We Were Made For This – May 14th
Another great webinar this week with our guest Adam Roe from FortyFour! Fantastic advice and stories about how Adam and his team at FortyFour are thriving during this new normal. We also share some tips and tricks so your team can be more efficient and effective in Slack.
Click the image below to watch the full webinar or read the transcript below!?
Michael: For those of you who haven’t attended one of our webinars before, the title of this webinar comes from a quote from the CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield. This was in an article that came out last month in Fast Company and the quote goes like this, ‘No one’s going to panic their way to success. There’s a feeling inside the company that we were made for this.’ I thought that was a great inspirational way to look at this pandemic that we’re going through. That even though things in some areas aren’t going so great that the rest of us have to keep adapting to how we’re functioning as a business. Using tools like Slack is obviously a way that we try to run our business now that we’re going through this.
Just as a quick reminder, so next week we’ll be hosting Raj Shoudhury from Brightwave. He is the president of Brightwave. Brightwave is another email and digital marketing agency here in Atlanta. We’re happy to have him here next week, but when it comes to this session, Adam, why don’t you kick it off by telling us a little bit about FortyFour.
Adam: Yeah, that’s great. Next week will be good, Raj is great as well. So yeah, FortyFour, I guess the easiest way to describe us is a full service digital agency. In truth we have definitely a strong leaning towards e-commerce and platform development with CMS. We also focus heavily on creative including campaign content and video development. Then I oversee performance marketing as well as a good portion of our e-commerce activities. I guess we’re about just under 60 people located in Inman Park. We’re obviously all virtual at the moment. Looking forward to getting back to the office at some point.
I guess another thing about us, you know, I went through kind of a you know, we’re a full service digital agency and we do kind of a lot of things, but the reality is there’s two other partners, Thomas Frank and Raghu Kakarala. So, you know, while I oversee performance marketing and some of the eCommerce activities Raghu overseas technology and then Thomas oversees creative. One of the things I’ve always said is like, the company is really derivative of who the leadership is. So between the three of us, we’re kind of really pushing all of those things forward. It looks like we’re back on a voice there. So I’ll stop filling in the gaps.
This is a perfect example of some of the struggles with being remote. It’s not too uncommon to, I think a good percentage of the meetings I’ve been in and have some level of nuance of difficulty or child crying in the background or something like that.
Worth: So, well, Adam, then you must be the common denominator cause this will be our seventh webinar and this will be the first one where we’ve had any issues. Hopefully Mike is joining right back in. But you know, I know that Mike is going to ask you a bunch more questions. Are there any feelings inside FortyFour right now about when you guys are gonna go back, obviously.
Adam: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I kind of assumed that would be one of the questions. I mean we’re actively talking about it. I think we’re fortunate in a way that, you know, what we do and the tools we have in place allow us to be remote fairly effectively so we don’t have to be, you know, there’s no rush for us to be back in the office per se. So we’re allowed to kind of sit back and see what some others do. But we are actively planning for it at the moment. So we’re looking at you know, there is no firm date, I should say. We are evaluating June as a potential opportunity to come back. We’ve also created kind of a document that, you know, what could that, the office, even look like in terms of how do we handle it? What are the processes that we have, should we have a rotating schedule of people? So there is a lot of consideration going into it and we’re not trying to move quickly on it by any means. But it is something we are talking about.
Michael: Hey am I back? We had some technical difficulties there. I apologize. I’m not exactly sure what happened but, alright, we’re back. So Adam, thanks for telling us about everything at at FortyFour and a little bit about what things were like before the pandemic. Talk a little bit about the transition. When did you guys actually make the call to shift to a fully remote workforce?
Adam: Yeah, good question. So we, I think the week, and I don’t remember the exact date at this point, but cause it’s been so many weeks past, but the week that was leading up to essentially most people making the decision to go remote. We were probably one day behind that. I think we ended up going remote the Monday. We kind of let everybody leave the office halfway through the Monday after all the things that went there.
