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How to Get the Most out of Digital Collaboration Tools

JUAN MARTINEZ: All right, Tom, how many collaboration technologies do you think we used to make this show?

TOM STACKPOLE: All right, I’m just going to count them off. Let’s start with Slack.


TOM STACKPOLE: Microsoft Outlook, email.


TOM STACKPOLE: We use Google docs, don’t tell our bosses.




TOM STACKPOLE: Microsoft Teams also.






TOM STACKPOLE: Is that it? I feel like I’m missing something.

JUAN MARTINEZ: You missed Google Chrome, Safari and the telephone.

TOM STACKPOLE: Our browsers’ collaboration tools, I feel like those are solo tools.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Could we have done it without the browsers? I have to share via Box, through a browser.

TOM STACKPOLE: I’m challenging your definitions. A desk, a computer, a light. I mean, our apps are our office functionally, right? And so when we were getting this off the ground, you and I are texting people, we kind of have our little grooves of how we like to do things. And all of a sudden we’re in the middle of a project that we have to coordinate quickly. And so we need to decide is this a Google Doc? Is this a thread? Is this an email? Is it a meeting? I mean, one thing that I will say that this podcast project has brought up is that not all of these tools play well together and when they don’t work, then it becomes very, very frustrating very quickly.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Yeah. And I think that’s the problem that a lot of people have is we don’t get to choose these tools and if we do choose them, usually we’re going against IT’s preferred way of working. And so for managers it’s really, really important that they listen to the complaints that our experts are going to bring up because a lot of people are feeling this way, they’re struggling, they’re in too many applications during the day, they’re losing information. You know me, Tom, I like email. Just send everything to me in email and I’ll get to it eventually. Having 10 different apps to do one podcast seems a bit much.

Welcome to Tech At Work, a four part special series of the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Juan Martinez.

TOM STACKPOLE: And I’m Tom Stackpole. Every other Thursday, we’ll bring you research stories and advice about the technology that’s changing work and how to manage it.

JUAN MARTINEZ: This week we’re talking about collaboration technologies.

TOM STACKPOLE: We’ll use them various instant messengers, shared drives, project management tools, video apps, email. But how often do we stop and think about how best to use them?

JUAN MARTINEZ: Later on, we’ll talk with a former product team leader from the tech industry who has led more than one team through the dilemma of using collaboration tools. Her solutions are simple and translate across any industry or app.

TOM STACKPOLE: But first, we’ll hear from a researcher who can help us understand how to make better choices about matching collaboration tools with our tasks at work and how to know when a technology isn’t working for your team.

JUAN MARTINEZ: All right, let’s get into it. Our first guest is Paul Leonardi. He’s a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. And we started with Paul’s take on why remote work is so hard despite all the many tools we have for collaboration,

PAUL LEONARDI: When should we be in the office, when should we not be in the office? And what I’ve seen is the companies that are most successful at doing this remote work four years post lockdowns and shutdowns, are the ones that have figured out how do we match where we’re at in a particular project with the net needs for coordination or the necessity of interdependence in our work. So if you’re working on a part of a project where I do my piece, you do your piece and at the end we pull it all together, that’s a great candidate for working remotely.

Because we don’t have to be in the same room together, hash things out, come to some mutual agreement or understanding, but there’s other kinds of work where we work in a very coordinated way. Where there’s a lot of disagreement about how to move forward, where we need to really talk through a set of concepts or ideas, where we’re going to go back and forth really rapidly and those are the kinds of activities that we do need a lot of coordination for. And it’s just hard to have that kind of coordination when we’re using digital tools. Companies that are doing well in remote work are helping their employees and giving them guidelines about what kinds of tools we might use for certain kinds of tasks.

TOM STACKPOLE: So who is empowered to make these kinds of choices? To me, it seems like this is where a lot of companies are struggling. They’re trying to figure out what are the tasks and what are the tools that we need to have on hand to do them successfully?

