How Slack uses Slack: A look into how the employer uses its own tech for benefits

Trading On The Floor Of NYSE As Slack Releases IPO

More frequently, employers are investing in communications technology to help workers stay in touch with their colleagues in and out of the office. Slack is one of those employers— and its technology used by companies such as Target, HubSpot and Lyft.

Dawn Sharifan, head of people operations at Slack, says tools like Slack can help HR not only improve communication in the office, but also help bring broader conversations — for example, about diversity and inclusion — to the forefront.

“Those conversations are happening anyway. Do you want to be part of those conversations and do you want employee feedback to inform where you’re going?” she asks. “There are many times in my Slack career where I think, ‘This is where the future of work is going.’ I would urge people to get comfortable with discomfort.”

But Slack isn’t just about communicating. Employee Benefit News spoke with Sharifan to discuss how she uses Slack in her office to plan for open enrollment, onboard employees and manage requests.

How do you use Slack throughout different phases of the hiring process at your office?

In terms of recruiting, when we're posting for a job, there's a channel that's created for that. Then the hiring manager, the recruiter and the team are in that channel. They're doing resumes, they're calibrating on what they like about the queue.

There's a real life conversation that's happening. If someone goes on vacation and someone leaves the company, all that information is still captured right there. Another example: the job offer. They would go to the offer, all the approvals are gathered via Slack as well. So that’s how we use it on the recruiting side.

Even if you’ve used Slack, you’ve never used Slack at Slack. There’s a learning curve [for many employees]. Before they join the company, as soon as you sign the offer letter, you’re put into the onboarding channel, the welcome channel. Basically what happens there is we tell people how to get familiar with the product or what they want to know about benefits, for example. We built a cohort of new hires, so you know who you’re starting with. You stay with your cohort within the channel. I just had my four-year anniversary. It’s kind of fun to remember who’s in your starting class.

You mentioned new hires asking questions about benefits. How do you use Slack at work to communicate with employees about the benefits you offer?

The major one is just communication. You’re posting to a channel; you’re letting people know, hyperlinking to different PDFs, your plan designs and all that kind of stuff.

The second thing is open enrollment — always my favorite part. It’s hard for the HR person during open enrollment. Nobody ever reads their communication. So the way that I think that Slack is helpful is you can automate your benefits team. You can set a reminder to post to a channel for people who didn’t turn in open enrollment [forms]. It cuts down the 50 different emails you’d have to send.

The other thing we have is a help open enrollment channel. [An employee] asks this question, there’s the answer. Now my benefits people don’t have to answer that question 20 times. They can see the context of it being in open enrollment. But sometimes even just asking their peers and colleagues: “Hey, I'm in San Francisco, I need a new doctor. Does anyone have a recommendation?”

We started seeing some communication among employee population. People can have conversations, something they want to share. Generally the questions are savvy enough. They’re not going to post something specific about medical conditions. It helps the community serve themselves.

I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. I physically still remember handing out the paper manuals and summary plan descriptions, and no one’s ever reading that really. They just want to cut to the chase and tell you the answer. This allows them to serve themselves.

Can you give us an example of how you might use a Slack bot for benefits request?

We have a Workday bot where you could just go into Slack and do a backslash PTO and then you can request your PTO right from inside. Then as the manager, I just get a notification that says one, two days off and I can select yes or no. They did not have to go into our system to request it. I can see their balance and everything like that before I even approve it.

How should HR teams be thinking about the future of HR and benefits tech?

We know the future is transparent, we know the future is distributed, we know the future has AI associated with it. And those are all things Slack really enables and can push. I think Slack or a Slack-like product is the foundational layer to all of that.

I say that at a high level. Then I would say specifically, when I talk to my HR colleagues and they’re like “Oh, you know, we have a channel for diversity for example, where people can ask questions and bring up different articles and things like that.” [Then they’ll say] “do you really want to have that conversation in a big channel? What if somebody asks a spicy question?” Those conversations are happening anyways. Do you want to be part of the conversation and do you want employee feedback to help inform where you're going? There are many times in my Slack career, where I think “That really is where the future of work is going.” I would urge people to get comfortable with discomfort.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.