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Remote teams centralize collaboration on Slack platform

Deploying collaboration technology has played a key role in supporting remote teams during the pandemic. Tech leaders at Slack Frontiers share their success stories.

When Miguel Edwards became CIO of Pan-American Life Insurance Group in January 2020, he had plans to modernize the company. He needed to find a better way to support collaboration and streamline operations for his global 200-person IT team. He chose to roll out the basic version of Slack.

He planned to roll out Slack to only his team. Then, in March, COVID-19 gripped the U.S., and Pan-American, based in New Orleans, had to pivot to an entirely remote workforce. As the company's 2,200 employees in 21 countries adjusted to remote communications, Edwards saw demand for a collaboration tool from other parts of the business. He upgraded to Slack's Enterprise Grid plan to migrate the company's remote teams to Slack.

"Insurance is one of the oldest industries in the world; it has a lot of legacy constructs," Edwards said. "We were a workforce about being present and in the office."

Pan-American operates in some parts of the world that don't support paperless workflows or digital signatures. The challenge was to create new workflows and change company culture around remote work. But, in the end, employee productivity increased rather than decreased, he said.

Edwards and other IT leaders spoke at Slack's virtual Frontiers customer conference about the move to remote work during the pandemic and their long-term plans for supporting Slack for remote teams.

Remote work is the new normal

More than 60% of business leaders said one of the biggest challenges of digital transformation is employees' consumer expectations are ahead of a company's ability to change, said IDC analyst Wayne Kurtzman in a panel discussion on remote collaboration. However, the pandemic showed that businesses can adapt to change quickly.

"People adopting collaborative technologies has accelerated by five years in the past six months alone," he said.

The way we work is changing and changing dramatically. It's not going back; this is the new norm.
Wayne KurtzmanResearch analyst, IDC

Through 2020 and 2021, organizations plan to invest in team collaboration, device management and security, video conferencing and traditional office suite software to enable employees to have access to the resources they need to do their jobs on any device, wherever they're working, according to IDC research.

"The way we work is changing and changing dramatically," Kurtzman said. "It's not going back; this is the new norm."

At Pan-American, standardizing on Slack enabled the company to integrate collaboration across the company's ecosystem, including its Atlassian product suite, Edwards said. He also plans to use Slack as a single pane of glass for the company's IT and software development platforms, including ServiceNow.

More than half of organizations worldwide are investing in collaboration apps, Kurtzman said. And integrating collaboration apps with other business tools is increasing productivity for many organizations. Companies that deploy at least three integrations see the benefits of enhanced productivity, saving a mean of 30 hours per person, per week, he said.

Making collaboration an evolving strategy

Arizona State University (ASU) also moved to Slack for remote teams and education for its faculty, staff and students. The university assembled a specialized, cross-functional team to make Slack an extension of the campus during the pandemic, said Warick Pond, executive director of enterprise initiatives at ASU's technology office.

With the team's input, ASU migrated over 5,000 workspaces to Slack and created new workspaces for class and program curricula. The school has since disbanded its team to enable the campus to become self-sufficient in creating workspaces and channels that best suit their needs, he said.

The university also established an editable Google doc that details long-term plans for Slack, said Samantha Becker, the school's executive director of creative and communications.

"Our plan was created in wet clay, so to speak," she said. "Our whole communications strategy is in Google Docs, still being iterated to this day because our Slack strategy is changing as we're learning new things and our community is finding new applications."

For example, ASU has success coaches to help first-year students acclimate to academic life. But, during the pandemic, the coaches weren't getting the engagement they needed from students for long-term success. The school created Slack channels for the coaches to engage with students, as well as one-on-one coaching in the app. The coaches then created their own channel to share information and resources with each other, which became like a searchable knowledge database, Pond said.

"A tool is a tool, but when designed effectively, it can change how you work and how work gets done," he said.

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