For an introduction to this project and the strategy behind see Part 1
Phase I – Pilot Testing Slack in a “Sandbox”
When it came to rollout and implementation, we utilized a best practice from software engineering and the tech industry: we initially started by creating a “sandbox” and then inviting a few beta testers to use the software as a pilot. This pilot test helped our team work out any kinks before launching Slack to the entire company. The pilot test was instrumental to our long-term success because it gained employee buy-in, improved confidence and morale, and ensured we “got it right the first time.”
Project Management and Planning
Our planning team held weekly 1:1 meetings to keep the project on track, discuss what was working and troubleshoot any problems.
As the sole Instructional Designer and Learning Engineer on the project, I performed several webinar trainings for the entire corporation. I also provided job aids to help acclimate the team to the new tool.
Phase II – Instructional Design and Training for Companywide Rollout
Key questions included:
- How might different teams/departments communicate with each other on Slack?
- When might a remote employee use private messaging versus a group chat versus a team channel?
- How might workers ensure that everyone is kept “in the loop” and can easily access companywide documentation or see important announcements that might otherwise get lost in an email inbox?
Workers need an understanding of Slack to be able to successfully use team “channels” to communicate with an entire team at one time, without the use of email, instant messages, or the risk of accidentally forgetting to include anyone’s email address. They also need to know how to make communications “searchable” and “nestable” and how to “pin” important information to the top of channels, so that all employees see that information at the top of the screen when they log into a channel. Full-time employees also need to know how to instantly communicate to colleagues about what they’re working on in real-time at any given moment, or how to update their status in Slack to easily share when they’re out of the office, on break, taking lunch, etc.
Essential Questions for Remote Learning and Understanding
This project’s overarching questions for remote learning included:
- What factors of effective communication exist in a face-to-face office environment but are often missing from coworker interactions in a 100% remote workplace?
- How do various departments of a 100% remote (off-site) workforce interact and communicate with each other, despite geographic and cultural differences?
- In what ways does effective communication lead to a more productive, efficient workplace?
Topical questions for remote learning and understanding included:
- How does Slack allow remote workers to share information more effectively than email?
- What are some possible ways that Slack can help remote workers become more self-sufficient?
- How do remote companies successfully use Slack software to improve communication?
Some things learners should be able to “do” at the end of training include:
- Post a message to a team-specific Slack channel
- Share a company-wide status update on Slack about a task they’re working on for a current project
- Perform a search on a keyword or phrase across all Slack channels and conversations
These “do” statements form an enduring understanding of how learners might use Slack on a remote team. Each of these “I Do” or “I Can Do” statements checks for an understanding of the basic principles of using Slack for communication with remote coworkers. Likewise, each of these statements is directly observable and measurable. By completing these three tasks, learners will observably demonstrate their understanding of communicating with colleagues on specific teams as well as instantly communicating in real-time with coworkers throughout the entire organization, regardless of geographic location or time differences.
Additionally, learners will demonstrate their understanding of using Slack for project management by instantly sharing an update of what they’re working on with the entire company at once. Lastly, learners demonstrate their ability to use Slack in self-sufficient ways by using the search feature, which can help learners answer their own questions quickly and efficiently.
Authentic Performance Assessment
Learners participate in authentic performance assessments that require judgment and innovation. For example, learners take turns telling a revealing story about a miscommunication they’ve experienced in their current or former workplace, then make a case (judge) when and why they’d recommend using a specific communication tool to resolve or prevent that type of miscommunication in the future. In this instance, the learner uses knowledge and skills to effectively address a realistic problem. This question is a real-world challenge that requires thoughtful use of learned knowledge and understanding of various communication tools in a remote working environment.
To replicate key challenging situations in which adults are truly “tested” in the workplace, in civic life, and in personal life, all of the challenge scenarios involved reducing miscommunication in a workplace setting. Therefore, knowledge and understanding were measured via realistic challenges that “test” understanding in a simulated workplace setting, such as what a remote worker might experience in a 100% offsite working environment.
Each scenario assesses the learner’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex and multistage task. A few “drills” and tests might be appropriate from time to time; however, these forms of assessments only go so far in determining whether knowledge transfer was successful, and they may not aid in learner retention. As such, learners will be asked to demonstrate true understanding in a real-world simulation, such as using a “sandbox” replica of Slack (or a similar online communication tool) to share messages with a “demo” remote team for testing purposes. Additionally, the learner will be given the opportunity to reflect upon their own behavior, demonstrating self-knowledge.
