We’ve been power users of Slack for over 5 years now. Along with acting as our Digital HQ and operations center, Slack has enabled us to leverage its awesome Slack Community and learn from a diverse set of users around the world. In addition to the Slack Community, we love attending Slack Frontiers, which is Slack’s annual conference for Slack users (lovers). It’s an amazing digital space to meet other Slack users and developers and learn how to creatively leverage the platform and achieve more together. In this post, we will do a roundup of day one of Slack Frontiers 2021.
How is Slack Frontiers Structured?
A lot of conferences can feel a bit irrelevant because they only suit a specific niche, but Slack understands that Slack users are diverse and it tailors its sessions to suit this diverse group. The sessions are divided into different categories and the event platform lets attendees mark sessions to their favorite lists in advance so they can get the best out of the event. There are three top-level categories – keynotes, luminary speaker series, and general sessions.
Slack Centric Keynotes
- Reinvent Work from Your Digital HQ: Slack leaders come together to discuss how Slack’s new platform innovations will empower employees to build solutions and transform their work styles. Jump to Slack = Digital HQ to read the details.
- A Conversation with Bryan Stevenson: Human rights activist Bryan Stevenson discusses mass incarceration in America and how Slack’s Next Chapter program can help tech companies employ formerly incarcerated individuals.
Luminary Speaker Series
- A Conversation with Jennifer Doudna: Nobel Prize-winning scientist Jennifer Doudna’s thoughts on collaboration in the lab, what she’s learned about leadership, and how to approach the ethical dilemmas that come with innovation. Amazingly inspiring and learning how she had to grapple with the attention after getting the Nobel and how she rethought time management and came up with a strategy for spending time with her son.
- A Conversation with Simone Biles: The world’s most decorated gymnast discusses how her indomitable spirit can inspire others to defy personal limits and reshape conversations around mental health.
Playlists are an amazing feature of Slack Frontiers 2021. They’ve categorized sessions by interests, roles, and location in the hierarchy so you can just hit play, and the sessions stream like a TV channel.
The following playlists are available at Slack Frontiers 2021:
- Engineering Apps and Solutions
- Engineering Decision Maker
- Innovation at Work
- Insights for Partners
- IT and Security Apps
- IT Decision Maker
- Marketing Decision Maker
- Marketing Professional
- New to Slack
- Sales Decision Maker
- Service Decision Makers
- Sales Professional
- Sales, Service, and Marketing Apps
- Service Professional
- Slack Admin
- Slack and Salesforce
- Solutions to Transform Your Business
AttendanceBot and Slack Frontiers 2021
Interestingly, the first platform we launched AttendanceBot on, was Slack and since then we’ve been Slack power users even in our own workspace.
So it made sense that our leadership attended Slack Frontiers 2021.
Slack = Digital HQ
If Slack is your Digital HQ right now, wait till you hear about these new powers that Slack is about to get.
New building blocks for workflow builder
Slack now offers reusable building blocks that let you create actions either inside Slack (like sending a DM) or outside Slack in another app (like opening a Jira ticket) to create more powerful workflows. There is also a list of extensive templates so you can don’t need to start from scratch and just pick what you most useful and update it as needed.
Slack will now allow other apps to leverage Sign-in with Slack making it super easy for you to get in and out of your Apps without needing to set up another username-password.
Subscribe in Slack
What if you could get alerted about mission-critical updates from other apps like a failed deployment, out-of-budget ads campaigns, a spike in user-reported issues, etc right inside Slack. Well, soon you’ll be able to. Apps will soon be able to offer a “update me on Slack” subscription to other Apps.
Brand new developer tools to help build apps faster
The new Slack CLI helps developers build and deploy apps faster. Soon developers will not only be able to create and test their apps using the CLI but also host the app data in Slack too.
Attach metadata to messages that can be consumed by other Apps
Taking one more giant leap, the workflow builder will soon allow developers to attach metadata to messages that can be used to power really cool workflows. Imagine being able to take different workflows based on the value of user input.
Interested in learning more, head over here
Enabling Hybrid Work
Monty Hamilton shared several insights on mastering hybrid @ Telus
Structure the unstructured
With so many working remotely the need for human connection has only intensified. As a result, we can no longer rely on spontaneous connection but need to structure our schedule to include unstructured time with others. Planning ad-hoc interactions do little to devalue the quality of time spent. Get disciplined about calendared huddles!
