People may get a lot of training in sales before they begin reaching out to customers on their own. The same goes for marketers: you usually don’t start running an ad campaign until you’ve learned the ropes. And customer service agents certainly can’t be expected to troubleshoot customer problems without a through understanding of how your products and services work.
There’s one area in business, however, where few companies are as deliberate about providing training and specific policies for their employees: how they want them to collaborate.
It’s usually up to the individual to figure out:
When they should reach out to someone: Sometimes there are projects that could benefit from your expertise, but if you’re not formally invited to pitch in, what happens?
Who they should reach out to: Maybe the default for questions or to work through problems is their manager, but not always. Sometimes it’s a peer, or even someone working in another department.
How they should reach out: There are so many different channels available, and sometimes making the wrong choice will leave you waiting to hear back. If you’ve opted for a channel they don’t use very often, you might not hear back at all.
Business leaders and managers sometimes formally assign coworkers to collaborate, of course. However the most successful organizations tend to be those where collaboration happens organically – people are connected often enough to recognize where multiple minds are better than one and take the natural next step.
Two things have changed the nature of collaboration over the last few years. The first has been the shift to hybrid modes of working, which may include time spent in the office, at home or elsewhere.
The second biggest change has been the increasing popularity of Slack.
Unlike many traditional collaboration tools, Slack is easy to use, can quickly connect to anyone in the same company, and provides lots of flexibility in the channels you create and how you manage or facilitate conversations.
This is particularly helpful as more people adjust to a world in which they are not physically sitting next to each other for eight hours (or more) a day. Hybrid work should ideally lead to greater productivity, more efficient operations and happier employees. All those outcomes depend, however, on best-in-class collaboration happening on a regular basis.
If you’ve adopted Slack recently as a means to this end (or if you’re thinking about it), here’s how to maximize its potential to as a collaboration powerhouse:
When the majority of the workforce was stuck in the office, it was common to convene in the boardroom for basic status updates and other basic announcements. Most of would agree some of those meetings weren’t the best use of everyone’s time.
You can use Slack to send out a lot of status updates and announcements to the team instead. That way, when you schedule a videoconferencing call, the focus can be on more in-depth consultation about an issue or making more strategic decisions.
Remember some of those unwritten rules of collaboration we referenced earlier? Standardizing on Slack makes it easy to begin writing and sharing them.
You might make it a general policy not to ping someone when someone says they’re offline, for instance. You could set up channels to collaborate on specific kinds of business needs, whether it’s following up on a sales lead or brainstorming the theme for your next marketing campaign.
As you become more familiar with Slack, you can also guide team members on when they should be using it to share run a poll, share your screen during a virtual meeting or how Slack connects to Salesforce tools like their CRM.
“We’ll check with them when they get back to their desk,” a manager or coworker might say about a colleague who wasn’t physically in the room to share their expertise and opinion. This could happen a lot with individuals who were often on the road. In larger companies with multiple locations, there might be other peers who simply never got involved in solving problems that affect them.
Working with Slack removes that problem because it you can keep everyone – from the road warriors to team members in other business units or locations -- in the loop at all times. You can boost your ability to be more inclusive and, through a quick back-and-forth, ensure no one is surprised about key decisions or strategies.
One of the biggest worries about shifting to hybrid work is that some employees will come to feel isolated, or even lonely, compared with the long days spent sitting in adjoining cubicles. There might have been a buzz of social conversations when everyone arrived in the morning, for example, or as the weekend got closer.
Those who use Slack often find they can be as chatty in a particular channel as they were in person. You can build habits like wishing people a good morning or using an emoji when you first sign on, for instance, or ask people about the latest movie or live sports event they saw. This can go a long way to strengthening the culture, even as hybrid work becomes the norm.
Remember when you were in a meeting with a group and it started to go on a tangent? Maybe there were two people in the room who seemed to be in a standoff over a key detail, or a topic got raised that wasn’t central to the main point of the meeting. “Let’s park that one,” the person chairing the meeting might say, or “Let’s take that offline.”
Though Slack is very much an online tool, you can set up channels and conversations to easily have those “offline” or sidebar conversations. This can be akin to having people work out their disagreements in a breakout room, or to provide one-on-one coaching.
Collaboration is the heart of a successful hybrid work environment. And for a growing number of Canadian companies, Slack is what keeps that heart beating.