Client: The client was a dispersed, fully remote midsize corporation consisting of three different businesses under one corporate “umbrella,” with a combination of full-time employees and part-time to full-time contractors across four continents around the world.
Team: Our learning engineering team incorporated multidomain expertise from the CEO, Instructional Designer (myself), Web Developers and Software Engineers, the Director of Operations, and Marketing specialists.
Learners: business professionals who work on remote teams, including employees and contractors of the midsize corporation; separated by language barriers, geographic barriers, time differences, and cultural differences; age ranges from early 20s (recent college graduates) through mid-50s; most are middle-aged married women with young children, and may work full-time or part-time
Topic: Slack, a Software-As-a-Service (SAAS) that helps remote workers improve cross-team communication and collaboration.
What makes Slack universal? All workplaces experience some level of miscommunication, especially remote working environments where tone of voice, facial expressions, and other non-verbal communication are either difficult to express or nonexistent. Miscommunication in the workplace causes frustration among remote workers while costing companies money, employees, and (potentially) customers. Slack is commonly used in the business world to improve communication, collaboration, and information-sharing among remote teams. It helps a variety of organizations manage client projects while including workers and (if desired) customers in online conversations without the need for instant messages or email
Timeline: January – September 2020
- To create the most streamlined process possible for rapidly integrating Slack into the company culture of a remote, globally dispersed corporate team during the pandemic
- To improve company culture among a geographically dispersed, 100% remote team across four continents with cultural and language barriers
- To reduce the overwhelming number of emails, instant messages, and miscommunications each worker received
- To improve communication with a single source of information and transparency for all workers and leaders
- Use Slack for project management to update each other about what we’re working on, who’s currently online, etc.
- Understand how Slack improves communication within their workplace and/or their team
- Demonstrate how to use Slack for efficient, productive collaboration and management of remote teams
- Reduce miscommunication, interruptions, spreading of incorrect information, and other common communication issues among remote work environments
- Reduce the number of emails and info overload (without accidentally leaving anyone out of the loop)
- Organize, retrieve, and share information with individuals, teams, or the entire company quickly and easily
- Manage projects while helping all employees understand each project’s purpose and progress
- Reduce the amount of software, programs, and tabs you need to have open at a given time
- Utilize Slack to organize company information into “channels” based upon topic and/or department
- Utilize Slack’s status updates to instantly communicate to all colleagues what they are currently working on and/or their out-of-office status, as well as being able to update or disable a current status message
Needs Analysis and Data Instrumentation
To determine the need for Slack within the organization, I conducted an anonymous team survey to gather data from the company. Questions explored leadership’s level of information sharing, the sense of community and belonging within the company culture, and how workers felt about the level of trust, transparency, morale, and collaboration within the organization.
Workers also expressed overwhelm with the number of emails and instant messages they were receiving, which negatively impacted their ability to perform daily tasks by interrupting their workflow. Additionally, the extra emails and IMs were creating miscommunication, and workers were sharing incorrect information with each other, unbeknownst to leadership.
Responses clearly indicated that there was work to do and that Slack could help improve some of the company culture and collaboration concerns, as well as reduce the number of emails, instant messages, and miscommunication.
I also surveyed the company to gather an idea of what pages they use in the company’s internal Knowledge Base, intranet, software systems, and tools. These data points helped determine what channel structure made the most sense to our organization. After visualizing the data from the survey results, I shared with the entire company and we made decisions on how to proceed with the Slack rollout.
Company Knowledge Base
Because Slack is a communication tool and not a knowledge base, we strategically designed a folder structure for file storage on a third-party knowledge base, which we linked to from searchable “pinned posts” at the top of Slack Channels. After strategic comparison among various intranet and knowledge base tools, including Sharepoint, Confluence, Google Drive, and Nuclino, the company settled upon Google Drive to house and store all documents (due to ease of use, low learning curve, rapid implementation, employee familiarity, budget, permission levels, sharing capabilities, and other features).
We decided to create a folder structure within Google Drive, which would become the information hub for all official documentation throughout the organization. After structuring the files and setting proper permissions, we would “pin” a post at the top of relevant Slack channels so that team members could search and quickly find the information, documentation, or training guides they needed. This would allow us to maintain the free Slack plan without needing to upgrade to the paid plan.
Next, I researched the industry to determine 1) which Google Docs file and folder structures and 2) which Slack channel structures were primarily being used by other tech startups within our industry.
Data-informed Decision Making
To ensure data-informed decision-making and effective, successful implementation, we tested and deployed Slack in strategic phases. Each phase included small teams of “beta testers” assembled from a variety of employees throughout the remote organization, including writers, editors, marketers, and engineers.