Plan for digital-first in the office
Though digital-first has become a dominant strategy, what will be kept as companies return to the office? There’s no one answer, and that’s kind of the point. For employees, some will thrive in an office and others at home. Externally, many customers have come to appreciate the faceless digital experience while others still demand a human face. In either case, the key is that differentiating needs to empower preference and need.
Avoid false flexibility
Though office policies themselves may be flexible, if leadership themselves don’t lead by example then much of that flexibility is lip service. When leaders work strict schedules and refuse to take advantage of flexibility themselves, it sends negative signals about irregular work hours and creates real differences in outcomes for access, perception, and promotion.
Better Marketing Campaigns with Slack
Slack offers a wealth of advantages to supercharge a marketing team (or any team at all), exemplified by channels, no-code workflow building, and seamless integrations. Among these, channel is king.
Are channels really so much better than email? Yes.
- Transparency – there are no silos between stakeholder groups, which avoids duplicative work and misalignment.
- Agility – navigation is infinitely easier than one or multiple email threads, and central document housing eliminates time spent chasing references.
- Focus – context switching is minimized because so many software services integrate right into Slack
Which are the most critical features of channels?
- Descriptions & pinned items give new (& existing) users instant access to key stakeholders and content being discussed.
- Threads, search, and emojis make navigation seamless. Threads keep conversations neat & tidy, AI-assisted search eliminates lost conversations, and “react-jis” make status rapidly available to viewers – what’s complete versus what has urgency, approval, or eyes on.
- Slack connect is the ultimate platform for customers, partners, and vendors. Not only does the channel have a more personal relationship than email, but it drastically reduces the back and forth for items that require approval, review, or any kind of collaboration.
Any superuser tips? Of course.
- Use naming conventions for your channels! At Slack, they use prefixes like team, proj, and help
- If you’re new to channels, start with projects. If you’re experienced, make sure you have department-wide and cross-department channels.
- Huddles are a particularly good resource for quickly explaining topics that may be lost in translation over text. They’re great for explainers, creative work, or trains of thought.
- Slack connect can house up to 20 different organizations in one channel – don’t be afraid to collaborate with multiple partners.
Slack Tips to Spend More Time Selling
A handful of hot tips to grease your sales engine:
- Dedicate space for recurring topics. Best practices include maintaining a channel for wins, new hires, tactics, and appraisals.
- Organize your channels! Use naming conventions like CUST-[name] to organize channels for all your (major) accounts. For external partner channels on Slack Connect, use a prefix like EXT- to clearly signify external visibility.
- Integrate, integrate, integrate. Connecting with your source of truth – say CRM – means you can not only automatically update channels with relevant information but send comments back to your CRM without ever leaving Slack.
- Use huddles to most quickly share recorded insights OR start open huddles in a channel to collaborate with everyone who’s relevant and available.
Deliver a Great Customer Experience with Slack
CX agent onboarding
Onboarding a new CX agent involves inundating them with a lot of information. One way to handle this is to create personalized onboarding channels where you can offer them guidance and learning material and feedback. Gabrielle Dracopoulos from Intuit talked about how they use custom bots and channels to power their support team for their high-volume days.
Foster informal connection and recognition to create an environment of belonging. Use clips and huddles to have lightweight conversation flexibly. Alex Holmes from Influx talked about the use of channels to empower people by letting them ask questions openly and transparently. Use emoji protocol (eyes to indicate seen and a checkmark to indicate done, etc) to act on messages and update or delegate actions.
Gabrielle also spoke about how their survey platform integration with Slack enabled agents to see what did or didn’t work – faster and more accurately.
Using Slack Connect
Chris Bryan from Slack talked about how using Slack Connect to bring all partners and third-party service providers together. Everyone can work together to deliver an amazing customer support experience. Simple queries can often require agents to interface with multiple parties. With Slack Connect, they can reply to your customer faster by conferring with your partners, right inside Slack, without losing context. You can invite your customers to a Slack Connect channel to offer priority support, simplify reach out, or give feedback, creating a long-lasting and mutually valuable relationship.
