Teleworking and telecommuting have long been heralded as magical cures to the ailments of pollution, lost time and other ills of commuter culture, but concerns over communications inefficiency, decreased project and team continuity and questionable employee productivity have caused many employers to pause. Marissa Mayer famously banned a preexisting teleworking program soon after taking the helm as CEO of Yahoo! Inc, emphasizing that people are “more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”[i]
While these risks of historic telework arrangements are real, several companies are actively building platforms that seek to capture its tremendous benefits while sidestepping potential costs. An innovative leader in this space is Slack, a cloud-based communication and collaboration Software as a Service (SAAS) platform, which employs a freemium pricing model and has attracted millions of ardent followers. And the model seems to be working – as of last month Slack had 1.25M+ paid users, 5.8M weekly active users and 33,000 paying teams, which amounts to $100M in annual recurring revenues.
Fortune 100 companies aren’t the only major organizations using Slack. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory staff use of the software to help coordinate projects, both within and across shifts. Slack’s website highlights that “a lot can happen during a shift. Slack allows staff coming on to track and search the communications that have occurred during the day.”[ii] This applies to a globally distributed workforce as well. By organizing each conversation subset as a unique “channel” that is easy to join and leave, or share files or search for previous communications, or to pass specific information to individuals, subgroups or the entire team – Slack enables workers to elect to receive only information that is relevant to them. This keeps their efforts focused on critical tasks and helps them avoid ‘clutter’ so they can quickly synch up with the projects’ latest developments when their day begins.
CORPORATE HQ’S DISAPPEARING? PLANNING FOR CHANGE
Kristin Bellstrom goes so far as to predict that 2017 will see a Fortune 100 company shifting to a completely distributed workplace, offloading the overhead costs of large office spaces without losing workflow continuity.[iii] While perhaps extreme, the mere idea that corporate headquarters as we know them may soon disappear is fascinating. A world without physical HQs would free up a tremendous amount of office space, reduce traffic congestion, practically destroy the Otis Spunkmeyer muffin market, etc… but those are topics for another post.
Before making such a transition however, large firms must be sure how the new model will benefit corporate operations. Global Workplace Analytics is a firm dedicated to addressing such concerns and “conducts primary and secondary research on how new ways of working can impact people, planet and profits.”[iv] Their research has shown significant increases in telecommuting, including a more than 100% increase in employees working from home (excluding those who are self-employed) over roughly the last decade. Strikingly, that increase is comprised in part by a nearly 425% increase in Telework by Federal Government employees.
Despite surging interest and some clear successes, not all companies or employees are so enamored by the benefits of teleworking. Data security, for example, remains a risk of great concern to companies, employees and stakeholders. With so much information being shared across, controlling for data security is no easy task. This risk compounds in cases where employees access work communications and files from personally owned devices.
Also of concern is the impact our modern “always-on” work mentality is having on employee work/life balance, and the subsequent impact on morale and performance. With instant access to every communication, resisting the urge to engage while out of the office can be excruciating or temperamentally impossible. As it now stands, 31 percent of men and 19 percent of women “allow work to interrupt time with family and friends.”[v]
WHERE THERE’S A WILL… THERE’S SLACK
Companies considering a transition to a distributed work location model will need to establish healthy cultural norms that encourage healthy work-life balance. Platform providers such as Slack can help by providing time limits, off-hours message queuing and other technical supports for such efforts. Having already partnered with IBM to leverage Watson’s capabilities to better understand and predict user needs,[vi] Slack is in position to help companies successfully transition to flexible working arrangements while avoiding many related pitfalls – a significant win for all involved.
Next time you hear that someone is “Slacking,” it might not be a bad thing!
Word Count: 737. Just like the Airplane.
[i] Tkaczyk, Christopher. “Marissa Mayer breaks her silence on Yahoo’s telecommuting policy.” Fortune.com, April 19, 2013. http://fortune.com/2013/04/19/marissa-mayer-breaks-her-silence-on-yahoos-telecommuting-policy/, accessed November 18, 2016.
[ii]Balakrishnan, Anita. “It will be years before Slack goes public, CEO Stewart Butterfield says”. CNBC.com, October 26, 2016 http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/26/it-will-be-years-before-slack-goes-public-ceo-stewart-butterfield-says.html, accessed November 18, 2016.
[iii] Bellstrom, Kristen. “Prediction: Big Companies will Start Giving up Officers in 2017” Fortune.com, November 15, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/11/15/work-remote-from-home/?iid=sr-link5, accessed November 18, 2016.
[iv] GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, accessed November 18, 2016.
[v] Staff. “Work Life Fit Linked ot Employee Engagement, Motivation and Job Satisfaction” American Psychological Association, September 3, 2015. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/09/work-life-fit.aspx, accessed November 18, 2016.
[vi] Walchuck, Zach. “Easy Slack integration for Watson Conversation.” IBM Watson blog, October 28, 2016. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/watson/2016/10/easy-slack-integration-watson-conversation/, accessed November 18, 2016.