Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

The market for workplace collaboration software has been growing steadily more competitive over the past year, with tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook moving into the space formerly dominated by the startup Slack. Last week, Atlassian unveiled its new platform called Stride, which integrates with the company’s other enterprise technology offerings and aims specifically at meeting users’ needs in areas where Slack falls short. Both Slack and Microsoft made announcements about their products this week that show they are well aware of the heightening competition and prepared to respond.

On Monday, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, Microsoft released a new feature on its Teams product called Guest Access, which gives organizations “a way to bring in freelancers or consultants on a project and show them everything they need to know, and nothing more”:

Larry Waldman, a program manager for Teams, told GeekWire that guest access has been among the most frequent and long-standing requests from customers. “We knew we needed it because people in companies work with folks outside their companies very regularly,” Waldman said. “That’s something we heard feedback on even as we were developing Teams.”

Microsoft also announced that Teams is now being used by 125,000 organizations, more than double the 50,000 who were using it when it launched globally in March.

Not to be outdone, Slack put out an announcement of its own the next day at its Frontiers conference in San Francisco, Levy’s colleague Monica Nickelsburg adds. The company revealed that it had grown to 9 million weekly active users in more than 100 countries, including 50,000 paid teams, and 2 million paid users, generating $200 million in annual recurring revenue. Slack also unveiled a feature that enables ongoing collaboration between multiple organizations:

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Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

The software company Atlassian, already a major player in the enterprise technology game with its applications like Jira, Confluence, and HipChat, has released a new collaboration platform for employees and teams called Stride, to compete with existing products like Slack. Kerry Flynn at Mashable describes Stride as “all about taking action”:

It cuts down on notifications by letting users put themselves in a “Focus Mode,” and it makes it super simple to switch from text to video. The design is mobile-friendly and easy to use, not unlike its competitor Slack. But it offers features that make it arguably a better product than Slack for actually getting work done. …

One of the core features is letting users set themselves as away. That feature is available in competitors, such as Slack’s emoji statuses, but Stride allows users to actually mute specific channels, share what they’re working on, and more easily catchup once they’re done. … Any room in Stride can start a meeting and allow any user to join in via audio or video. It eliminates the need to move to Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, or another third-party video system and can encourage people to switch to video more often.

Steve Goldsmith, general manager for Stride at Atlassian, tells GeekWire reporter Tom Krazit that Stride is integrated with Atlassian’s other software products and will be available in both free and paid tiers with different features:

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Is It Time to Rethink B2B Sales Incentive Plans?

Is It Time to Rethink B2B Sales Incentive Plans?

The overwhelming majority of companies use individual, revenue-based incentive plans as part of their compensation package for front-line sales staff. For as long as there have been salespeople, commission served as the perfect motivational lever which kept them productive and happy—it could even make them quite rich if they got good enough at it. But now it’s time to re-evaluate this strategy given the recent changes in business-to-business buying behavior.

Strategic buyers are no longer dependent on salespeople for information on product and service offerings. In the information age, business leaders can consult review sites, online forums, social media, and professional networks to discover solutions for their needs. In fact, at CEB (now Gartner), our Sales and Marketing practice found that the typical B2B buyer is 57 percent of the way through their decision-making process before engaging with a supplier. The cold call isn’t dead, but it is no longer the most prudent way to introduce your product to potential customers.

As such, it has become harder to measure the value a salesperson has provided after a purchase is made. Previously, companies would arm their field teams with standard marketing materials and wait for the money to come in. Sales reps would cultivate leads, provide potential customers with all of the relevant information, and convert some of those opportunities into deals. The salesperson’s contribution was very clear: They were revenue generators. Today, now that customers wait until they know exactly what they want and how much they want to pay for it before reaching out to salespeople, B2B providers are getting their name out through some combination of PR, content marketing, social media, white papers, and the like. The best companies are doing it in a way that draws prospective customers into the funnel, recognizing the need for more institutional support in the sales and lead generation process.

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Is Remote Work Better? ‘It Depends,’ Says Humanyze CEO

Is Remote Work Better? ‘It Depends,’ Says Humanyze CEO

With remote work rapidly on the rise among professionals in the US and other countries, one of the great debates about contemporary workplace culture concerns whether working remotely from home or a coworking space is better, worse, or just different than working on-site in an office. Some studies have suggested that remote workers are more focused and productive, and less likely to quit, than regular office employees. On the other hand, some companies, most notably IBM, have been having second thoughts about their remote work policies recently, recalling employees to the office in an effort to improve communication and team collaboration.

