Slack and Workday announced a partnership on Wednesday that will make it easier for the customers of both software companies to get their work done.
Starting in the fall, Workday customers will be able to manage human resource tasks like requesting time off or submitting an employee review without ever having to exit the Slack window. The idea behind the partnership is that employees who use Slack as an office collaboration platform often find it easier to manage all of their work tasks from inside of the Slack window.
Another new feature resulting from the partnership is a new Workday Assistant, which will act as a bot inside of Slack. This puts the HR software in the background, and lets users do all of their business from inside a single window.
With more software companies deciding that Slack integrations are valuable when it comes to making customers happy, it is clear that the way people use their computers at work is evolving.
Cal Henderson, CTO at Slack, and Joe Korngiebel, CTO at Workday, sat down with Business Insider to share their vision for the future of work.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Becky Peterson: I know that Slack allows for integrations regardless outside of the partnership relationship. What does having a partnership allow for that Workday couldn’t do without a partnership?
Cal Henderson: What we’re saying with the partnership is that we are together developing a really great experience around using the two together. So that’s things like figuring out the time-off requests and approvals — you know, the actions that people regularly do in Workday — and bringing those right into the experience of doing them in Slack. Or putting employee feedback in the same place where you communicate with your employers.
So what we’re doing with the partnership is making the richest possible experience when you’re using the two tools together. I think we can work together to build a really, really great experience for our customers.
Joe Korngiebel: It makes things more friction-free, and get work done easily, whether it’s quickly asking for information from your system of records or your people, and being able to run with that. You can get employee information when you’re in the middle of a conversation or collaborating with employees — so being able to move at that speed in the business today. Employees grew up with digital devices everywhere they go, they’re demanding it from consumer software, they’re demanding it from their business software as well.
Peterson: I’m really intrigued by the end of “context switching,” where people prefer to not use multiple different websites or platforms. Have you noticed context switching being a barrier for customers in the past?
Henderson: It’s part of the nature of the changing workplace and the set of tools that people are using today and that the modern company is using today.
Your attention is becoming more fragmented across all of these individual tools, and people are choosing more software from more vendors that satisfy more specific use cases, and achieve very specific tasks in a better way than they have before. So it helps to have some common hub to tie those together, and a place that is your default interface, and for our customers, that’s inside Slack.
It helps to have some common hub to tie those together, and a place that is your default interface, and for our customers, that’s inside Slack.
But what we want to do is bring those interactions from inside other systems and into the place where you’re already working. If we can bring a time-off request, or an approval, or a piece of employee feedback into the same conversation — whether it’s in that same channel in Slack or that thread message within Slack — then it means people don’t need to switch out to another software for doing this task. It keeps you in a single place.
It also means you have a single record of that communication. Increasingly, what I’ve seen over the last decade is the switch from the kind of file-centric model of computing, where the data you had within your company was stored in files like Word documents that you passed around, and it’s been moved into the cloud. Having that tied into the place where you’re working, collaborating with others, where you’re talking with your teammates and your partners, is super important.
Interfaces can create workflow friction, and that’s bad for users
Korngiebel: Just to echo that, teams are more distributed than ever now. Being able to connect and collaborate without having 20 tabs open across your browser — one being, you know, a tab for your Microsoft stuff, one tab for your Workday stuff, one being for your personal stuff, one being for your Slack stuff — let’s go into the tool you’re using. If you’re using Slack to collaborate between your distributed teams, get that information quickly and easily out of Slack. That empowers the workforce to move at the speed of innovation today.
And for us, it’s not just about switching that context from tab to tab. It’s also about the friction of the interface itself. We’re moving to more of a conversational interface, and moving out of forms, and being able to just ask in human language in Slack, “What’s my time off balance?”
“Do I have any approvals that I need to approve?”, and having that approval push and find me in my natural workspace, collaborating with my coworkers.
So I think it’s about that context and not having to switch contexts, but also about that conversation and simplifying that interface even more, which you can see in our integration here with Slack.
Workday opened its platform to meet its customer demand
Peterson: Does Workday have any partnership with other companies that would facilitate the same sort of single interface?
Korngiebel: We provide a very open platform. Openness is the future of business. When cloud data comes together like you’re seeing with this partnership here, it makes our workforce more dynamic and puts people at the center of what we want work to be as we move forward.
So in a sense, yes, we’re open, but what this strategic partnership does is really highlight what our workers and customers have pushed us to say, “Hey, we’re using Slack.” Slack is a very powerful mechanism for our employees to connect in the distributed world we’re in now. In Slack, we can do a much better job of meeting our employees where they want to be.
Peterson: I can definitely understand that from the user perspective. From the company perspective, I’m just wondering…there must have been a time when Workday got a little suspicious of Slack, right? Is there a sense in which, you had tried to make the Workday landing page more accessible to users, or did you think a Slack integration was something that was bound to happen anyway?
Korngiebel: We meet employees where they are with our mobile experience. We meet people where they are with a completely accessible web experience. We move all over the place as far as the needs of our employees goes and where they need to be met. We’d be naive to say we’re the only tool to do that.
An open stance, for us, is essential. It’s making sure that when your employees are using a tool, that they can run with that. And Slack is a great conversational experience. Why not meet those employees where they are there? So it’s not about us versus them. It’s about the experience.
To see the future of enterprise tech, look in the consumer space
Peterson: What do you think of voice? Are Alexa-type interactions the future of computer-human interactions?
Korngiebel: We’ll have to be more bullish with where we’re going with the ability to text. I have a teenage son and he can actually look me in the eye and text to all his friends while he’s having a conversation. That’s where the world is going, and we want to be there.
Henderson: With the last few products at Slack over the years, we’ve benefited enormously from the rise of messaging outside of the business. The rise of the messaging in the consumer space, and then the continuing consumerization of IT is, I think, what led Slack to be so successful.
So we can look outside of the workplace for trends like voice, with things like Alexa and Google Home. And it’s interesting to see how that will evolve into usage inside the workplace. That’s something we’re looking at closely. Those trends of how people communicate outside of work are going to be key to the evolution of how people communicate with their teams in the workplace.
Those trends of how people communicate outside of work are going to be key to the evolution of how people communicate with their teams in the workplace.
Peterson: Are there any other behavioral trends that either of you see coming up?
Henderson: I think the that what we see is there’ a shift in the attitude of the way that people work together that pushes for more transparency and more teamwork.
All kinds of business across all kinds of industries are information work, and all information work is teamwork. The more teams that can feel connected to each other, and connected to their sense of purpose, the better they can work together, the better they can collaborate, and the more effective they can be.
I think the transparency in communication is at the heart of that. Pulling the sort of “transparent model” of channels, and working with all of your tools in the same space, whatever those tools are, is kind of key to teams working more effectively together.
Korngiebel: I’d say for us, it’s making software more personal and taking that aspect that we see now in our consumer life, where information lie sports scores finds me.
We’re doing a lot with machine learning, and guiding the algorithms so that in Slack, you get pushed the next great job candidate that you need to hire. Or pushing the important approvals that need to happen. So when we have this type of partnership, where we collaborate with natural workspaces, we can push out relevant information with the knowledge we have on our employees. We see that as an important trend. Making software that you truly love using every day.