PAUL LEONARDI: Yeah, let me give you a little bit of background based on a survey that I did with SANA, Amazon AWS and one of my colleagues, Professor Bob Sutton. So we conducted a study of a number of different users and we found some pretty jarring stats about people’s digital technology use in the workplace. So on average, we found people spend 84 minutes a day looking for the information they need to get their work done. That’s a lot of minutes per day. They spend… And I think this one’s even more surprising, about 30 minutes per day deciding what digital tools they should use for a specific task. And they spend almost an hour a day switching between different tools. What that suggests to me is that we have an overabundance of different communication and digital technologies in our workplace. And this may sound a little Draconian, like we’re trying to decide for people, but what the research shows is that too much choice is always demotivating and it’s difficult to get people on the same page about what kinds of tools are the best to use.

And so if you’re the leader of a team, you may want to begin to create some for these kinds of tasks are best done using this tool. So that people, number one, don’t have to spend those 30 minutes a day deciding what tools they’re going to use. And they won’t feel as overwhelmed or exhausted by having to make those decisions constantly. We also have seen that several really senior level executives have started to come down and say, “We need to eliminate many of the technologies that we have in the organization.” I was working with one company and they did an audit and found out that they had 47 different digital collaboration tools of some kind or another at use in the company.

And so the CTO decided we’re going to drop that number way, way down and did a bunch of consultation across the organization and said, “There are 10 key tools that we’re going to support and endorse and we’re basically outlawing everything else.” And there was a bit of an uproar from employees saying, “Oh, that’s my favorite tool to use and I can’t believe that’s going away.” But after a period of about six months, people were much happier that they didn’t have so much choice and it also meant that it was much easier for them to align with others about what technology they should use.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Well, it sounds like you’re a bundle versus best of breed guy. Meaning you’d rather have a few small tools that you can master rather than having what’s “the best tool” in its class. I asked this because Tom is a huge best of breed guy. I’m a bundle guy, reduce the uncertainty for me and I’ll master the tool that you give me, whatever that may be. My question is, based on your research, can you tell us why we’re so bad at choosing that right bundled tool? It seems like whenever companies do it, they pick the wrong one, people rebel.

PAUL LEONARDI: Yeah. Well, one of the key reasons is that we are always being pushed to think about what’s the latest and the greatest technology. There is a billion dollar marketing enterprise out there that’s getting us to think about the new capabilities that some tool has and how they’re going to make our jobs better. I have spent 20 years watching people like an anthropologist sitting behind them, using different technologies. And I can tell you with a lot of confidence, people use about 10% of the capability of any tool that’s in front of them. If those features are all there but you never actually use them, does it make a difference? No.

TOM STACKPOLE: Thanks for adding me, Juan, as being a hardliner. My version of this argument for best of breed is that you get one tool, it does one thing really well and hopefully that means it’s intuitive. And so you have all the interoperability of a bundled package and all of it makes me want to throw my computer out the window because it’s just consistently frustrating in all of these different ways.

PAUL LEONARDI: Yeah, I hear you. I hear you.

TOM STACKPOLE: Reasonable people can disagree. I want to go back to a piece that you wrote back in 2017 with Tsedal Neeley who’s an HBS professor. You found that people were using Slack and similar tools to connect with new colleagues and acquire institutional knowledge. They were lurking in chats and sort of watching what people were talking about, how decisions were being made and that people were getting a lot of value out of that kind of tool and that kind of activity. So what are the kind of new opportunities and new challenges that are emerging now that people have been using these tools for a decade and are using them more intensely in sort of this remote and hybrid capacity?

PAUL LEONARDI: Well, back in 2016-ish timeframe when we were doing this study, there wasn’t a whole lot of content on most of these tools. It was relatively easy to scroll through a news feed on one of the tools that we were looking at and you could read a lot of content that was coming from people from different parts of the globe. If you spent maybe 20 minutes a day, you could get a pretty good handle on what’s happening in different arenas and in different divisions. The major difference today is that the volume of content and the speed at which that content is produced has exploded. So it is impossible for any one person to read through a bunch of news feeds and interactions that other people are having and have a good handle on what do people know across my organization? Impossible. There’s just so much content.

