Home » Future of work » Unlocking competitive advantage in the next normal of remote work

Stuart Templeton

Head of UK, Slack

COVID-19 has forced businesses to fundamentally rethink how they work. Those leading the way are using technology to transform communication, collaboration and alignment. This is not business as usual, and there is no going back.

The pandemic has forced businesses to adapt the way they work – albeit remotely – and improve upon it. But this change is not a new concept. COVID-19 simply fast-tracked it on the corporate agenda, and there is no going back to life before COVID.

For some, the initial focus was just enabling people to work remotely for the first time. But as organisations have settled into the ‘next normal’ many of the business leaders I speak to want to understand how technology can help drive competitive advantage in this new environment.

Saying goodbye to email and hello to channels: greater transparency and access to information

For decades, email has been the common form of business communication. Yet, it works poorly for aligning teams given it offers a fragmented, limited view of information.

Messaging platforms have been gaining significant traction well before the pandemic. But the value they provide in terms of greater transparency and easier access to information has accelerated their adoption. Employees collaborate across projects from wherever they are in ‘channels’. A single channel could be about anything, but their purpose is to bring the right people and information together.

The organisations that have already adopted tools like Slack, are best placed to be agile and innovative, and to get ahead, in this new environment.

What we’ve all experienced over recent months is not working from home. It is working from home during a pandemic. We’re increasingly having to juggle day-to-day life with work, whether it’s childcare or shopping, and that is leading to an increase in asynchronous work and making effective communication and alignment more important than ever.

To achieve this businesses need to arm teams with the ability to seamlessly communicate so they can be across projects whenever they need to – an area where email alone fails.

The intellectual property of successful businesses sits in the communication between its employees, rather than in carefully crafted documents sitting in hidden folders. The future of work and innovation in this environment is about collaboration across departments at speed, rather than silos and hierarchies.

With channels, individuals can share ideas, make decisions and move work forward with a common purpose at pace.

Virtual or physical offices: communication will accelerate to support remote working

When everyone isn’t in the same physical space, challenges can arise when it comes to alignment, coordination and maintaining some form of company culture. So, the need to communicate has expedited.

During lockdown, we’ve seen usage of Slack increase significantly as businesses seek to transform communication. For example, the London-listed investment firm Man Group is centuries old, yet was impressively agile during the pandemic, shifting its 1,400-member workforce across 19 offices from Beijing to Boston swiftly and securely to Slack’s Enterprise Grid in under two weeks.

Channel-based messaging platforms continue to support teams, enabling more meaningful individual connections and greater collaboration across departments, offices and time zones. Something that email simply can’t deliver to the same degree.

Being an effective leader in the age of remote working:

Check in with employees more often – Those ‘water cooler’ conversations aren’t happening right now, so one-to-ones can help to align people’s focus.

Be available – Employees need to know they are being supported. Creating virtual ‘office hours’ and making a list of people to check in on each day can help.

Ensure clarity – Don’t make assumptions about things that may seem obvious to you. Describe exactly what you mean, even if you think you’re repeating yourself; not everyone has the same information you do.

Focus on results, not time spent  – Shift your mindset from focusing on employees’ time to focusing on their output.

2020 has seen a fundamental shift in the way businesses work. The pandemic has been a catalyst for change at a level that simply was unimaginable at the start of the year. Although no-one knows for certain what the future holds, we are confident that the greater transparency, alignment and collaboration that channel-based messaging delivers means it is the future of work. The organisations that have already adopted tools like Slack, are best placed to be agile and innovative, and to get ahead, in this new environment.

In London alone, the average number of hours connected to Slack increased by 16.10% and the average number of messages sent per user (mobile and desktop) increased by 27.70% (for work weeks pre- (Feb 17-21) and post- (March 16-20)). Slack is here to help and is focused on helping people around the world adapt to remote work – ramping up consultations and making a host of free resources available at slack.com/remote.

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