The authentic assessments also allow appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, receive feedback, and refine performances and products. Communicating with remote coworkers in real-time over the Internet can be intimidating at first. Learners will have the opportunity to test the metaphorical waters first by “rehearsing” what message they might share; consulting previously shared resources about Slack communication; and then practicing sharing a message via Slack in a “demo” environment or “sandbox” that mimics a real-world setting. Immediately upon sharing their message, learners will see feedback about what they did correctly or incorrectly and will have the ability to retry for a higher grade. This level of feedback during the assessment allows learners to refine their performance and boosts retention before learners try using Slack on the job in the workplace.
Learning by Doing
Authentic performance assessments should ask learners to “do” the subject. Learning by doing is a powerful way to learn, so I designed a scenario in which I asked learners to imagine being a full-time, 100% remote employee, working from home while collaborating with a group of colleagues and coworkers who are separated by language barriers, geographic barriers, time differences, and cultural differences. In order to meet rapid deadlines and quotas in a fast-paced business environment, learners were tasked with selecting specific remote communication tools to use during their workweek in order to reduce miscommunication among their remote teams. This facet calls upon the learner to demonstrate knowledge rather than simply reciting what they’d previously heard or learned.
By demonstrating understanding in observable ways, the learners demonstrate that knowledge transfer occurred and that they are not merely making an educated guess or getting “lucky” with the correct answer. Instead, learners show that they understand the concepts and understand the when, why, and how behind those concepts.
Although most employees had not used Slack before, Slack is a similar framework to Discord, which many of the company’s employees had used in the past for personal projects. We utilized that connection for instructional design to help acclimate the employees to Slack. As a result, employees and contractors found the interface to be intuitive and easy to use. One employee provided a positive testimonial that our Slack integration was the smoothest software rollout she’d ever experienced during her tenure with the company.
A post-integration survey provided qualitative and quantitative data indicating that company culture had improved; coworkers felt more connected as a team and more confident in the information they received. 100% of employees and contractors stated they now felt they knew where to go to find answers to their questions; 0% of survey respondents felt uncertain of where to find answers to their questions, and only one (1) survey respondent said they “sometimes” feel uncertain of where to find answers to their questions.
Workers also saw improvement in their workflow as the number of daily emails and instant messages reduced. Throughout the pilot test period, most workers reported receiving 6 or fewer instant messages per day, which was much less disruptive than prior to the Slack integration. Qualitative data from workers in a post-pilot survey indicated that Slack works similarly to Google Chat “with enhanced features that enable us to communicate more quickly with the rest of the team.”
After transitioning from GMail (email) and Google Chat (instant message) to Slack, workers noticed improvements in:
- self-sufficiency (finding information and resources to answer my own questions)
- feeling a sense of connection, especially among team members who rarely interact on a weekly basis
- improved sense of “belonging” within the company culture
- feeling aware and “in the loop” with other colleagues or teams
Workers also reported positive feelings such as “joy,” “delight” and “trust” when using Slack as a collaboration tool. In particular, workers enjoyed Slack’s “search” feature and “channel” feature, which helped reduce the number of questions (especially, having to ask the same question repeatedly). Workers also felt more “trust” in the information they received from Slack and felt it was “more reliable” as a tool than the previous Google tools (Gmail, Google Chat) that the company had been using. One worker gave Slack an enthusiastic “thumbs up!”
As one worker noted:
- “I don’t think we can get rid of private conversations completely. My 1:1 conversations have been brief exchanges about workload, my assignments, and other very specific questions. (All private conversations have been through Slack, not Gmail or Google Chat, since we started the project.) I don’t think group messages on Slack are appropriate for private concerns as they would just bog everybody down.”
In the future, the company hopes to utilize Slack to aid in overcoming the sense of disconnect as a remote, globally distributed team during the pandemic. Furthermore, we believe Slack can be a tool for boosting the company culture, and we hope to integrate more of Unitonomy’s best practices for culture improvement. I could potentially expand my authentic assessments by adding simulations, role-playing, and gamified elements to my curriculum, or to provide learners with an opportunity to ask questions and get ongoing feedback, similar to what they’d experience in a real-world working environment.