As Covid-19 ballooned into a pandemic, Twitter’s leadership team faced a two-pronged challenge: keeping the platform running smoothly for the people that use the service, while putting the health of its workers first.
Ultimately, crisis response meant transitioning Twitter’s 4,900-strong global workforce into an all-remote team. Although the company had been using Slack for several years, it would now need to move conversations and meetings that had previously occurred in person to the platform. On 4th March – shortly after making the decision to go fully remote – Twitter successfully held its first-ever virtual all-hands meeting entirely over Slack and Google Meet.
Given that so many of our customers are navigating a similar situation, we wanted to understand how Twitter seamlessly managed the transition. So we set up a chat with Jennifer Christie (@jenchristiehr), Twitter’s Vice President of People, to learn how the company quickly flipped the switch to go fully remote. She shared with us how Twitter uses Slack to keep teams engaged, aligned and connected no matter where they are.
Aligning leadership in Slack: making the decision to go remote
With 35 offices including Asia, Australia, Europe and South America, managing remote and distributed teams is well within Twitter’s area of expertise. The concept of social distancing, however, is unprecedented – especially because as a company, Twitter values providing physical environments that are conducive to collaboration.
As Covid-19 began to spread across Southeast Asia in February, Twitter’s leadership knew they had to take drastic measures to protect their international teams from contracting or unknowingly spreading the virus. They set up new Slack channels to communicate decisions and share best practices as they monitored the news, including:
- #oneteamQs for employees globally to ask questions during Twitter’s virtual all-hands meeting
- #wfh for anyone to share tips and best practices for working from home
- #twittertravels for Twitter’s travel team to help employees to follow the company’s travel restrictions
- #ask-corpsec-covid19 for Twitter’s global security team to share real-time updates about Covid-19 developments
- #hr-crisis-management for the global People Team to discuss pressing matters related to Covid-19
On 2nd March, Twitter’s leadership unilaterally decided to mandate working from home, with some specific expectations. To ensure that everyone at the company received critical information about the new remote work policy, Twitter dispatched a company-wide announcement via email, but also invited leaders to follow up with their teams and answer questions directly in Slack.
‘We did a lot of the pre-announcement planning – in terms of how we thought about messaging and sharing information – in Slack,’ Christie says. ‘We decided to get a Slack channel going because we knew we’d have to work asynchronously to track developments across time zones.’
‘Twitter employees love their teams. One of our biggest fears about social distancing was not being able to come together in the same way. But Slack has been fantastic.’
Marshalling the troops: facilitating a fully virtual all-hands meeting
The most striking outcome of Twitter’s first virtual all-hands meeting? Involvement skyrocketed among employees who had been reluctant to pipe up with questions in front of a crowd. ‘It engaged the people who weren’t as comfortable approaching a mic,’ Christie says.
Twitter conducted its virtual all-hands meeting using Google Meet for video conferencing, while individual workers responded and asked questions in the #oneteamQs Slack channel. Teammates chimed in, responding to each others’ questions with +1 emoji reactions and follow-up replies. Facilitators divvied up the responses and answered questions in the channel.
‘In this regard, it was very transparent,’ Christie says. ‘Everyone knew which questions were being asked and what we were answering. I think it’ll be hard for us to ever think about doing it a different way.’
For organisations assembling their own virtual all-hands meetings, Twitter has a few tips to share.
Sustaining positive momentum: using Slack to keep teams coordinated and spirits high
Twitter is maintaining its four organisational Covid-19 response channels to keep workers abreast of developments and make adjustments to its work-from-home policy on the fly. Day-to-day work has primarily transitioned to individual team channels, and leaders are coordinating with one another in cross-functional channels. While Slack has proved effective for communicating and planning, Christie emphasises that the social aspect is just as valuable at Twitter.
‘If you ask people who work at Twitter what they love the most about working here, they’ll usually say “the people”,’ she says. ‘Twitter employees love their teams. One of our biggest fears about social distancing was not being able to come together in the same way. But Slack has been fantastic.’
‘I don’t think we’ll ever go back to working the way we did before. And it’s all for the better at the end of the day.’
On Slack, workers are sharing pictures of their home working spaces, favourite playlists and personal check-ins about the ups and downs of working through a crisis. Colleagues are also taking time to coordinate virtual happy hours.
‘People are still able to share their lives in this environment,’ Christie says. ‘We’re finding ways to connect with each other and drive our culture in digital ways that we’ve never really explored before.’
Looking toward the future: preparing for remote work post-pandemic
After the crisis subsides, Christie says, Twitter will build on this positive momentum and continue to promote a remote work culture. Plans include hosting more virtual all-hands meetings and documenting decisions in Slack channels. She anticipates that more people will begin to work remotely both full- and part-time.
‘I don’t think we’ll ever go back to working the way we did before,’ she says. ‘And it’s all for the better at the end of the day.’