August 7, 2020

Business During the Outset of the Pandemic: Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield

Special to California Business Journal Newswire.

“I am a human. I worry about my family and am deeply concerned about the millions whose jobs and health are at risk. But I’m also a CEO.”

These are the words used on March 26 by Stewart Butterfield, the Canadian billionaire who co-founded Flickr and Slack, to introduce a long Twitter thread on what is happening with his remote work platform and company.

Butterfield describes the way life turned upside down in two weeks, starting on March 2, from C-19. It started depressively as Slack had to shut down the Tokyo & Osaka offices, put travel restrictions in place and cancel its annual Global Sales Offsite, a long-planned 800-person event.

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“I received an email from the CTO of one of the world’s biggest asset managers telling me (a) they’re signing the contract to go wall-to-wall on Slack and (b) this was one of the last big purchases before tightening up. First time I’d seen that in the wild.” That was on Monday. On Tuesday, Slack was already announcing “optional WFH” at all other offices globally. It s also noticed upticks in new users signing up for Slack, especially in Japan, Korea and Italy. On Wednesday, things started to really speed up.

Slack launched a series of resources for teams faced with the prospect of a sudden shift to remote work. Free 1:1 live consultations were offered and new webinar programs were launched, in response to growing demand. For many companies, the transition to Work From Home is happening much faster than ever expected.

“It can be daunting but there is a lot of valuable experience out there,” Butterfield says. “Planning, training and staffing a scalable program for live help to customers making the transition to distributed work. We rely on a workforce, equipped with many thousands of hours of direct experience, research and analysis.”

In the meanwhile, the situation in the U.S. was getting hotter by the day, shooting up from 100 cases on Monday to 400 on Friday. Slackers, meanwhile, were busy with the board meeting on March 5 and the plan for this fiscal year— hiring, budgets, targets, forecasts, etc. “Didn’t know it, but for most, our last meeting in the office,” Butterfield says. Since March 9, Slack has become an all-remote company with all of its 2,000+ staff from its 18 offices in 10 countries working from home. Everything that week started happening at the same time. The pandemic was declared.

“We’re a tool for organizational transformation and suddenly there were a lot of organizations looking to transform. Teams inside corporations, governments, schools, SMBs and huge enterprises were trying to figure out how to continue operations in a completely different way,” Butterfield says. On March 10, users’ numbers started to surge. Slack hit 1M *simultaneously connected* users Oct. 15. Six days later: 10.5M, then 11.0M. Next day, 11.5M. On March 23, 12M. On March 26,  12.5M. Butterfield’s account of the following days is best read on his Twitter profile. Movielike, fast-paced, dramatic. The fear and the excitement side by side, the uncertainty for the future. “Whatever follows, a brave new world is here to stay,” he says.

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