Slack Communication Strategy
To optimize success, maintain morale, and successfully integrate Slack into the company culture, we also consulted with company culture consultant, Charley Miller, founder of Unitonomy, the culture studio behind services like GLVVV.com and OrgVitals.com. (Full disclosure: this author is a Unitonomy investor on WeFunder.)
After meeting with the CEO of Unitonomy to gather best practices for using Slack to create a communicative company culture when working remotely during the pandemic, I incorporated key takeaways into the company’s communication strategy. I pitched the Slack communication strategy to C-level executives and overcame objections from the Operations Director to successfully implement the strategy and roll out the software to the entire organization.
Our Slack strategy included the following criteria:
- Dictate clear, specific usage policies/procedures, including when and how to use Slack versus email or instant messaging. (Leadership needs to align on these before launching Slack.)
- Provide Slack training guides, which leadership approves before launching Slack.
- Do a phased Slack rollout where specific teams gradually switch from relying on email and instant messaging to incorporating Slack into their workflow. Continue rollout in 2-3 phases until everyone has transitioned to Slack.
Because one of the companywide goals was to reduce distracting conversations, we communicated “ground rules” for when workers should communicate via Slack, email, or instant message (Google Chat). We also created a “watercooler” channel in Slack where workers could have optional off-topic conversations during the week without distracting each other from work-related tasks. We gradually moved to utilizing Slack for streamlined companywide communication and transparency as an alternative to lengthy emails or disruptive Google Chat instant messages, which were contributing to miscommunication.
Data Cleanup – Information Architecture and Organization
Performing data cleanup helps your team feel less overwhelmed with the technologies while also reducing cognitive dissonance, since the new channel structure within Slack will be closely connected to what the team is already used to on other tools, such as Google Drive.
To ensure everyone on the team can easily and consistently find the information they’re looking for, Unitonomy recommended organizing the Slack channels to align with the company’s data structure and information architecture, which we were using for the Knowledge Base on Google Drive. Each channel would contain a “pinned post” at the top, linking to important resources on Google Drive for each topic.
(Companies that use other tools, such as MS Teams, Sharepoint, Confluence, or a team “wiki” page, might consider matching those file structures and folder structures instead. Since our team didn’t use those tools, we decided to match the Slack structure to Google Drive.)
Slack Channel Structure
Create a taxonomy for Slack channels to ensure success:
- Alphabetize the Channel hierarchy, using hyphens instead of spaces.
- Create a general list of “clusters” of employees to get a feel for which Slack channels you’d need
- In addition to team-specific channels, decide if you’ll have a “watercooler” for off-topic discussions
- Survey the team for naming conventions and taxonomy ideas before creating Slack channels, and decide if channels will be based upon team, client, or task. (Never use all three; don’t overcomplicate Slack with too many channels!)
- Structure and organize all existing systems (not just Slack) around the team’s feedback so it’s all consistent across Google Drive, Slack, Monday.com, or other software the team might be using (e.g., Knack, Confluence, MS Teams, Sharepoint, or any other programs that need a consistent information architecture)
Proving the Return On Investment (ROI)
We encountered heavy resistance from the Director of Operations, who didn’t want to implement Slack into the company’s workflow. To help overcome objections, I designed the implementation strategy around the free version of Slack, and utilized quantitative data to illustrate the return on investment (ROI):
We surveyed the employees to estimate how many emails (via GMail), 1:1 instant messages (via Google Chat), video conference calls (via Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet), and other meetings each worker had per week. This data helped determine the ROI of Slack, which would reduce those extra conversations and repeated questions, and make it easier for team members to independently answer their own questions with improved transparency.
I met with the CEO, the Director of Operations, and other leadership and key stakeholders to get buy-in and determine how to implement Slack, which channels we’d need, which features we’d want, and how Slack could integrate with existing tools.
As an Instructional Designer and Learning Engineer, I also served in the role of Project Manager, reporting directly to the Director of Operations and the company’s CEO. After consulting with Charley Miller, company culture expert, I utilized Charley’s recommendations alongside learning theories and instructional design best practices to create a resource for Slack Training in a Remote Corporate Workplace During the Pandemic. During and after implementation, we used Slack for project management by updating each other about what we were working on, who was currently online or out of the office, etc.
Rollout and Implementation Process
At a high level, our strategy for integrating Slack as a communication and organization tool looked like this:
- Create a Slack site
- Create documentation
- Finalize policies, procedures, taxonomy/nomenclature & training guides
- Clean up and organize site architecture across all companywide tools for consistency with Slack
- Complete Slack rollout
- Collect data after a few months to ensure success
- As the team grows and scales, consider a tool like Unitonomy for process improvement
To learn more about the rollout and implemenation of this project see Part 2