Tax changes, pay adjustments, and new training for managers: A Slack exec explains the challenges of allowing more employees to work remotely (WORK)


Robby Kwok Slack

  • Slack followed others in the tech industry like Facebook, Twitter, and Box, by announcing that it intends to become a more “distributed” company and allow more remote work even after the coronavirus crisis ends.
  • The goal is to give employees more flexibility which, in turn, can boost both productivity and employee happiness, Robby Kwok, Slack’s senior VP of people, told Business Insider. 
  • In order to operate successfully as a distributed company, Slack will have to make some operational and cultural changes.
  • That includes registering to operate in more states and countries, and adjusting salaries to reflect cost of living.
  • Slack will also create new manager training programs to make sure in-office and remote employees have equal performance metrics and career opportunities. 
  • One of the key benefits will be helping Slack recruit from a more diverse pool of candidates, Kwok said.
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Slack followed fellow tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Box, when it announced last week that it intends to be a more “distributed” company going forward. Meaning, it will start allowing employees to ask to work fully remote if they want and hiring new employees in places where Slack doesn’t currently have an office. 

As a result, Slack is also indefinitely pushing back its previously proposed office reopening date of September 1.

After months of forced remote work during the coronavirus crisis, Slack realized the benefits of giving employees flexibility. Remote work can increase both productivity and employee happiness, said Robby Kwok, Slack’s senior VP of people. While Kwok expects that the shift will help attract a more diverse talent pool and benefit the company in the long run, it’s not a simple transition. Slack will need to make both operational and cultural changes — both of which are equally challenging, Kwok said.

Slack will need to make operational changes, like adjusting pay

Companies have to be registered to pay employees and pay taxes in areas they operate. Right now, Slack can easily hire people in the 14 cities where it already has offices, which includes San Francisco, New York, Denver, Chicago, Tokyo, London, and Sydney, among others. 

To be able to truly embrace remote work though, Slack has to be able to hire employees outside of those regions as well, Kwok said. Slack will be taking steps to make sure it can legally hire people in all 50 states , as well as even more countries outside of the US, Kwok said.

Slack will also be adjusting salaries depending on where people decide to be based. Facebook made a similar announcement, saying that salaries would vary based on cost of living. 

Slack already has some employees who work fully remote and its long-time policy has been to pay people based on the cost of labor for the place where they live, Kwok said. So, if someone moves from San Francisco to a place with cheaper cost of living, their pay would decrease slightly, and vice versa for someone moving to a more expensive location. 

Slack pays above market rate, Kwok said, so he doesn’t think that that will cause people to quit or be less inclined to take a job there. On the contrary, he believes the flexibility to work from anywhere will help attract more people to the company.

Even with these changes, Slack is still planning on reopening its offices eventually.  

Even with this shift to a distributed workforce, Slack does still plan to reopen all offices eventually. For offices that do reopen while the coronavirus is still a risk, Slack will use a phased approach, and amenities like catered lunches and coffee bars won’t be available. (Slack will pay contractors who deliver those amenities through 2020.) Beyond that, things are still uncertain, Kwok said. 

“Until there is a vaccine, I think things will look very different,” he said. “Even after there’s a vaccine, who knows?”

How remote work will change Slack’s culture 

While office layouts will likely look different post pandemic, there are other cultural and managerial changes that will also be key creating a successful, distributed workforce, Kwok said. All employees — and most importantly managers — will need to adjust the way they have meetings, handle career development, and deal with performance management. That will all require training. 

For example, in an office environment, managers often use visual cues — like seeing if someone is at their desk typing — to gauge productivity. Managers not be able to see that with remote employees, and should be focusing on different metrics anyway to measure performance. 

“Activity does not equal results,” Kwok said, adding that the company plans to create new manager training to teach workers how to evaluate everyone on a level playing field in a distributed company.

The benefits of increased remote work

Although it will require process and change, Slack believes the long term benefits of becoming a more distributed company are worth it. One of those benefits is the ability to attract a more diverse set of job candidates, both in terms of skills and ethnicity, Kwok said.

According to Slack’s most recent annual diversity report, 13.9% of Slack’s workforce is made up of people from underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Another benefit will likely be some financial savings: Things like salary adjustments and a smaller real estate footprint could help save costs, Kwok said, though the company hasn’t actually calculated what those could be. 

Notably, Slack is one of the companies that’s seen a boost from the increase in remote work in recent months. It adding a record number of new customers last quarter. Employees have already shown that they can work effectively while remote, and Kwok thinks that flexibility, generally, can make employees more productive and engaged.

“Work is such a big part of their lives.” he said, “So we want them to be able to have flexibility there.”

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