How London has been Slacking in the lockdown – Evening Standard

Workplace tools have taken off in lockdown. Whereas before we would be used to chatting over the water cooler or boiling kettle, or having meetings in boardrooms and breakout zones, we’re now tuning in to work catch-ups over the likes of Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

Slack is no different. Essentially a chat room for the whole company, information exchanges and chats take place in channels or direct messages, without the need to clog up your inbox.

The UK is the third biggest company for Slack in terms of usage and revenue and the biggest in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). Perhaps unsurprisingly, London is the biggest city using Slack in the UK with companies using the platform to communicate on projects and also send the occasional GIF.

Whilst the platform is often associated with tech start-ups and media companies, Slack usage is far and wide. Between February and March installations of the platform increased by 203 per cent in London, with new companies coming onto the app and current customers encouraging more of their teams to use it. The average number of messages sent per user increased from 197 to 252, with hours people were connected to the platform rising 16.1 per cent.

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The platform put together guides to help businesses get their heads around this shift to remote working, with organisations such as the Financial Times, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, as well as banks in Canary Wharf all stepped up their Slacking recently according to Stu Henderson, the platform’s UK head.

“Connection is more important than it ever has before. Tools like ours do a great job of creating a connected living tissue across organisations helping things feel more human, because you’re not living in a siloed email inbox, you’re living in a shared collaboration space and have transparency across the organisation,” explains Henderson.

“If you think about the time that companies spend coordinating teams, updating one another on where a project is or initiatives a team is working on, it’s probably about 50 per cent of their time. The value of updating each other isn’t in question, it just needs to be faster.”

The global investment firm Man Group stepped up its Slack usage as lockdown came into place, using Slack Enterprise Grid to transition to a fully remote workforce in under two weeks. CTO Tom Price said programmes like Slack and Webex have helped productivity levels for the now-remote staff.

“Having everyone use Slack has made a big difference. Slack’s informal channels offer a bit more peer support. In addition to coordinating work, we’ve got different channels that discuss the challenges of working from home with kids or funny posts with pictures of something that has just happened at home. It’s an opportunity to have a slightly more relaxed conversation, as you would in the office at the water cooler,” said Price.

Workplace tools like Slack and Zoom have kept businesses connected remotely (Chris Montgomery / Unsplash)

There’s been a steady increase in people doing video calls via Slack too. Between February and March, the total number of Slack calls in London increased by 363 per cent, whilst the average number of calls carried out per user increased by 97 per cent on average. The platform also announced it was integrating with Amazon Chime, the company’s video calling software, so customers can initiate video calls via Chime – this also works for Zoom and Teams.

It’s interesting to see how the explosion of these work communication tools will impact the future of work post-pandemic. Slack’s strapline has always been the email killer and it seems like companies are finally coming round to that point of view too. According to a poll commissioned by the Parliament Street think tank, around 43 per cent of respondents say they were “actively considering replacing email” as the main form of employee communication in favour of instant messaging software.

Indeed, this week the company introduced Slack Connect which will allow businesses to chat to their external partners and vendors using the platform, a further step in its mission to end the use of email for all.

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From today, up to 20 organisations can come together in a single secure Slack channel which will make it faster and easier to get work down, and allow everyone to be on the same page with a project. Admins can control their organisation’s data and monitor external access, and teams can only receive messages and files from verified members, meaning the risks of spam and phishing are reduced. According to Slack’s chief security officer Larkin Ryder, the cost of business email scams is around $12 billion and 90 per cent of data breaches are from phishing. Slack Connect will help to rectify it.

This digitisation of the workforce was always coming, but Covid-19 has simply accelerated it, says Henderson. “The surge in usage we see and companies like Zoom have seen is that it’s really created a foundation so that organisations can remain remote or deliver some kind of hybrid model over time as the lockdown eases,” he says.

If we’re all so used to Slacking and Zooming now, does this signal the end of the office? Not quite. “I think offices will remain, they may not be as significant in size. The office will remain for people who want to use it but also tech has done a great job of bringing people together. [Things like] workshopping ideas, creating a culture, we can help from a tech point of view but I think the office will continue to have a role,” adds Henderson.

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