Workplace

Slack’s rallying cry at Dreamforce: No more meetings

It’s not all cartoon bears and therapy pigs — work conferences are a good place to talk about the future of work.

Tamar Yehoshua, chief product officer of Slack, speaks during a keynote at the 2022 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

“We want people to be able to work in whatever way works for them with flexible schedules, in meetings and out of meetings,” Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua told Protocol at Dreamforce 2022.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dreamforce is primarily Salesforce’s show. But Slack wasn’t to be left out, especially as the primary connector between Salesforce and the mainstream working world.

The average knowledge worker spends more time using a communication tool like Slack than a CRM like Salesforce, positioning it as the best Salesforce product to concern itself with the future of work. In between meeting a therapy pig and meditating by the Dreamforce waterfall, Protocol sat down with several Slack execs and conference-goers to chat about the shifting future.

Throughout the conference, one of Slack’s main rallying cries was that we should cut down on meetings. At both the Slack keynote and a live interview with Pivot’s Kara Swisher, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield declared his hope that people always feel empowered to turn down meetings in the future (and reaffirmed his disdain for the so-called work metaverse).

The “fewer meetings” mantra stems from Slack’s workplace research consortium Future Forum as well, according to its executive leader Brian Elliott. Finding time for deep focus is a priority for many workers, he said, and he’s glad to see this idea at the forefront of Slack’s product. Elliott has helped implement the idea into Slack at large with no-meeting Focus Fridays and Maker Weeks. Salesforce even picked up the practice post-acquisition. That said, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, nor is it one that can be implemented without significant buy-in.

“Those kinds of practices and policies, you can't just top-down mandate them,” Elliott said. “You actually need people to pilot them and experiment with them to figure out what works, and then you need to adapt them to different organizations.”

Crowd at Dreamforce 2022. One of Slack’s main rallying cries throughout Dreamforce 2022 was that we should cut down on meetings.Photo: Lizzy Lawrence/Protocol

Instead of just a dead calendar event, Butterfield’s vision is a comprehensive, easily digestible record of the meeting that makes sense, even if you didn’t attend. Essentially, it’s an elevated version of meeting minutes. This is part of the goal behind Slack canvas, a collaborative document embedded within channels and built from Salesforce-owned Quip.

“We had an instance of something similar to canvas that we called boards internally, two or three years ago,” Tamar Yehoshua, Slack VP of product, told Protocol. “We got it to dog-food, and there were just too many rough edges. Then the Salesforce acquisition came, and we knew with Salesforce, we would get Quip.”

White and colorful sneakers Despite Slack’s rallying cry against meetings, a lot of Dreamforce 2022 took place in person.Photo: Lizzy Lawrence/Protocol

Yehoshua described canvas as a “persistent, real-time layer” of work that she thinks will streamline relevant information. But whether it will reduce the need to attend synchronous meetings remains to be seen.

“We want people to be able to work in whatever way works for them with flexible schedules, in meetings and out of meetings, so it doesn’t have to be this ‘I’m on a 30-minute video call in order to get anything done,’” Yehoshua said.

Canvas and the general availability of video huddles were the main Slack announcements at Dreamforce, accompanied by hundreds of Slack-specific sessions over the conference’s three days. Tamara Jensen, a principal technical project manager at T-Mobile, spoke at a Slack-related session about how to cancel more meetings. She’s leading her company’s efforts to replace unnecessary meetings with Slack, though adoption has been uneven across various teams.

“It depends on which role you’re in,” Jensen said. “As a product person, you talk all day long. As an engineer, you’re in less meetings.”

No matter what Slack does, Jensen said some people are just going to have some meeting FOMO. It’s in our nature to worry about what essential information we might have missed.

“That does take a little bit of training,” Jensen said. “People have to get comfortable saying no, and trust that it’s going to be offline and available to them.”

Hybrid work and figuring out better ways to communicate was not just top of mind for Slack execs, but for Dreamforce attendees, too. Several Dreamforcers talked to Protocol about the pitfalls of making work equally inclusive for office-goers and those working from home, such as including remote workers in a video meeting where most people are Zooming from a conference room.

Dreamforce had a panel about how to lead in a flexible work world, with speakers like Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud and Calendly CEO Tope Awotona. The main takeaway from that panel was, as Sud put it, “Nothing is sacred.” Now is the time to experiment and test out different hybrid and remote policies. Sud said her executive team is dispersed across nine time zones, from Switzerland to Seattle. Instead of all leaders flying to headquarters once a month, every executive hosts a meetup in their hometown.

“It’s tough as executives because what your employees are looking for is certainty,” Sud said. “Part of our job is to know where we can have a philosophy and certainty, but also where we need to be agile and flexible. At Vimeo, we’re just experimenting.”

With all that experimentation, companies are split on whether to ditch or reunite with the full-time office model. But it’s clear that remote work will remain popular with employees even as the pandemic wanes.

“The bet essentially is which model is going to perform better over the next five years, and I would bet on the one that is more attractive to talent, because talent actually drives business results,” Elliott said.

Despite Slack’s rallying cry against meetings, a lot of Dreamforce was — you guessed it — meetings. Between people dutifully taking notes at keynote panels and groups huddling with Humphry Slocombe ice cream in Adirondack chairs outside Moscone Center, connecting synchronously was the ultimate goal of Dreamforce. After years of being unable to come together, Dreamforce attendees were happy to fill their time with live, serendipitous chatter.

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