A man in a blue suit smiles at the camera in the lobby area of an office with a plant and black chairs behind him.
Slack’s Stuart Templeton. Image: Joe Okpako/Projoe Photography

Head of Slack UK: ‘The era of the office as the gold standard is over’

22 Mar 2021

Slack’s Stuart Templeton highlights some of the things companies are getting right in preparing for a future of hybrid working.

Roughly a year after companies across the world transitioned to working from home, Slack published a list of enterprise users it believes are paving the way for long-term transformation.

The Slack Spotlight Awards highlighted the “winning companies and people moving work forward”, with a focus on employee experience, automation, customer service, culture and more.

To learn more about what these companies are getting right and how the future of work could continue to adapt and take shape, we spoke to Stuart Templeton, head of Slack in the UK.

‘The default office-and-email model has been exposed as a false standard’

With the Slack Spotlight Awards, were there any actions companies took in the past year that particularly impressed you?

The pandemic hit us with two opposing demands: we had to coordinate disruption on an unprecedented scale, and we had to do so entirely from our kitchen tables with almost zero warning. Combined with the psychological impact of the pandemic, it’s inspiring that so many organisations have managed this time so well.

The companies that have most impressed me are those that have not only embraced the potential of this paradigm shift to remote working and the tools that enable it, but those that have done so while keeping their people front and centre.

One of the companies championing people and moving operations forward with Slack is HM Revenue & Customs. It implemented Slack to help design and deliver digital services which reached more than 12m companies and citizens affected by the pandemic, and allowed them to apply for financial support during this difficult time.

A project that would usually take several months was completed in less than five weeks. Over 2,000 people came together across 60 teams, collaborating quickly and seamlessly through designated channels. In spite of late nights and early mornings, teams kept morale high by building camaraderie in Slack and other channels.

Many other workers have felt the benefits – from money saved on the commute to more time with family – of remote work. And overall, our Future Forum research shows knowledge workers are generally more satisfied with remote work than they were when based in an office.

However, some employees have found this time more challenging than others. Organisations that have used this phase to become more open and transparent, to reset how they listen to and respond to employees, are the ones that will emerge from this time stronger than ever.

What do you think has been the biggest challenge for business leaders?

One of the biggest learnings for businesses is that effective remote or hybrid working isn’t achieved by replicating their in-office approach via digital platforms.

Video call fatigue, for example, is now a real symptom of a natural attempt to recreate the office virtually. Turning informal conversations into 30-minute video calls exhausts teams and achieves little. Over the past year, it’s become clear that virtual meetings require rigorous structure to keep conversations flowing, and everyone on a call should be there with a purpose.

On the other hand, people still need a way to recapture desk-side catch-ups, ask questions or simply debate the merits of the latest Netflix hit like they would have done in the staff kitchen.

Achieving the balance between keeping teams connected and respecting people’s diaries is one of the toughest challenges of recent months. Setting out clear guidelines for how and when teams should use different forms of communication – from channel-based collaboration to video calls – and creating optional dedicated spaces for more informal conversation is a good first step.

Is the future of work fully remote, in your opinion?

We’re likely to see hybrid working become more popular with teams made up of a flexible mix of in-office and remote staff. According to our [Future Forum] research, this is the preferred option for the vast majority (73pc) of workers, while just 12pc would want a return to full-time office work.

There will always be situations where in-person is preferred. Whether it’s recent graduates in a six-person house-share or those in rural areas with weak Wi-Fi, remote work conditions aren’t always ideal or equal. Having a physical location creates a level-footed space for employees to work from, should they choose it.

That being said, the era of believing the office is the gold standard for productivity is over. This change was already underway, ushered in by advances in the rise of channel-based collaboration platforms, cloud computing, mobile networks and more.

What is something you’d urge leaders to consider for the hybrid future of work?

Something that became clear quickly over the past year was that closed-door cultures were an even greater impediment to agility in remote environments.

The fact that everyone is physically separated, combined with the rise in external pressures like homeschooling or caring for sick family members, meant teams needed to feel empowered to work autonomously when colleagues had other commitments. Outdated processes, like waiting on a single senior team member to distribute tasks, and tools like email which silo information within a closed group, create bottlenecks that are only exacerbated when nobody is in the same room.

Some companies used this time to move away from legacy systems and increase collaboration. Slack has helped Gymshark to take conversations out from email siloes and into channels, making information searching and sharing much easier. Every Gymshark worker is now on Slack and 95pc of all communication happens through the tool. This means that internal email has now been completely eradicated.

What’s the most important lesson business leaders should take from the past year?

The past year has blown open the conversation around work, from what it means to us to how organisations will function in the future.

Some companies will be tempted to flip a switch and revert back to the old ways as soon as possible. But the most important lesson we can take is that there is no longer any one ‘normal’ approach to work. The default office-and-email model has been exposed as a false standard.

Organisations and the people powering them now have the freedom to define what they want work to be, which means the next few years will be extremely exciting.

As the world opens up, we’ll see much more variety in the ways people work, driven by a focus on agility, transparency and flexibility. Competitivity – whether for new talent or faster product development – will push companies to innovate generally, but also in their approaches to work.

The biggest shocks to work are hopefully behind us. But sometimes it takes a shock to realise you’re on wobbly foundations. Now comes the time to build them back stronger.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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