And you know, we were really, you know, I think the essence of our company really is kind of an in office culture. I think it’s really a derivative of who the leadership is. I don’t want to call it old school, I want to call it more of a function of the way the leadership operates. We’ve always wanted to create a culture. We always have seen a huge value in the communication that’s available when people are in the office. You know, we do give a thought to remote work and you know, have people on remote work when it makes sense, especially when there’s limiting factors with recruiting or finding the right talent for specific technologies or skill sets or whatever it is. But our bias is to have people in the office, whether we have to relocate them or whatever the thing is, to get them there because there’s really nuances that are invaluable in those situations and something the leadership really likes. So you know, a good amount of thought went into it prior to us doing it. So we spent the week prior planning and then made the call that Monday to really do it cause things had escalated to such a degree.
Michael: Yeah. Isn’t that ironic that companies like ours that are very technically sophisticated, that have the ability to work from home and work remotely often choose to come into the office just from a culture standpoint. I think we’ve always been an in office first type organization as well. Even though we’d given everybody the flexibility to work from home when they’ve needed to. It wasn’t a work from home or remote work by design. It was remote working by exception when people needed it. One of the things I think we’ve struggled with, or we’ve learned a lot here kind of over the last few weeks is, you know, because you’re not in the office, how do you maintain culture? And so what have you guys done in order to either change or adapt from a cultural standpoint now that not everybody’s in the office every day?
Adam: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think first and foremost, I think one of our core directives is to do good work, right? I mean, I do great work I should probably say. I mean, I think really the essence of FortyFour is really producing high quality work. So I think maintaining that as a culture was key first and foremost. So really we wanted to make sure that people were able to communicate effectively and had full visibility to what was going on. What were people working on. Basically communication is kind of where I’ll put the key to maintaining those pieces for morale as well. So there’s full visibility to stuff that’s going on.
So we instituted a series of different meetings, and obviously touch bases vertically and then, you know, meetings horizontally with leadership and different levels of management. So of course we did some of the more fun stuff as well. We’ve got happy hours, we’ve got, you know, fun events. We’ve been dreaming up different activities that try to keep people engaged. We’ve also instituted a biweekly company meeting as opposed to more of a quarterly or monthly. Really what we’re doing there is getting different teams to talk about activities and stuff they’re doing. So that visibility that you get when everybody’s in the office can be maintained to some degree as well.
Michael: Yeah. How different groups of employees managing kind of the remote work, are you noticing any different things between different types of employees? How’s everybody managing it in general? Everybody’s getting better?
Adam: I am super proud of the team. I mean, to be completely honest, the team has performed fantastically. I think they obviously understand this is a crisis situation as well, but everybody is 100% putting their best foot forward. I mean we are operating very productively, I would say at the moment. A matter of fact we had one team meeting, you know, a company meeting and one of the pieces of feedback was you guys are over communicating and stuff like that. So instituting these touch bases and communication has been, I think really the key.
Michael: Yeah. I think that takes us to the next topic here, which is, I’ll preface all of this by saying we all happen to be fortunate enough to have careers and work in industries that enable remote working. The fact that we are able to work from home and can run businesses in a remote scenario is very, very fortunate. There’s certainly many industries across the country and throughout the world that are harshly impacted by the shelter in place orders of the pandemic in general. But from a bright side, you know, I know that we’re experiencing some things like, you know, better productivity, better work, life balance. What are you guys seeing as maybe a benefit from the switch to a remote office environment?
Adam: Yeah, I mean, you know, again, vertically in terms of the teams and the stuff that we do, I think there is a transparency that might not have been there before. So for example, all the way down on leadership, I’m meeting with my team every day. Every day we meet at eight 30 which we had team meetings before, but not at the frequency that I was having. So there’s complete visibility at that level with everyone in the Zoom. We go through the high points and then once a week we do kind of a deep dive on each of the individual clients to kind of surface those things around. So I think those are some really good value there.
You mentioned work life balance. I feel like in a lot of ways I’m working more. You never leave, you’re never off, the computers right there. People can get in touch with you, not that they couldn’t before, but you’re just right there and it’s like you’re not stopping to go home. You literally just keep working. So in a lot of ways I feel like maybe less of that per se.
Michael: Well, that’s an interesting thing when people talk about work life balance. Some people like to talk about work life integration. I think what we’re hearing right now is a lot of work, life confusion. It’s not just work in life confusion. It’s the what day of the week confusion are we dealing with, this kind of new normal. Mondays start to feel a lot like Saturdays, and Thursdays and Wednesdays kind of all blend together. I know we’re experiencing that. How are you guys managing it from the office work life balance standpoint? Are people burning out? Are people struggling with things at home? How are you guys giving the employees ways to kind of manage or deal with that? Especially since so many people have so many different personal situations at home. I know we have kids at home stuff like that.
