‘Why change?’: Brands are slacking when it comes to Slack

Slack, the workplace communication tool and $4 billion unicorn, has not caught on at agencies — and it may well be because the brands they work with themselves aren’t using Slack.

Over a series of conversations with brands, a theme emerged: Calcified brand bureaucracies stymie internal change. (Slack, which have become a sensation in the tech and publishing industries, does not have sector-specific data on how its service is being adopted.)

And while the use of the workplace communication software can seem like a minor issue, executives say it is a symptom of a bigger problem. Brands continue to hold on to legacy practices that hamper productivity — like email. One fast-food brand executive said that communication is not only his biggest challenge, but that it’s “stunning” how little brands do to improve it.

Email makes people feel comfortable enough that they don’t have to respond immediately, whereas Slack or IM demands an immediate reply, said Erin Dwyer, head of e-commerce and social at Haven Beauty. “Email is a security blanket,” she said.

It’s also a “cover your ass” thing, said Dwyer. If an employee needs a record of a conversation or an assignment, digging through a group Slack transcript can be daunting and might not feel as “real” as an email. And not everyone has thick enough skin to discuss ideas in an open channel to start with.

Agencies can help. R/GA has slowly but surely brought some clients on board Slack. “With a lot of our clients, we’re doing technical, in-depth work,” said Katrina Bekessy, director of tech and design. “At the end of the day, they own the work we do, and we need to provide the visibility they need into our work.” R/GA has invited clients into Slack to choose what channels to subscribe to and see how teams work everyday. And when something goes wrong, everyone knows what happened.

Fossil, one of its clients, still uses email companywide, but its director of software strategy, Rob Edgell, has brought Slack into his core team of developers because he works with teams in Asia, as well as with R/GA, which is far from his base in Texas. Fossil uses a Slack add-on that lets people know what everyone is working on and if they completed it, which fosters a sense of accountability. And it’s cut down on meeting time. “Often our status meetings would turn into hourlong things, which gets very bogged down,” said Edgell.

There’s also the idea of command and control. Some people play office politics and hoard information, said one brand manager who didn’t want to be named. Slack takes all of that power away from people, so higher-ups who don’t like the idea of transparency often don’t want to institute it. And IT structures can be hard to break through. Once security or IT teams know that something works, they’re reluctant to change it, said Edgell. “If something has been proven over time, the mentality is, ‘Why change?’” he said.


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