change is forced on us, sometimes it reveals a crack, and the light gets in. At Slack, we see this as an opportunity to make our working lives better. The way that we’re working right now is accidental, but it doesn’t have to be. We have the chance to seize this moment and retool with imagination and intention. When we think about the future of work, we shouldn’t think about going back to the way things were pre-pandemic. Too much has changed. At the same time, it’s not as simple as getting employees back in the office or helping them to work from home forever – we need to meet our employees where they are, helping them to do their best work with a lifestyle that works best for them. At Slack, we think about this as a digital-first approach to work.
First, what we know: Slack’s Future Forum shows that 93% of knowledge workers want flexibility in when they work, while 76% want flexibility in where they work. In short, distributed work is here to stay. Other research shows the same. We also know that we are just as effective, creative and productive working from home. In fact, some of the largest companies in the world in banking and tech – many of which had previously made offices the cornerstone of how they work – have produced record-breaking profits with a remote workforce this past year.
We’ve relocated, welcomed unexpected Zoom cameos and got to know our colleagues on a more human level. We’ve even found better ways to balance work and life. This is the new, digital-first way of working. It means that no matter where we work, we have the tools that enable us to be at our most productive and most balanced. This isn’t just about ‘working from home’ – it’s about being able to ‘work from happy’.
What I’ve seen over the past 16 months is that people want to do good work, and they’ve realised that there’s a new way. It won’t be perfect or pretty, and the exact formula is still unfinished, but work and life can change forever for the better if our North Star remains a vision rooted in flexibility, inclusivity and connection.
Our digital headquarters need to be at least as important as our physical headquarters – if not more so. It’s what employees will expect. The office becomes another tool in our productivity toolbox, but being ‘digital-first’ doesn’t mean ‘never in person’. It means empowering people to work when and where it’s best for them. Hours logged staring at a screen or the number of people in the office are no longer the metrics that matter – we should measure performance not by rigidity and activity, but by impact and outcomes.
We all have obligations, be it children or parents, friends or hobbies. We have lives. And we also enjoy the balance that comes with work and delivering great results. We need to empower, not micromanage from a distance, and prioritise new tools that help us to connect and stay engaged wherever we are, on whatever schedule works best, which will improve productivity and morale.
With distributed work, we can extend opportunities in the knowledge economy to areas and people that have been historically excluded. As a result of the transition to remote and distributed work, Slack has hired 50% more remote-based under-represented minorities (URMs) than office-based. By hiring outside the traditional ‘HQ’, we tap into deeper, more diverse talent pools. But this isn’t enough – to strengthen inclusion in a distributed world, we need to be intentional about having clearer expectations and better team habits. We need to level the playing field with a transparent sharing of knowledge, removing barriers to opportunity for everyone.
Slack is the connective tissue that brings us together. It’s our digital headquarters. The speed and agility that come with transparent communication in channels drive alignment, fuel collaboration and create connection – regardless of time zones. But Slack is also just a tool – and like all great software, it’s up to every organisation to instill the values, install the guardrails and paint the dotted lines that maximise connections and minimise distractions.
At Slack, we’ve been hard at work designing and perfecting the best business communication tool in history with the future of work in mind. We believe that these post-pandemic guidelines – which are now Slack’s guidelines – can help companies to shape that future.
- The executive team will be digital-first. There won’t be any dedicated exec floors in any of our offices, and execs will focus their office time on team events and customer interaction. Our guidance to leaders is to spend fewer than three days per week in the office.
- Getting teams together in person should have a purpose, such as team-building activities, project kick-offs and other events that are planned in advance, pairing flexibility with predictability.
- ‘One dials in, all dial in.’ Most meetings should be distributed, digital and dial-in. Think audio-first, and be intentional about using video.
- Shared space is for teamwork. While we’ll always support the needs of those who require individual space, the office is team- and customer-centric. We’ll have to experiment and redesign our shared space to be a more flexible, activity-based workplace that supports teams.
- Embrace asynchronous tools. Use channels for status updates and asynchronous work, use ‘always-on audio’ for team chats and impromptu calls in Slack, and use your phone for one-to-one conversations!
- All employees have a ‘home’ team with core hours tied to that team’s time zone, and should have team-level agreements that blend time together with meeting-free zones. For example, collaboration hours (10:00–14:00), maker hours (09:00–11:00, Tuesday–Thursday) or ‘no meetings’ times.
Embracing this digital-first shift won’t happen overnight. But this is about progress, not perfection; it’s about experimenting and evolving. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach – different employees will have different needs. But with new tools, we can keep people connected to their colleagues and engaged with their work across locations and time zones. With flexible principles, work will be easier, better, more productive and maybe even a little more joyful. We should all be able to ‘work from happy’.
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