Adam: Yeah, for sure. I definitely have kids. I mean, we laugh our way through it I think. I mean obviously the flexibility’s there and there’s complete reason and we have a running jokes, there’s kids running into meetings and doing other stuff. So I think it’s to be expected and we see it across our clients as well. I think one of the things we did, one of the kind of moving to remote, the policies we put in place was like, you gotta have your camera on. You can’t, there’s no both internal, external, cause I think with the camera off you just lose a huge component, right. But then again, it opens you up for some other pieces there.
Michael: Well on our first webinar, Ryan Johnson from CallRail talked about having the camera on and talking about how now you have this weird little lens into everybody’s home. Where the irony about being separated and working from home is that maybe actually people have a little bit more empathy for people’s personal situations and kind of what they’re going through. It’s like we’re learning more about our colleagues because we’re not together, but we have this kind of weird lens into people’s homes where people are going, I didn’t know that’s where you lived. I didn’t know that’s what your office looked like or I didn’t know what your kids look like and they pop up from somebody’s desk or something. I think it’s just these weird kind of side effects that no one would have planned for. When we thought about shifting to remote working, it was like maybe there’s actually more empathy and more understanding about our fellow colleagues than we have before.
Adam: Yeah. One of the fun activities that we came up with was kind of a tour of your home, they called it grid or something or other and like, you know, of the employees would go around and show their house or whatever. So that was kind of cool.
Michael: I love that idea. That’s a great one. I’ll make a note of that one. Recommend that we do that. Is there anything else, like kind of what other companies could learn? Is there anything that when you guys were implementing so what you’ve learned going through this, that you would say for anybody that’s listening, here’s some best practices or something that really, really worked well for you guys? If you’d want to share.
Adam: Yeah, I mean, I think when we first started to plan, I mean, we broke it down. I actually wrote these down here. So it was like plan accordingly. So, you know, we wanted to make sure everybody had the right equipment. Not trying to discount the fact that somebody might not even have the right amount of access to do it. I mean we’re fortunate. I think our industry, everybody was very tech savvy and stuff like that. So we didn’t really have any issues with like connectivity or any of those things. But we made sure that they had, you know, take your monitor from the office, take, you know, whatever you need. You gotta come get your chair. I mean, you’re sitting in the same chair all day long. I mean, my back is killing me. So plan accordingly. Make sure everybody has the right equipment.
We also went through and were like leaning on the systems. I think this is kind of a good topic for us as well, which was, we have all the systems in place and you can take advantage of them when you’re you know, you can kind of skirt around them a little bit when you’re in the office or communicating. But really leveraging those things. So, you know, documenting and using JIRA and Confluence to make sure there’s visibility to everything that needs to get done. Communication tools that we have available, all of those pieces. Then obviously the stuff that we need to run our business effectively. Then the final one was just communicate. So we implemented a series of, you know, touch base with your team, touch base with your employees, cross functional project updates, raise your hand if you need to get something done. So really instituting those core things I think ultimately helped us in what I would say move to a very effective remote environment.
Michael: Yeah. Do you guys think you had a lot of those tools in place or was there a lot of, since you guys are kind of an in person office where everybody was encouraged to come into the office, was there a lot of prep work that you guys had to do when it came to different tools that you needed to get in place? Or was most of that stuff already available when people switched to remote.
Adam: We didn’t have to get anything new. It was more of a regimen to use it more effectively as much as you could. Actually I’ll give you a quick nod. The Eletpye tool which we use. We definitely hardened a lot of those systems. We are definitely using it across a good number of our marketing clients. But we went back through and made sure that all of the alerting was there because you just aren’t afforded the, hey, did you look at that or did you see that? So we wanted to make sure we had those alerts popping up as that backup when needed.
Michael: Good segue to the back half of the webinar here when it comes to using Slack in general. Is there anything that you guys have learned kind of running the business on Slack where you’re going, thank God we’d been using it this way, that you’d want to pass on to anybody?
Adam: The biggest thing I would say we’re using now with Slack and remote is the video chat. Now granted we have Google Chat and Google Meets or whatever it is, and Zoom, we have all these other things. But because you’re in there talking or communicating via Slack, now it’s really, I find myself just clicking the call button and it pops up right there and you’ve got two or three people that you’re chatting with. So video on Slack I think is probably the number one piece that’s provided value.