So is remote work better than office work, or isn’t it? Unfortunately, Humanyze CEO Ben Waber tells Sarah Kessler at Quartz, there is no simple answer to that question—it all depends on the type of work being done, among other factors including the culture of the organization and the amount of teamwork involved:

A European retail bank that hired Humanyze to analyze its office layout, for instance, found that sales teams that spent time interacting in person outperformed those who worked remotely. That appears to contradict an often-cited 2014 study by Stanford researchers that looked at how working from home impacted employees at a Chinese travel agent’s call center. The study found that employees at home were on average 13% more productive, making more phone calls and spending more time on the phone.

But the circumstances of the two workspaces were very different. Members of the sales team, Waber hypothesizes, benefit from learning how others do the job better. In-person, an improvement one person makes is more likely to be shared with others. …

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Diversity Isn’t a Magic Bullet for Creativity

Diversity Isn’t a Magic Bullet for Creativity

A growing body of research indicates that diversity and inclusion are not just matters of corporate social responsibility, but in fact have benefits that strengthen an organization’s culture and can boost the bottom line. One of these benefits is that diversity is thought to enhance creativity and innovation by diminishing groupthink and exposing employees to a wider range of ideas and experiences from their colleagues.

A study last year found that 81 percent of tech startup founders believed that a diverse workforce enhanced creativity and innovation—although most of their companies did not have diverse workforces. This connection is particularly salient in creative industries like advertising, where clients have been pushing agencies to diversify their creative teams so that they more closely mirror the customers they are trying to reach.

The precise relationship between diversity and creativity is not so clear-cut, however: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzik weighs the evidence at the Harvard Business Review and warns that employers who hope to use diversity as the key to unlock their teams’ creative potential may end up disappointed:

There’s a difference between generating ideas and implementing ideas. While diverse team composition does seem to confer an advantage when it comes to generating a wider range of original and useful ideas, experimental studies suggest that such benefits disappear once the team is tasked with deciding which ideas to select and implement, presumably because diversity hinders consensus. A meta-analysis of 108 studies and more than 10,000 teams indicated that the creativity gains produced by higher team diversity are disrupted by the inherent social conflict and decision-making deficits that less homogeneous teams create. …

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Autonomy, Communication Seen as Key to Productive Remote Work

Autonomy, Communication Seen as Key to Productive Remote Work

Remote work is rapidly on the rise among knowledge workers in the US and other developed economies. The ability of employees to work from anywhere opens up a lot of possibilities for their employers in terms of hiring candidates who don’t live in your city, saving money on office space, and enabling collaboration across vast distances. Some organizations are bucking the trend: IBM, an early pioneer of remote work, recently “co-located” much of its distributed US workforce to six regional headquarters, citing the need for teams to collaborate and communicate more closely day-to-day. Critics of IBM’s move argue that the company is losing more than it stands to gains with this move, by limiting where its employees can live and work and taking away a degree of their autonomy.

Skeptical employers may be forgiven for assuming that the “autonomy” remote employees enjoy translates to freedom to slack off. A recent study, however, suggests that remote workers with greater autonomy are in fact more productive. Ian Buckingham takes note of the findings at People Management:

Nick van der Meulen of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, gathered data from 1,450 employees at four public and private organisations that practise working from home to assess the best ways to maximise performance. Participants were asked a series of questions, which covered the frequency of communication with their manager, the extent to which they work from home, manager trust, job performance and the manager/employee relationship.

Van der Meulen suggests something many of us have realised for some time now: “The boundaries of the office structure have changed and with it management has had to shift its approach. The results of our survey showed that managers need to offer trust and freedom to get the most from their employees in return. Any failure by managers to offer this was found to be highly detrimental.”

The recipe for a successful remote workforce, Buckingham concludes, is “self-determination or autonomy within a framework of clear objectives and expected outcomes, accompanied by excellent communication between employees and managers.”

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Co-Location Critics Question Wisdom of Turning Away from Remote Work

Co-Location Critics Question Wisdom of Turning Away from Remote Work

Earlier this year, IBM revealed that it was recalling much of its remote workforce across the US to regional headquarters in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta, which it described as an effort to improve productivity, teamwork, and morale. The change, which the Wall Street Journal reported went into effect earlier this month, raised some eyebrows as IBM was one of the pioneers of remote work going back as far as the 1980s.

IBM is not the only company to have had second thoughts about remote work recently: Yahoo, Reddit, and Best Buy are among those that have co-located their distributed workforces in recent years. But these organizations seem to be going against the grain of the new work environment, as communications and collaboration technologies are making it easier than ever for professionals to get their work done from anywhere. In the wake of IBM’s decision, some observers are turning a critical eye on co-location as a business strategy.

“At the heart of IBM leadership’s intention here is the desire to change employee behavior,” Jeff Boss, cofounder of Chaos Advantage, writes at Forbes. “But that’s not what’s going to happen with the current approach because restructuring just offers more of the same”:

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