So a colleague and I did a study around this and we said, “Well, what are people going to focus on and what are they going to pay attention to if there’s so much content?” And it turns out that what they pay attention to is the content that’s being produced by the people they already interact with the most. So they’re not expanding their networks, they’re not getting access to new knowledge and information from different parts of the company. They’re just hearing for a second time what they’ve already heard in their project meetings or in the hallway or across their cubes. And that’s not what these tools were meant to do.

So I think that’s a key challenge for how we think about using these tools today. I’ve worked with a couple of companies that are eager to see how we could use AI to begin to identify information that people might find useful and direct their attention in those ways. And so the reality is that our ability to attend to stimuli is limited. And the more information that we are exposed to, we end up focusing on that information and not being able to expand the scope of the information and data that we might want to see. And that’s just a big change that we’ve experienced in the last seven years.

JUAN MARTINEZ: How do we make the best use of video conferencing tools? Because to me it seems like video conferencing tools are the final stage before we start wearing virtual reality goggles. Like this is where we can chat, this is where we can share files, this is where we can see each other, but it still seems like they’re just these awful tools that are hard to get into. It crashes. So what do we do? Where do we go from here?

PAUL LEONARDI: Yeah, not only do they crash, but they create a sense of anxiousness. From what I’ve seen in the data in my own experiments that I’ve done in companies, video is still quite good When you need to engage in some kind of synchronous activity, right? Where there is back and forth required and you’re going to be processing information together collectively. It leads to better outcomes than if we are moving sequentially back and forth through some kind of text-based medium email, IAM Chat, whatever it might be.

But often I think people abuse video conferencing because we hop on it way too quickly and easily and we expect people to have their videos up. And when we do that for an issue that could have more easily been resolved via email or in our Slack channel, we’re introducing more information processing, more complexity, more anxiety producing activities than we really need to be. And so I think we should still be judicious about when we use video conferencing that just because it’s good, doesn’t mean that it’s great for all tasks and we should be thinking about what are those tasks that it’s most useful for. So we don’t burn people out.

TOM STACKPOLE: Personally, I’m still a phone call person and it was funny during the pandemic, there was a moment when we were all using video conferencing and it was like, “Do you want to just hop on a call?” And people were so relieved, it was very funny. And then you get to pace around and gesticulate like a maniac and it can be good.

PAUL LEONARDI: It’s become so much the norm that people ask to hop on a Zoom call, that it seems awkward to me sometimes when I give people the choice and they say, “Oh, let’s just chat on the phone.” And it goes back, I think to this best of breed argument we were having before that we are conditioned to think not only we should be using the latest and greatest, but we’re also conditioned to think that any tool that provides more capabilities is a better tool to use. And in fact, that’s not always true. That many of the tools that provide lots and lots of capabilities are not as good to use because they create too much choice and we need to be thinking in simpler terms.

TOM STACKPOLE: So in that spirit, how do we figure out when something isn’t working? So what should leaders keep an eye out for?

PAUL LEONARDI: One of the things that I urge a lot of leaders to look at is, is there a tool that occupies more than 80% of all of your team’s interaction? And if there is, you most likely have a problem. Any technology that achieves that much of a monopoly on our time and attention, means that it’s getting used for activities well beyond what it needs to be used for. And that’s an indication that you’ve got a problem. Even if people aren’t complaining, even if people are not telling you, “I feel like I’m overwhelmed.” People are not using the right tools for the right job if they’re using one tool 80% of the time for every single job.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Well, I disagree. I use email 80 percent of my day. I send massive amounts of email. There’s nothing wrong with email. It always works. We always get what we need.

PAUL LEONARDI: I’m going to disagree with you on that one. I think we way overuse email. Way, way, way overuse email, and I’m as guilty as the next person of sending way too many email messages for things that I should be picking up the phone to do, for things I should be walking down the hall to do, for things that I should be looking up myself. So I think email is a perfect example of a tool where you see, yeah, people are using it 80% of their time and they shouldn’t be.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Tom, back me up here. I’m right. Email is the golden tool for [inaudible 00:16:07] work.