Andrew Gillespie talked about how Slack uses Slack to service its customers using workflows, custom bots, and channels. As a result of leveraging context support in Slack, they’ve been able to reduce escalations by 65%. Voice of customer is driven by prioritizing customer feedback via channels. Agents bring up customer feedback to specific channels where product experts and owners can act on it. Once feedback is acted upon, the agents need to inform the customer to close the loop, and using emojis and apps in channels, helps them achieve this seamlessly.
Resolve Customer Issues Faster with Slack
Customer success is transitioning from a cost center to a profit center
- Customer loyalty is increasing in value. Often, a 5% increase in retention means a 25% increase in profit.
- In a Slack survey, 50% of customers said they’d switch to a competitor after just one bad CS experience. 80% said they’d switch after two.
- The trifecta of customer experience is personalization, differentiation, and proactivity. These are not the domain of marketing or sales.
While gaining prominence, customer support suffers from classic plagues
- Answers to customer questions are poorly organized, undocumented, out of date, or distributed across systems
- Customer support becomes slow and ineffective when information is not easily accessible or relies on individual experts
- Inaccessible information creates a vicious cycle: slow search begets frequent escalation which begets further delays and weighs down productivity. Not a good experience for customers or support teams.
Slack solves most or all these afflictions, even for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
- Channels connect agents, experts, and managers in one location.
- Channels also bring key documents under one roof.
- Integrations bring ticketing software directly into Slack for maximum visibility and responsiveness
- AI search means even recent, relevant documents are a keystroke away, or even recent conversations when no document is available.
- The MTA solved huge gaps in communication between field-office customers by codifying verbal information, structuring workflow, and integrating an army of siloed data systems. The result = more transparency and greater credibility.
Day 2 Launch
Design Your New HQ: People-Centric and Digital First
Sheela Subramanian from Future Forum presented findings from broad research on designing an effective workspace, and Dolapo Falola from Slack followed up with specific tips for implementing in Slack.
Redesign > Retrofit
The spontaneity of covid-19 meant most businesses adopted a lift + shift approach to migrating to remote work: RETROFIT processes, behaviors, and culture from WFO to WFH. Stay C-suite-centric instead of transitioning to people-centric.
Retrofitting refuses to recognize that one-size-fits-all no longer exists and it isn’t working. Currently, 1/3 of women are considering leaving or downshifting their careers, and 57% of knowledge workers are looking for new opportunities.
The only way forward is flexible, inclusive, and connected
Flexibility is consistently the highest employee priority behind compensation, and works best using both the WHEN and the WHERE dimension. That said, flexibility also requires structure to work, and indeed employees prefer flexibility within a framework.
Inclusivity, on the other hands, is a less vehemently demanded but equally critical norm. Future Forum has found that middle management in particular suffers from grievous lack of training typically imparts the most damaging cultural environments in an organization. Employees that think their teams lack transparency have barely half the level of excitement for work.
Finally, connection is conceptually the easiest and logistically the hardest to implement in a post-covid world. Particularly for digital-first companies, it turns out the investment in digital tools is a much stronger indicator of connection than prior culture or behaviors. In a rather wild finding, companies with high levels of connection tech investment saw 100% higher feelings of belonging and 200% higher overall satisfaction.
Tips for Bringing Your Digital HQ to Life
Along with the specific advice offered by Sheela, Dolapo offered a smattering of Slack-focused tips for shifting cultural and behavioral practices.
- Video clips: we need to do more than just shift meeting from office to zoom. Slack clips offer transcripting and easy navigation like markers and speed up/down in order to supercharge verbal communication. The simplicity and speed of clips make them competitive with text for shifting team behavior.
- Slack Atlas: makes key internal data readily available to allow employees to connect more easily by browsing org charts, advanced user profiles, and even custom fields like food preferences or hobbies.
- Slack Connect: allows fully customized protocols with external customers and partners to much higher levels of collaboration while maintaining security needs and preferences. 77% of the Fortune 100 uses Slack Connect for external stakeholders.
- Apps and workflows: use the giant Slack App Directory or Workflow Builder to automate and normalize everything from sharing weekend plans and photos to provisioning for new teammates.
Wayne Kurtzman talks through wisdom from two years of IDC research on collaboration software.
What did the pandemic do to collaboration?
- Collaboration was already a red-hot space, and covid-19 was much more than a tipping point
- Adoption of collaboration progressed by about 5 years in just the first 6 months of lockdown
- The value of trust and openness have quickly accelerated
Why did Slack stand out among vendors?