Michael: Yeah, we talked about that a little bit in one of the earlier webinars around getting the most out of Slack. And when we talk about video and phone calls through Slack, I like to think about it as it’s the same features and functions that you see inside of a Zoom or Google Hangouts. It’s just that the use case is different. Like when you choose to use it and you’re not going to use a Slack video call to do a conference call, to do a meeting. The reason why you use, or at least how we use Slack for video is when Slack breaks down as an effective communication channel. And you know, all forms of communication breakdown under certain circumstances and certainly email breaks down fairly regularly. When email breaks down with too many reply alls and large email threads, it’s easier to shift the medium of communication.
And then Slack has the same problem where it’s a whole bunch of people texting and chatting and sometimes the best way to describe something is to pick up the phone or for you to show somebody something. So when we talk about getting the most out of Slack and when we train companies on how to be more efficient and effective using Slack, that one comes up all the time, is to say sometimes you just need to pick up the phone or click on the phone call button inside of Slack just to say, hey, rather than all this texting that we’re doing I just want to show you my screen and it works great for that.
Adam: I think you hit the nail on the head with that one.
Michael: So when we talk about Slack, I mean obviously Eletype is a Slack first technology. We deliver our solution using messaging platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams. But when it comes to this pandemic, so why is Slack mission critical right now? The first reason is, you know, this transition happened quickly. It happened over the span of like a week or two. I think a lot of organizations, Adam when we talked about this earlier, kind of made the call over the span of what, like a weekend. Was that basically the timeframe for you guys? It went from like a Friday to Monday.
Adam: Yeah. I think we planned for like a week and then made the call to go. I mean we were going to try to do a hybrid approach and you know, with a bit more time. But yeah, we planned and then it was just go.
Michael: Yeah. It happened crazy fast when it came to making that decision. What we found working with a lot of organizations was that Slack can really be game changing when implemented properly. But the side effect or the problem is that Slack’s frequently under utilized. I think with some basic tips and training and best practices you can improve this dramatically. I think that’s just the nature of how Slack is often implemented. I know we worked with you guys on a few Slack training sessions.
Essentially when Slack is implemented, it’s usually implemented in an organization very organically, which means like one team is kind of using it for something. It’s oftentimes starts with the Dev team, and then maybe it shifts into a customer success team, and then all of a sudden the finance team is using it, and then you got the executive and the management team using it and everybody gets introduced to it in these kind of bite sized, piecemeal ways. It’s unique to enterprise software that it kind of grows organically and from the bottom up rather than how a lot of enterprise software is often purchased at the corporate level and then pushed down to everybody in a formal roll out of this new product, of this new thing that we’re using. Slack often times doesn’t happen that way and people just don’t understand some of those more underutilized features.
Adam: We have a funny story there. So we were very similar to what you said, we rolled out Slack the free version and used it quite effectively for a long time. But obviously there’s a huge amount of limitations including not storing your history and a number of integrations and all these things. So I think it was probably mid or later last year where it finally made sense. I mean everybody was using it and we needed those capabilities along with a couple others. So we went ahead and purchased it.
So for those of you that don’t know if you purchase it the minute you purchase it, everybody on your company gets a notification saying you just got upgraded to a channel and it started like first person saw it, it started as like a slow clap and then the whole organization started clapping all at the same time and cheering. Cause I think saving the history is probably the single most valuable thing of the enterprise piece that people were excited about.
Michael: Yeah, that’s a pretty killer feature when it comes to just searching like the history of like where all those messages go. And they give you a decent amount for free. But as the number of users that you put under the free plan grows, you hit, I think it’s like a 10,000 message limit and you hit that pretty quickly. Then everybody’s going, I can’t find anything in here. Then I think also you get the video and the screen share out in the paid plan as well.
So some under utilized Slack features. This is something we kind of worked with the team at FortyFour on a little bit. Kind of things that we’ve worked on, some training stuff. When it is implemented organically and then everybody kind of gets slowly introduced to more and more features inside of Slack it starts to become this scenario where Slack is more than just like a chat program. It starts to be like, well I can do a lot more things here than I thought. What are those features? And to be fair, I mean we’re big Slack proponents obviously, but Slack doesn’t always do the best job of introducing some of the most important features inside the platform.