TOM STACKPOLE: Email is the most dispiriting part of my job. Because I open it up and there’s a billion unread things and we’re editors, we spend most of our day… Well, you should be spending most of our day looking at text. And all I’m doing is I’m looking at email chains, trying to remember what was the point of them in the first place. And that’s using brain power and a certain skill set that I theoretically should be using on drafts primarily. So I mean the thing that I overuse is Slack because it gives me the little dopamine rush. I get to see the little thing pop up and there’s no backlog or less of a sort of crashing discernible backlog. But Paul, what’s your vice tool that you can’t give up that you overuse?

PAUL LEONARDI: Oh, mine is definitely email. It seems like it’s much easier to respond to somebody on email with a difficult issue or a difficult topic rather than call them up. But nine times out of 10, it ends up being way more work responding to them on email than it would’ve been if I just went to the office. I’ll give you a quick example. So last year, I spent several months in Austria. And I was communicating with somebody that I depend on a lot in the US. And because of the time difference, email was the most easy way to communicate.

And we had kind of a sensitive issue and I kept communicating with this person sending emails and the person kept sending emails back to me and we just were not seeing eye to eye. And my frustration with this person grew and grew. I should have just picked up the phone and talked about. And we do this kind of stuff all the time, right? Because there’s a seductiveness to the ease of email or the ease of text-based communication that the allure is that I can just say a couple of things and get it off my plate. But if you add up all the back and forth that needs to happen in the emotional distress that comes with not resolving issues as quickly as we should, they end up taking a toll. And that can happen in any medium.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Coming up after the break, we’ll talk more about how leaders can make better decisions about digital collaboration tools for their organizations. Then we’ll speak with the leader who solved her team’s real life slack dilemma. She’ll tell us how she did it. Be right back.

So Paul, when employees go to their bosses and they say, “Listen, all of these tools, they don’t work the way we want them to. I don’t enjoy using them.” How do they make the case to their boss and then their boss making the case to his or her boss that we have to buy a tool that actually works and we need to scrap what we’ve been doing? It’s a big step.

PAUL LEONARDI: Yeah. Well, a lot of people have voted with their feet in organizations over the last couple of years, and this is probably why we see Slack being so widely diffused. Most people could just charge to their corporate cards. It wasn’t an enterprise license and so you could just get Slack for your team. I think the more useful thing for people to do is to talk about the demands that they’re facing in terms of their coordination and their coordination needs. So do we feel overwhelmed by having to use five different applications and switch amongst and between them all the time? Do we feel like we’re not able to reach mutual understanding with other people given the tools that we currently have? Being able to articulate what are the key areas where our communication and collaboration are breaking down is really important to being able to make a convincing argument that the tool set that we have is not working.

Often, then what I see leaders do is they say, “Okay, well either too bad suck it up or we’ve got IT policy around these tools and that tools,” which is really just a huge cop out. And this is how most companies have been set up, is that you’re supposed to do the work and the technology sits in the background and somebody else deals with that. That’s not the world we’ve been in for at least the last 20 years, but most companies still operate as though we are. Every manager has to be a technology manager in some ways. And that means that you have to understand what kind of infrastructure do we use to get the data that we need for our team? What kinds of communication and collaboration tools should we have in place to make sure that everybody can operate successfully together in the ways they need?

And I’ve asked people in almost every study I’ve ever done, how much do the tools that you use wear you out? And that’s separate from how much burnout do I feel from the demands of my job, et cetera. And that number has been growing and growing and growing over the last 20 years. We do feel really exhausted by the use of our tools. So it does speak to the importance of making sure that we are thinking about our employee wellbeing, thinking about tools as part of the culture of our organization and making sure that we’re being smart in our curation of those tools.

TOM STACKPOLE: So let’s talk about that leader perspective for a second. What kind of information do you need as a leader to make a smart decision about this? What kind of questions do you need to be asking?

PAUL LEONARDI: The kinds of questions that I would recommend starting with are first, how many tools do you use to communicate and to work with people on your team? Then I would ask that same question, but for people in different teams, in different parts of the organization. And if you hear a number that’s north of five, then you likely have too many tools available for your team to be using. So that’s the first question, quantity. The second is, what are the kinds of activities that you need to coordinate with people about? And if those activities don’t require a lot of back and forth and don’t require people to constantly be live with one another interacting, that tells you something about the suite of tools that you need to have in your organization.

