Maybe Slack could finally end some corporate seat time discussions

Corporate Seat Time

Slack could end seat time

Last April, I wrote about how maybe Slack could revolutionize the workplace; then in February, I wrote about how they got to a $2 billion valuation with no CMO, which is insanely rare for a lot of companies.

There’s something much better than either of those posts currently on Medium and while there are about 90 different individual parts of interest, here’s one that makes a lot of sense (to me, at least):

Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, saw a larger problem with email, an organizational memory problem: “Whether you’re the CEO or an intern, on your first day at an email-based organization, you can’t see into anything — it’s all locked in people’s inboxes. You literally have no access to anything that happened in the past. There might’ve been hundreds of thousands or millions of messages exchanged at the company before you got there.” Slack doesn’t make everything transparent, but it brings a whole lot more into the light.

That’s hugely true. Organizations chase so many dragons as relates to keeping their people and ideas and proprietary things organized, right? In reality, this is what often happens: the senior leadership team clusters most of the important information in their e-mail (and their admin’s e-mails) and then each and every silo has a different system (Google, Sharepoint, hand-written, etc.) that they use for their information.

It’s all completely ineffective, but it’s also completely logical: people somewhat resist the idea of information being broadly shared because it’s very important to most people to think that they “own” something at work — i.e. someone would have to come to them, find them, talk to them, e-mail them, whatever in order to do their job. If you really think an organization is an ecosystem or multi-tentacled animal, it makes no sense; there’s so much “left hand, right hand” everywhere I’ve ever worked. But a lot of that goes back to human psychology.

Now there’s this part too:

At Slack itself, Butterfield says, “About half of the product managers no longer have any regular meetings. Instead they have a time of day, each day, when everyone just posts what they’re working on. If you have a question, that’s the point at which you can ask. It gets to the point where it’s so routine that no one ever says, ‘OK, everyone, post your notes.’ People just do it.”

Alright, now add up Quote 1 and Quote 2.

If you’re using it right, that would give you an org where:

  • Information is pretty openly shared.
  • You don’t have as much need for face-to-face meetings.

That moves you down the road of … seat time should matter less.

Corporate Seat Time

Quick story: I have a friend who works for a non-profit. In the summers, the non-profit works on some concerts that occur on the weekends. So basically, during the summer, this friend is working 6-7 days a week. She recently tried to get a Friday in October off for her sister’s wedding and had to borrow days from the following year to do it. That’s a joke. Fridays at work are meaningless at most places anyway, and since it’s probably the Friday before Columbus Day, it’s even more meaningless. (Everyone will skate early.)

But in most orgs, we have all these processes and all these rules around seat time — and in reality, it all just comes back to the fact that we don’t trust people further than we can throw them. If we trusted people, we would base their jobs on results. We claim to do that, but we don’t really do that — because two people are inherently different, so one could get Result A in 20 hours of work and one might need 50 hours of work. (Thing is, 20-hours-guy might lie because being busy is a drug.)

If you have a world where info is shared, though, and meetings are less relevant — and the idea we know as “e-mail” is basically taking place in Slack — then why couldn’t a company in New York hire a great worker in Boise? They could. And as long as that worker is getting stuff done and the results are tangible and viewable, what does it matter if they’re always tethered to a desk somewhere? It doesn’t.

I know this requires a huge leap of understanding for most people — and, sadly, mostly for the people who become managers — but it’s doable. The era of seat time can die out as these tools rise up.

Ted Bauer

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