Want Better Collaboration? Slack Exec Tells How Digital Tools Can Help

In days past you had to walk down the hall to someone’s office to have a chat or pick up the phone. At the very least it would involve volleying emails back and forth, but new online tools have made the collaboration process an easier and more productive one. 

Digital collaboration services, like Slack, give businesses the ability to facilitate easy communication and collaboration among their employees. These types of tools foster teamwork by providing an online hub for conversations, the sharing of ideas and the transferring of files. These services allow for one-on-one conversations as well as group discussions. 

Jaime DeLanghe is the search, learning and intelligence product lead for Slack, and knows how businesses can get the most out of digital collaboration tools. In her role at Slack, DeLanghe builds data-driven products that help users find the things they need and get their work done more quickly and efficiently. 

Prior to joining Slack, DeLanghe spent more than seven years at Etsy where she held a variety of roles, including director of product management and group product manager. 

We recently spoke with DeLanghe about digital collaboration tools and how they are impacting the way employees work with each other. In addition, we asked her some rapid-fire questions about technology, her career and advice she has received over the years.

Q: How have online collaboration tools, like Slack, changed the way employees work with each other?

A: The way companies work is changing rapidly. Whether your company is using Slack or not, you need to find ways to drive interdepartmental communication, improve transparency, improve agility, increase your velocity and do all of this while keeping a creative and increasingly millennial workforce engaged. Slack and other collaboration tools are helping companies and individuals adapt to and drive this change by getting out of the way and helping people do work the way they want to. 

I think that the best work happens when information flows freely and is easily accessible. Slack helps to make this happen by breaking information out of memo-style email chains and into channels. In channels, the right people are included in the conversation, relevant information is in one place, and new team members able to get up to speed easily. 

I was visiting a customer recently and we asked them this exact question: What’s changed about your process since you started using Slack? No one thought their process had changed much at first, but once we dug into it, everything about their process had changed: Files were being shared more easily, issues across departments were resolved quickly, onboarding and training were easier, their company culture had significantly changed. It wasn’t that the process was the same, it just didn’t feel like a process anymore. 

Q: Has the rise in the remote workforce increased the demand for collaboration tools? Why or why not?

A: Digital collaboration tools have become critical to productivity regardless of where a company’s workforce resides. I’d say the demand for collaboration tools has more to do with the shift to digital work than the shift to remote work – that said, digital collaboration tools are essential to remote work life. 

For a remote worker, Slack is the main lifeline to their company. It’s not only the place to go to collaborate on projects across distances and get important company updates, it’s also the main conduit for company culture – seemingly small things like custom emojis, social channels, and team rituals create a sense of team and connection that are hard to get through an email or static documents. 

Regardless of whether they’re remote or not, we’ve found that Slack users clock in happier with the level of information-sharing and communication at work versus non-Slack users. Data shows that 87 percent of Slack users say the platform makes them more productive. 

Q: Do online collaboration/communication tools have any value for businesses where everyone works in the same office? If so, what?

A: Shared physical location doesn’t automatically create a sense of collaboration, connection, and belonging – all of which are important to a company’s employee engagement, retention, and productivity. 

A study led by Kelton Global revealed that nearly one in four workers say they are dissatisfied with communication at work, including how information is shared, and Slack users are more likely than non-users to say they are satisfied at work (47 percent versus 37 percent). 

One key reason for this may be the sheer number of uses for Slack at work, from sharing files to making decisions to integrating with other programs. For example, channels help improve collaboration and boost context by allowing individuals and teams to build a virtual workplace on Slack based on their unique needs. Channels can be created, prioritized and archived at any time, by team, project, location – whatever is needed – even shared securely with outside vendors.

Q: What do you say to those who think sharing GIFs and jokes all day via online collaboration tools is just an unnecessary distraction? How can you ensure that online communication tools don’t become too much of a disturbance for employees?

A: First off, don’t discount those GIFs and jokes; a good balance of work and play can actually improve overall productivity and increase engagement. That said, we all know that real collaboration requires more than just a few laughs between friends. 

A great deal of work has gone into the design of Slack to ensure that everyone has the ability to customize Slack to the way they want it to work. There are controls for how and when users receive alerts, notifications, etc. The first time someone uses Slack, we encourage them to familiarize themselves with those controls and fine-tune them to their preferences. 

In Slack, channels also allow you to separate the critical work from the social stuff. I know that I can count on #puppies for a mental break when I need, but don’t necessarily have to wade through dog Gifs when I am trying to figure out the status of my team in #team-search. 

Q: Do you see a time where online collaboration tools eventually replace email as the main form of digital communication?

A: I believe that in the next five to 10 years, everyone will be using Slack, or a tool like it. The way we communicate and interact with one another at work is changing in a really profound way, including a transition to messaging and mobile, and a real demand for transparency within organizations. 

As more and more digital and mobile natives enter the workforce, they expect work software to behave like the software they’ve grown up with in their personal lives. 

Q: What are three lesser-known features of Slack that can help small businesses be more productive?

A: 1. Ctrl + K: With quick switcher, you can alternate between different channels or conversations instantly

2. Search: Helpful new filters that refine your search results by people, channels, messages and dates

3. App integrations: Stay on top of changes, streamline approvals, and squeeze the most out of Slack with apps and integrations like Asana, HubSpot and Coupa

Q: When it comes to security and privacy, should Slack messages be treated as secure and private or are they considered more public? 

A: It’s important to be considerate with what you say and how you say it in any work conversation, and at the end of the day, Slack is a business communication tool. 

With Slack, the same practices you use for email or any workplace communication system apply. All messages stored in Slack are private to the people in your Slack. Messages in public channels can be seen by everyone in your organization, which we think is a good thing – it increases the shared knowledge of your company, makes it easier to onboard new people and ensures that information doesn’t get unnecessarily siloed. 

That said, different industries can call for different settings. For example, law firms handling sensitive information may use more private channels. We also offer advanced security features for enterprise clients. You can learn more about Slack’s security features here. 

Q: What piece of technology could you not live without?

A: I’d have a really hard time meeting the demands of my life without my phone. Like most folks in a management role, I spend a lot of my day bopping between meetings, triaging people problems, catching up with the team and have basically zero time at my computer. 

My phone keeps me informed about what’s going on with the team via Slack, tells me where to go with Calendar notifications and lets me handle quick errands (like buying dog food or scheduling a doctor’s appointment) when I have a spare moment. 

When I’m not at work, it becomes a navigator, entertainer, corresponder, alarm clock, wallet … I could go on and on and on. 

Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given?

A: Know when to push and when to sit tight. Sometimes the best thing you can do is enjoy the job you have, instead of pushing ahead to the next thing. 

Q: What’s the best book or blog you’ve read this year?

A: I became mildly obsessed with The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. It’s an imaginative exploration of technology, humanity and society. 

Q: What do you do to achieve work-life balance? 

A: I try to abide by a value we have here at Slack: “Work hard, and go home.” When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent at work. When I’m not, I do my very best not to be.

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