JUAN MARTINEZ: I’ve been doing this almost 20 years, writing about technology and business and it seems for 20 years the idea has been that we’re going to integrate all these tools into one beautiful platform where we’re not going to run into any of those problems. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. But let me ask you to put your prognosticator cap on. Where are we going to be with collaboration tools in 10 years?

PAUL LEONARDI: I do think what we’re going to see is that especially with the use of Gen.AI and its ability to handle all this unstructured data that we produce through all these tools, more cues for us about when we need to contribute, when we need to interact. And more things handed to us on a platter about here’s the information that you need in order to make this particular decision.

TOM STACKPOLE: So to sort of get back to the messy and imperfect moment we’re in now, do we actually have the tools that we need to work in a dispersed or to work remotely and we’re just not using them, right? Or are there gaps that you see where we do need a different kind of tool that will help us actually do this in a way that feels less like an information dump that you’re just trying to always keep up with?

PAUL LEONARDI: I do think we mostly have the tools that we need. What we don’t have is the right kind of sensibilities about how to use those tools all the time. And I’ll tell you a quick story that I think is illustrative of this point. So with my colleague Joe [inaudible 00:24:03] who’s now a senior associate at McKinsey, we did this study where we looked at this big automotive company and this broadband provider. And we compared basically how do these teams work together when people don’t live in the same time zones and are at the office at different times of the day. But also there’s a co-located component. And we could show pretty much that it didn’t matter where you were around the world and what tools you were connecting with. Everybody could do their work at the same level of proficiency and could communicate with one another in pretty decent ways, but there was sort of a seedy social dynamic, right? That took place-

JUAN MARTINEZ: I love seedy social dynamics.

PAUL LEONARDI: Yeah, yeah. So listen up. What would happen is that the people who were in the office with the boss would often send little remarks like, “Oh, sorry, you missed this, but we had this discussion or whatever.” And so the people that weren’t co-located with the boss, who were working remotely from a different state or a different country, started to feel like they were just missing out on all kinds of actions and opportunities. And more importantly, felt like they weren’t in line for raises and promotions or getting better jobs that they wanted. And to combat that problem, they started to create all of these scenarios that demonstrated how committed they could be to the team and to the organization. They would often sacrifice important things like miss their kid’s birthday party in the evening so that they could be on the call and let the team know, right? Like, “I’m missing my kid’s birthday party so I could be on the call. Look how committed I was.”

And the managers, the leaders ate it up and we saw them assign better jobs and better projects, right? To these people and evaluate them more favorably. So everybody was doing great baseline, but when you got this perception that we had this disadvantage because we were remotely, now we start making these sacrifices and people got real burnt out by that. But it accrued all the advantages that they wanted them to accrue. So I think that’s an interesting example, right? That the tools were there, people were contributing in great ways to the team, but these seedy social dynamics, right? Get catalyzed and that’s what throws things off the rails. So it’s kind of a long-winded way of saying, “I think we mostly have the right tools to do the right job if we can figure out how do we manage the fact that not everybody can connect in the same way.” It’s those kinds of choices. Choices about how we integrate the technology with our organization and with our organizational culture that are the real challenges that we still face today.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Thank you so much for being here today. This has been absolutely fantastic.

PAUL LEONARDI: Great. My pleasure. These are fun topics to discuss. They’re also really important.

JUAN MARTINEZ: That was Paul Leonardi, professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. And he’s at work on a new book about digital exhaustion. Look for it next year from Riverhead.

Before we wrap up, we’re going to switch from research and focus on a real life collaboration technology dilemma involving Tom’s favorite tool, Slack. Our guest is Sandra Ma. She’s led product teams at a handful of startups in the Boston area. Now, she’s the co-founder and CEO of Jovial, a company that helps teams improve their communication at work. And Sandra started off by telling us why Slack was such a challenge for one of her teams.

