During the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we surveyed nearly 3,000 knowledge workers across all 50 states to understand how they were adapting. At first, employees new to working from home struggled to maintain productivity and communication.
Yet workers who used Slack, the channel-based messaging platform, were more likely than non-Slack-users to report that their productivity actually improved when working from home. This was especially true when their leadership already had a remote work plan in place. Of respondents who felt that their company was highly prepared, 46% preferred working from home (versus 17% among those who felt their company was not highly prepared).
At Slack Frontiers, our annual conference focused on transforming how everyone works, we talked with leaders from three very different organizations—Stanford University, Comcast and Booz Allen Hamilton—about how they pivoted to remote work. Turns out, careful planning and a bit of prescience made the transition that much smoother.
Using Slack to transform on-campus staff into a distributed workforce
Shannon Santanocito, a service delivery and operations manager at Stanford University, and her team provide a wide range of IT support services. When the pandemic hit, Santanocito’s team was informed on a Thursday that all nonessential staff would shift to remote work by that Monday, giving them a weekend to transition.
Thankfully, the team had already done a lot of planning for getting the campus ready for distributed work prior to the pandemic. By working with Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning in Slack, they were able to help faculty and staff transition successfully.
“We had a lot of toolkits ready to go for distributed working, and Slack was a big piece of how we planned to keep everyone connected.”
Meeting surges in demand while supporting remote workers, with Slack
As an engineer and the Slack product owner at Comcast’s headquarters in Philadelphia, Colin Weir helps manage the internal tooling essential for the telecommunications company’s engineering, technology and product departments. “Two of the biggest tools my team manages are Slack and GitHub,” he says.
In March and April 2020, Comcast traffic jumped more than 30% and as high as 60%, with videoconferencing increasing by 285%. The company was able to rise to the demand thanks to a decade of forward-looking innovations and a recent internal migration from Cisco Webex as a conference bridge to Microsoft Teams.
For customers like Comcast that also use Microsoft tools, Slack integrations for Microsoft Teams Calls, Office 365, OneDrive and Outlook Calendar helped ease the transition to remote work for employees.
“Thanks to the Teams Calls integration in Slack, what was going to be a six-month phase-out transition happened in a few weeks. The Office 365 integration was very helpful too.”
Weir predicts that a distributed workforce won’t just disappear for Comcast after the pandemic ends and that the company will continue to adapt. “Something we’re going to look at as we go back to the office sometime in 2021 is how do we take these satellite offices, satellite workers, and better integrate them into the day-to-day culture so that they have the same first-class experience as colleagues sitting at a desk in Philadelphia,” he says.
Booz Allen Hamilton
Smoothly pivoting to remote online collaboration
Owen Beste, a delivery manager for internal information services, sits in the internal IT division at Booz Allen Hamilton, a global technology consultancy that works with the U.S. and foreign governments. He runs the client solutions group, where he administers technology tools like Slack, GitHub, Jira and Jenkins.
Beste’s team had just completed a multi-month migration from a teleconferencing bridge to Cisco Webex at the start of the pandemic. So colleagues who would normally have in-office visits with clients were poised to work externally online, allowing for a relatively smooth transition.
“When the pandemic started, we were ready to start collaborating remotely with clients through video meetings and using Slack with clients by provisioning them guest access to channels.”
Beste echoes Weir’s sentiment that the transition ultimately exposed the differences between in-person and distributed workforces at the company. “The biggest silver lining is the equalization of people across locations,” he explains. “Now that everyone is separate, it makes the experience equal for everyone. Those folks who didn’t get to participate in the ad hoc conversations are now all on the same page.”
The future of work: an evolving hybrid model
The first set of data from our Future Forum’s Remote Employee Experience Index shows that, globally, 72% of knowledge workers surveyed would prefer a hybrid arrangement that involves both remote and in-office work, placing Stanford, Comcast and Booz Allen Hamilton ahead of the curve. “I think this hybrid model is really going to evolve for us in the future,” Santanocito says.
Weir notes that working from home can help Comcast draw from a new pool of future candidates. “There’s a lot of interest in getting more candidates from different backgrounds, and being able to consider a remote-optional culture will definitely be advantageous,” he says.
Booz Allen Hamilton is also likely to adopt such a model, partly because of its highly technical and secure work with governments. “We’ve proven that distributed delivery can work, but I think we’ll have a hybrid model where we can really leverage the benefits of both approaches,” Beste says.
For now, we’ve seen the positive impact a channel-based messaging platform like Slack can have on a remote workforce. We’re proud to continue to navigate these unprecedented changes together with leaders across the globe, and we’re invested in helping everyone come out on the other side stronger than before.