So one of them that I think everybody gets a like a big win on is sections and threads. If you’re not familiar with sections and threads, sections in particular is kind of a new feature. If you look at a Slack workspace here and you mouse over the channel section right here, you’re going to see this thing that says section options. The only way that that feature shows up is if you just kind of hover your mouse over that section there.
And if you do that, a section is like a folder and you can create a folder inside of Slack to group channels together. So I created a section called sales and marketing and I use that to group four channels together. It’s called ads I like, advertising, marketing and sales. So now all of those conversations in those channels are grouped into one bucket or to one folder that I called sales and marketing. Now that allows me to collapse that and condense that. Anybody who’s been using Slack for a while quickly realizes that you’re participating in more than just 10 or 12 or 15 different Slack channels, you could have 30, 40 or 50. And when that happens, everything that’s on that left hand column starts to become pretty overwhelming. So I’d recommend everybody to use sections to group everything.
Then the other one is threads and threads you can access by mousing over a message here. You’re going to see a little thing that looks like a chat bubble, and that chat bubble is actually the way to create a thread. A thread is a way to take a conversation that you’re having in a channel and have it in its own threaded conversation rather than intermixed with all the other conversations that are going on in that channel.
This can be really important when you have multiple team members talking about one topic, which is the channel, but multiple streams of communication. And anybody who’s ever been in a noisy Slack channel knows that people are oftentimes talking over each other. One person’s talking about one thing and another group of people are talking about something else. So creating a thread, bundles them all together in a way that groups them in a logical workspace.
So when it comes to kind of grouping work spaces in general, everybody’s invited to many different work spaces for different organizations. But I’d advise everybody to use sections, kind of like folders to group, everything that are user specific. So any type of grouping that you want to have, you can create your own section for those, user-defined, rather than channels which are for topics that are defined by the workspace administrator. Then finally use threads for conversations. I think we’ve talked about this before. How’s FortyFour using these type of features?
Adam: We’re you using some of these. I’m definitely learning a couple of new things. I haven’t done sections yet, so I’ll give it a whirl.
Michael: I think sessions actually came out since when we did that training with you guys several months ago. Definitely have everybody use sections as a way to kind of group everything a little bit better. Threads also can be really, really powerful. In fact, when we work with anybody who says Slack is too noisy, I say use threads now that’s the biggest way to kind of clean up some noise. The other type of noise that happens a lot is notifications inside of Slack. Adam from your perspective from a noise level, I mean how do you guys think you manage that at FortyFour in a Slack?
Adam: Oh I mean I had to turn it down cause it was popping up like every two seconds during the meeting and the noise, everything. So I definitely figured this one out quick.
Michael: There’s two types of notifications that we’ll kind of walk through real quickly. If you go to your preferences, the first thing you can do is you can have workspace notification settings. If you do this this is an easy way to control the types of notifications that you’re getting out of everything that’s going on in your Slack workspace. So some simple ones there when it comes to setting this up for each user is to put on a do not disturb window. So it’s kind of self explanatory, but when do you not want to be disturbed by a Slack notification mindset from 10:00 PM till 8:00 AM. Turn those off you’re not going to get notifications.
The next one that I think is actually kind of interesting here is activity levels on the desktop versus on your phone. If you’re working on your desktop and you’re going to get a notification about something in Slack that makes sense you shouldn’t also get the same notification on your phone. And by default this is oftentimes turned on. So you’ll be seeing, you’ll be working something pops up on your computer and it also pops up on your phone. That’s redundant. You don’t need that. So you can set this here to say, if I’m active on my desktop, don’t send any notifications to my phone for a certain period of time. I would encourage anybody to everybody to look at that one real quick.
Then the next one here at the bottom, which is channel specific notifications. So a channel specific notification overrides the workspace notifications at the channel level. So why is this important? There’s really actually two sides to this. There’s some channels that are too noisy, like the general channel. Maybe you have a random channel where a lot of people are chatting about things a lot. You may not want to see any notifications from that channel. So you can come in, you click on the detail section inside of that channel.
Getting the Most Out Of Slack
Want to learn how to get the most out of Slack?
April 2nd – How to Implement Slack (click here for recording)
April 9th – Managing Notifications (click here for recording)
April 16th – Slack Apps and Slash Commands (click here for recording)
April 23rd – Administration and Security (click here for recording)
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