SANDRA MA: Oftentimes we’d have a big initiative and we want to make sure everyone’s involved. And so what would happen is we’d have this big kickoff meeting and typically someone from the leadership team would say, “All right, well let’s make sure we create a Slack channel for this project, of course, to keep everyone aligned.” And then after the meeting, we have this 30 person Slack channel. And inevitably what happens is that that spawns into another four Slack channels. Because within that larger group, of course we have work streams, SWOT teams, whatever everyone wants to call them. And so suddenly I’ve just been added to five different Slack channels for the single initiative. And on top of that, I’m overseeing a bunch of other projects too. Now we’re talking, I’m in 50 different Slack channels all of a sudden. And it was really overwhelming, especially when you get silently added with no context and there’s a year of history and the Slack channel to scroll through and you just get the kind of deer in headlights, what do I do type of feeling.

TOM STACKPOLE: It’s one of the great passive-aggressive office moves of all time at this point.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Well, but other than the inconvenience or having to backtrack and read a year’s worth of Slack messages, was work suffering in any way because of the miscommunication, because of the overabundance of communication that you were having?

SANDRA MA: Yeah, I felt like I was spending so much time looking for information and sorting and filtering through all of the Slack messages. And I think a lot of my colleagues shared this sentiment too. And they also shared, “Sandra, did you see this Slack or did you see that thread?” And I hadn’t seen it, and I would ask them the same thing for one of the other Slack channels. And they had missed some messages too. And so important information was getting missed. And then we were actually delayed in launching products as a result because of this miscommunication as well.

TOM STACKPOLE: And so you’re hearing this, you’re watching things get lost and fall behind. So what was your first step that you took when you realized this is a problem and you realized you had to do something about it?

SANDRA MA: Talking to the other folks in the group that felt the same way, that was a bit of a light bulb moment of like, okay, I’m not the only one who feels this way, and so we do need to do something about it. And so after that, it was identifying the people that were doing the primary work in the group and getting them together and establishing communication norms.

JUAN MARTINEZ: I’ve been on teams where we’ve introduced new solutions and normally you test the solution and you either decide, we hate this, we’re going to get rid of it, or the few people who test it fall in love with it and then everybody has to live with the decision of the few people who tested the solution. What was your experience in testing new solutions? Which tools did you try? And ultimately, which one did you settle on?

SANDRA MA: It was really thinking about what’s the intention behind any of the communications we have going out. And we agreed that Slack was only for day-to-day, quick exchanges, non-urgent questions and status updates. And Slack was not going to be the source of truth for any important information. But then we were using email to send out updates to the broader team that were important, and the broader team could expect those to come at the end of every week. And then meetings would solely be used for problem solving any complex topics would happen in meetings. And then lastly, documentation. In some cases people think they need to get some kind of fancy project management tool. In this case, we landed on let’s have this spreadsheet. It’s going to be our single source of truth. All of the information about this project or initiative will live in one place, will list very clearly all of the owners and roles and responsibilities of people so people know who to ask questions to. And then we all can trust that all of the latest information is within this one place.

TOM STACKPOLE: So how did you get people on board? What was that process like? Because I’m reflexively a malcontent and I would probably push back because I’m difficult. But how did you get people on board with this? How did you get people to buy in?

SANDRA MA: So making it very clear and easy and effortless for them to do and showing that following through with this new communication process is actually going to help us move faster. And people were seeing that too because no longer did they have a ton of questions that they had to throw in the Slack channel because they knew they could go to this single place to have most of their questions answered. And for that last 5 to 10% where maybe there was some question that wasn’t within that documentation, then could go to the Slack channel.

TOM STACKPOLE: I’m curious, what were the kind of anxieties or concerns that you heard back from people when you launched this news? And then how did you address those?

SANDRA MA: I think whenever anybody comes to me with concerns, it’s all about listening and understanding and what’s kind of behind the concern. And so I think an example is some people are like, “Well, I use Slack for everything. This is my main mode of communication.” And my response would be, “That’s great. We’re still going to have Slack as a form of communication. We’ll still put updates there, but this single source of truth document is going to be where everything lives, and that’s where you go for the most updated information.”

