A photo illustration by Slack to accompany piece on remote work

Why Slack works when you work from home

The second in a series to help make remote work simpler, more pleasant and more productive

Working from home presents both an opportunity and a challenge, whether it’s prompted by an unforeseen situation like a global health crisis or it’s the central nature of your job.

The opportunity lies in finding new ways to stay connected with your team and to keep work moving forward. The challenge is knowing where to start and what to prioritize. The good news is that many people are working from home and staying productive, so you can too.

In this guide we’ll run through basic principles for productive telecommuting for all levels and types of jobs. First, though, how common is remote work these days?

1. Remote work by the numbers

The latest global data

Most companies today allow at least some level of work-from-home flexibility. Slack and research firm GlobalWebIndex surveyed 17,000 knowledge workers across 10 countries in 2019 and found that 75% of workers are permitted to work from home to some extent. Within that, 51% said remote work was OK in some circumstances, and 24% said it was broadly permitted by their workplaces.

Remote work is no longer the exception.

What’s driving the shift? Technological advances, workplace demographic changes with more and more digital natives filling company ranks and an expanding roster of companies, like Slack customer and partner Zapier, where everyone is WFA: work from anywhere.

2. Setting yourself up for success

Learning what works

Whether you are new to remote work or fairly familiar with the concept, the questions are pretty universal: Will I be able to keep up with my work? Will colleagues and managers still notice my contributions even if I’m not in the office? Will I feel isolated now that my team is at a distance?

We’ve learned a lot from people using Slack for remote work, including internal teams.

 

By focusing on these areas you’ll tackle the most common concerns head-on. Let’s look deeper into each one:

3. Keeping productive

Modern work needs modern tools

Slack’s founding team included two fully remote members working with colleagues split between two offices in two different countries, so remote work is in our DNA.

We rely on channels, the space in Slack where work is organized and where you can message the whole team or just a small group or individuals, provide updates, share files, receive organization-wide announcements and plenty more.

Most companies, including Slack, have channels for almost anything, from individual projects to channels representing entire teams. For example, when you can’t walk down the hall to finance you aren’t out of luck or left digging for the right person. Simply go to the #help-finance channel, drop in your question or ask for a private direct message back. The team has transparency around requests and urgency and can address things efficiently.

Another common concern among many remote teams: How am I going to know what everyone is working on? Does this mean more meetings, giving me less time to do work? Many remote teams use the opportunity to increase transparency and decrease unnecessary meetings. For example, you can hold a daily stand-up meeting right within Slack. It’s interactive, easy to set up and will get your team aligned quickly.

Channels are also where you take action on your work—hitting deadlines, giving approvals, reviewing documents and more. Public channels, for example, are a great way to keep people informed of progress without the need for a regular meeting.

Effective remote work extends beyond software, of course, and into optimizing your physical space and well-being.

 

In all, don’t feel like you don’t have control over your schedule or your work, it just may take some adjustments.

4. Staying visible

Focus on thoughtful engagement

Team spaces and main offices don’t have to be physical to be meaningful and engaging. The average user of Slack is engaged with Slack for nine hours per day because it quickly becomes the default “main office,” where you come to do your work and get the information you need to make the most impact.

You’ll also want to think about how to make goals and works-in-progress broadly visible to the team. Shifting back to channels, here’s what we’re discussing in the #remote-best-practices channel at Slack. Highly successful remote workers invest in using video to see and hear their team and vice versa. A few things to consider:

  • Video chats don’t have to be formal meetings. You can start a voice call or a video call right in Slack so when messages aren’t enough, you can take a minute to talk it out.
  • Think about accessibility. For lip readers, if they can’t see your face, they will not be able to understand what you are saying.
  • Be mindful of what’s in your background. Adorable pets and nice views are usually fine, but a glaring sun behind you or a lot of clutter? Not so much. When life happens, Zoom, a Slack partner, features handy virtual backgrounds.
  • Dress for the occasion. Sure, one benefit of telecommuting is a more relaxed dress code, but professionalism will surely suffer if you’re always on video meetings dressed for the gym versus the office.
  • Use your status updates in Slack to communicate your availability. Working from home doesn’t mean you need to be on call 24/7.
  • Managers may want to check that they aren’t drifting into micromanaging and focus on transparent output.

5. Creating connections

Filling the human-interaction gap

Okta, an identity security company and Slack customer, understands the importance of taking time to forge connections among remote workers. The company’s efforts can be as comprehensive as shifting onboarding practices for all remote workers to include video introductions, to simply taking a few minutes at the beginning of virtual meetings to catch up and recap the weekend or share news on projects. Okta’s Remy Champion, who works from her home in Haiku, Hawaii, over 2,000 miles away from the main Okta office, says personal relationships and trust breed better team collaboration and results.

Take the time to celebrate team wins, team members’ birthdays and other milestones. All of those emojis and reacjis within Slack are there for a reason—for teams to express more than what simply typing words can convey.

Video can help here too. Some of our managers at Slack host regular video-based “toast” or happy hours with their remote teams. Everyone brings a favorite beverage to a video meeting and takes turns sharing recognition.

Another great tip from our remote-experienced managers: Pay extra attention to your local announcement and discussion channels in Slack because you will be missing out on those cafe and hallway talks.

Related content: Ready for more tactical advice? Bookmark this guide for more Slack-specific tips for when you and your team are up and running.

6. Assessing your apps and integrations

Find your tools all in one place

The average worker today will interact with a wide range of apps at work, logging on to one to request PTO and then another to file an expense report and so on. It’s crucial that your time spent working remotely includes seamless access to the apps you use the most. Even small companies will use about 40 applications in total, according to one survey, while medium to large enterprises may have anywhere from 200 to over 1,000.

We use many of these apps without leaving the Slack Platform, which cuts down on context switching, a well-known productivity killer. Our App Directory now features more than 2,000 different apps, including the perennially popular Google and Office 365 integrations.

Other remote-friendly integrations to consider include Zoom video conferencing and using Slackbot or Workflow Builder integrations to engage your teams. Slackbot comes with Slack and can be programmed with automatic prompts such as, “What are you working on today?” or as we do on the Marketing team here, a “Fri-yay” celebration prompt that pops up in our team channel each Friday to show peer and partner appreciation. Buffer, a social media company, created a handy round-up of Slack apps they use for remote work for its fully distributed staff.

 

7. Thinking through trust and security

You’ll want to ensure that your data is safe while you work from anywhere

Another common question about shifting from in-office work to telecommuting is how to do it safely and securely, after all, your company might not be big enough to have its own VPN, or virtual private network. If you don’t it’s OK. We encrypt all of the data for you.

Another issue is scale. If world events force everyone to suddenly work from home, can your software support the load? At Slack, we scale up as more people use the product to meet demand. IBM currently has 350,000 users on Slack—its entire global workforce. IBM teams use Slack to minimize distractions by relying less on meetings and email on the communications front but also as a means to align its development and operations.

Twitter recently combined Slack and Google Meet to stage its first virtual global all-hands for all 4,600 employees, which afterward one staffer described on his public Twitter feed as feeling “like a small meeting with the reach of an all hands.”

8. Exploring what’s next

Learning and thriving is the name of the game

Working from home, even for a short time, can prompt new insights into how you work and offer a different frame of connection with your colleagues. Be open to new ways of working. Know it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

 

To learn more, drop by one of our remote work webinars or schedule a one-on-one consultation with a Slack expert to help you navigate your transition to a remote work environment.

We’d love to hear your best work from home tips—let’s connect on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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