- Integrations in the app directory outnumbered competition
- Ability to connect externally was true competitive advantage
- Asynchronous audio and video options elevated a once messaging space
- At the end of the day, companies with more than 3 Slack integrations were able to bring products and development to market 77% faster than their peers
The future of collaboration is hybrid, and only a small fraction of businesses are truly ready
Takeaways from Tayo Rockson, Professional Storyteller
Digital channels and remote communication provide more ways to tell a story, but more doesn’t always mean easier.
Keys to any remote culture
Different environments require different behavior to succeed, and remote work is just like any physical or emotional environment – it all comes down to appreciate differences in success, belonging, and safety.
- Success looks different by country, culture, phase of life, identity, and remote teams must deeply understand how contributors differ in their goals.
- Belonging is similarly individual, and while shared traditions can help bridge gaps between individuals, they can also alienate those unable or unwilling to participate.
- Safety is freedom to be oneself, and is equally valuable for people and businesses. Without safety, teams lose the ability to have difficult conversations, push back, or fully participate in the market of ideas and effort.
Tips from a digital nomad
- Use difference to make a difference: historically we’ve treated differences as a zero sum game and either chosen to deny, exploit, or eliminate. Taking time to appreciate open the window to mutually beneficial difference.
- Curiosity DIDN’T kill the cat: asking questions healthy, even when there’s risk of showing ignorance. The key is to keep asking questions but keep them open-ended and listen to understand
- Try out an empathy hour: work connections can’t be 100% about work. Healthy relationships require multi-faceted connection, and something as simple as huddling for a team “empathy hour” where work topics are prohibited can make a world of difference.
And finally, Tayo reminds us that a globalized, digitalized world doesn’t actually make connection easier – systems and institutions still exist that make it difficult to be yourself, and often they too are strengthened by digitalization. It’s up to us to intentionally build teams and cultures that promote identity.
Platform’s Next Frontier – Employee Experience
On the back on Slack’s recent push to personalize each unique slack experience and make workflow builder a tool for non-technical users, Angela Ashenden @ CCS Insight shares research on the evolving employee experience.
Employee experience is more and more reliant on tech
While employee experience is a highly complex topic that impacts career opportunity, fulfillment, and relationships with family, colleagues, and work, tech is an increasingly crucial factor for knowledge workers. In fact, 3/4 of employees now consider technology among top considerations for choosing an employer.
Diving deeper, it turns out that IT complexity is the single biggest issue employees have with their tech stack. Excessive context switching is so pervasive – even within short tasks – that nearly 2 in 5 employees recognize that it’s become an issue for them. Meanwhile, an average of 2 hours a day is being spent on simple and repetitive tasks, which further drains time from high-value, creative work.
In looking to solve for these problems, Slack continues to deliver value by centralizing focused conversations, keeping documents and information within arms reach, and providing no-code solutions for repeat workflows.
Strengthen Teamwork with Slack Atlas
After acquiring Meadow last year, Slack finally provided a little more insight into their much awaited Slack Atlas enterprise functionality for enhanced user profiles. Currently only available to North American teams over 500 employees, Atlas will soon be available in other geographies.
Slack Atlas at 1000 Feet
- At base, Atlas is an enhanced user profile to supplement Slack’s basic profile
- Atlas also enables beautiful, interactive org charts
- The end goal of Atlas is further enriching context for human to human interaction
How is Atlas different than the basic Slack profile?
- The basic Slack profile provides – well – basic information to make sure you’re messaging the right person. Name, title, photo.
- Slack Atlas provides much, much more context about colleagues, including:
- Who they work with
- What they work on
- What expertise they have
- Where they’re at
- What they like
- In the future, Atlas may even provide information integrated with partner – marketing may be able to see accounts assigned to a sales colleague directly from Salesforce.
Okay but what specifically does it look like?
- Below we can see the Atlas profile window on the right and interactive org chart opened in the center screen.
- At the top of the profile window remains basic profile info
- Below basics are action options to message, huddle, and more
- Next up we see high-level org info like manager and direct report, with a link to open the org chart
- Underneath immediate org info are key people, likes assistants, mentees, or mentors
- Below people are affiliations, including static groups (departments) and fluid (projects)
- Finally, the bottom of the Atlas window shows highly customized bio additional information, including expertise, interests, or fun facts.