JUAN MARTINEZ: So if we’re going to do a before-and-after snapshot, you have to tell us what improved as a result of this. Like did you earn more money as a company? Was communication faster? What was the business result of standardizing this approach?

SANDRA MA: Money was part of it for sure. I think saving time and money, there was a lot more efficiency. And because we eliminated confusion, employees were actually able to spend time on doing the work and they didn’t have to spend all that time just sifting through Slack. So that in itself was huge. But then as a result of all that, we were able to launch the product faster. There were no surprises, there were no mishaps. The team just overall felt better.

JUAN MARTINEZ: So how do you tell somebody who was in your position how to get this process started to do it the right way from day one?

SANDRA MA: Yeah. So I would say three words to remember, and that’s clarity, consistency and connection. Clarity, the first one is all about that establishing the communication norms and setting very clear expectations. Consistency is thinking about, all right, well now we have established the norms, but now we actually have to get people to adopt them, right? And so leadership has to be following through and they have to be communicating these new standards with their employees. Otherwise, nobody’s going to take it seriously. And then the last piece is connection. Building trust within your teams and employees feeling seen, they’re feeling understood. And when you have that connection, then what happens is you have accountability. And so Tom, Juan, let’s say we’re on the same team and you both ask me there, “Sandra, we need your help on a project.” And I’m going to tell you, “Yeah, I got you.” Because you guys had my back last time, it’s all good. I’m not even going to hesitate. And that’s something that sometimes is missing because of ultimately people don’t feel that connection to the work.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Tom really like Slack. I really like email. If you had to pick between one of the two, what are you choosing?

TOM STACKPOLE: Yeah, who’s right?

SANDRA MA: There’s no right or wrong. There’s preferences. I personally am an email person.

JUAN MARTINEZ: That’s the right answer.

TOM STACKPOLE: Am I using email wrong? Because I just think it’s like an unfiltered stream of chaos in my life.

SANDRA MA: But then what is Slack to you, if that’s what email is?

TOM STACKPOLE: It’s a more familiar kind of chaos that I feel comfortable navigating.


JUAN MARTINEZ: In fairness to Tom, he handles all of the technology pitches that we get for the website. So he gets tons of email from a ton of different people.

TOM STACKPOLE: I got to stop getting pitches. That’s my solution.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Slack is internal, so he can avoid dealing with the outside public on Slack. I think that’s why he likes it better.

SANDRA MA: Got you. So you are kind of in a protected shell when you’re in Slack.

TOM STACKPOLE: It’s my safe space.

SANDRA MA: Right, email, anything goes.

TOM STACKPOLE: Yeah. This is how we navigate our internal debates.

JUAN MARTINEZ: We do them in public. This is the best way.

SANDRA MA: Spring a neutral third party into the mix to solve the problems.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Thank you so much for being here today. We really appreciate it.

SANDRA MA: Yeah, thank you for having me. Really appreciate being here.

JUAN MARTINEZ: That was Sandra Ma. She led tech product teams before launching her own company, Jovial, which focuses on improving workplace communication.

TOM STACKPOLE: Next time on Tech at Work. What does your company need to know about tools like the Apple Vision Pro? These aren’t in mainstream use yet, but there are already some interesting use cases.

JUAN MARTINEZ: We’ll talk with the researcher who’s studying how companies use augmented reality, mixed reality, virtual reality, spatial computing, and immersive technology for retail and marketing engagement. And a developer will tell us how to get started with the Spatial Computing project. That’s our final episode of the series. Look for it in two weeks, right here in the HBR IdeaCast feed.

TOM STACKPOLE: Thanks to our team, senior producer, Anne Saini, senior editor, Curt Nickisch, audio product manager, Ian Fox, and senior production specialist Rob Eckhardt. Special thanks to Hannah Bates and our friends on HBR’s video and social teams, Nicole Smith, Ramsey Khabbaz, Kelsey Hansen, Scott LaPierre and Elainy Mata. And much gratitude to our fearless leaders, Maureen Hoch and Adi Ignatius. Thanks for listening to Tech at Work, a special series of the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Tom Stackpole.

JUAN MARTINEZ: And I’m Juan Martinez. Join us again in two weeks.

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