Work smarter, from anywhere: How IT leaders are shaping the new normal

Author: Aoife Rogers14th October 2021Illustration by Chris Gash

Covid-19 brought a sea change to how we work, and there is no going back to business as usual. The organisations that will thrive are the ones that can combine the best of their previous practices with the new methods developed while people worked from home.

IT leaders are key to creating this hybrid workplace. From facilitating asynchronous work practices—where people contribute at times that suit them best—to increasing the use of automation, IT leaders are reducing friction points across the board.

With optimised tech stacks, flexible work can legitimately surpass the traditional 9-to-5 workday. Employees can work smarter, equipped with schedules that suit their lives and software that drives efficiency.

At Slack Frontiers Europe 2021, an immersive event on the future of work, IT experts detailed how Slack is helping them rise to the challenges of a much-altered working environment. Jörg Baldzer, an IT infrastructure lead at Free Now, explained how the company is driving results with Slack Enterprise Grid, while Russell Warman, the head of IT infrastructure at Auto Trader UK, advised on how to run a hybrid workplace efficiently with Slack and Office 365.

Flexible, secure collaboration that works for the wider company

To successfully pivot to a new way of working, companies need a resilient culture, along with the ability to foster agility and innovation. With Slack’s Enterprise Grid, employee collaboration becomes seamless.

Enterprise Grid is Slack’s solution for large or complex organisations. It offers unlimited interconnecting workspaces, so employees can collaborate with their immediate teams but also share and find information across the entire company. IT admins can create customised protocols for access, compliance and security for each workspace and manage them all right from Slack.

Free Now was the world’s first taxi app to offer a direct connection between passenger and driver. It has operations in 16 countries, and 50 million people in 150 cities use its app for booking rides, car-sharing trips, e-scooters and e-bikes. A Slack customer since 2014, Free Now moved to Enterprise Grid in 2019 so that it could streamline work with its sister companies around the world.

“It’s great to be able to bring people together in a secure place to share ideas and discuss best practices,” Baldzer says. “We created different workspaces for all our various teams, such as finance, security and marketing, so they can work closely together without artificial boundaries. That simply wasn’t possible before.”

Free Now’s staff onboarding takes place in Slack too. Its HR and IT departments rely on a private Slack channel— a place for sharing messages, tools and files—to share progress notes and preparations.

“It streamlines communication between the two departments, which is especially important when we are onboarding remotely,” Baldzer says.

Over 80% of our communication happens in Slack; it’s our most important tool.

Jörg BaldzerIT Infrastructure Lead, Free Now

Automation makes self-service a reality

Free Now’s IT department has optimised its tech stack by integrating its most-used apps into Slack. For instance, Free Now’s developers use Jira for project management, and the Jira app helps them stay on top of any issues that might occur. They receive notifications directly in Slack, so they can stay on task and resolve issues faster.

The IT department also uses Slack’s automation capabilities to speed up work across the entire company. An example is Pal, a custom Slack app the team built to answer common HR questions. Users simply submit their query for an instant, automated response.

“By adding workflows and apps, tasks like collecting managers’ approvals happen in minutes rather than hours or even days,” Baldzer says. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this, and we’re funnelling more and more staff members into our Slack self-service portal.”

Free Now works closely with many different businesses, including software development companies and marketing agencies. Before Slack, it mainly used email to communicate with them, which made true cooperation difficult at times. With Slack Connect, Free Now has securely extended Slack’s channel-based messaging to these external organisations, so it’s much easier to get work done in real time.

“Slack Connect’s security features are really important to us,” Baldzer says. “Once we verify an organisation, we then turn on automatic approval so we don’t have to manually approve every request from them. It removes IT as a bottleneck.”

Slack is more than just a messaging platform for us. It’s become a communication interface for all of our different tools.

Jörg BaldzerIT Infrastructure Lead, Free Now

An ultra-efficient, hybrid workplace

Established in 1977 as a local classified magazine, Auto Trader has become the largest digital automotive marketplace in the U.K. and Ireland. Its website lists more than 485,000 vehicles and receives an average of 58.3 million visits each month. To convert those visits into sold cars for retailers, Auto Trader must create a seamless user experience, which requires cross-departmental collaboration and transparency.

As Auto Trader moves to a hybrid workplace—a mix of asynchronous and synchronous work, with employees both at home and in the office—its communication tools have become more important than ever. Over the course of the pandemic, it emerged that its most effective platforms for facilitating teamwork were Slack and Office 365.

“We use Slack for instant messaging and also as our persistent messaging tool within teams,” Warman says. “We often switch to a video call right from Slack, to quickly clarify issues. With home-working, it’s important to maintain that face-to-face communication and the feeling of being connected to each other.”

Auto Trader uses Office 365 for structured collaboration tasks. That can include calendar invites with links to Microsoft Teams meetings and to associated Teams sites with background information like spreadsheets or agenda slides.

“We’ll then have a Slack channel that supports the Teams site for the more ad hoc conversations,” Warman says. “Slack and Office 365 do serve separate purposes, but there’s also a great crossover between them.”

As one of the leads for Auto Trader’s disability and neuro-diversity network, Warman regularly leverages the Slack/Office 365 combination. For instance, when he is organising a diversity and inclusion workshop, he first sends a calendar invite to other network leads in groups such as LGBTQ+ and women. He then puts a message in the disability and neuro-diversity Slack channel to find out who would like to help facilitate the workshop.

When someone responds, he goes into Outlook, finds a slot in their diary and has a Teams call with them. Through a Teams site, they go over the PowerPoint slides for the workshop and figure out who will present each one.

“In the run-up to the workshop, we’ll still be having conversations in Slack,” Warman says. “We’ll talk about whether there are any updates, if there’s anything new that we need to include. Then we’ll make the presentation through Teams in a private breakout room.”

For Auto Trader, being prescriptive about what works best for different tasks has helped employees to get the most out of the technology they use.

“People have a plethora of tools, so nailing that down allows them to be more productive and find a good working rhythm,” Warman says.

During the pandemic, we refined how we use Slack and Office 365 together; we get more out of both tools now.

Russell WarmanHead of IT Infrastructure, Auto Trader

The pandemic has taught us that work can happen, even flourish, in the absence of traditional practices and settings. IT leaders are driving the acceptance of this “next normal,” by identifying and optimising the tools that will allow businesses to thrive.

Slack has launched the Future Forum, a consortium to help companies create a people-centric and digital-first future of work. Competitiveness has shifted from scale to agility: the ability to create shared purpose, align teams and enable them to react rapidly to opportunities and challenges. Find out more about how you can help your company to reimagine culture and norms and leverage technology to create a better way to work.

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