Remote work boom spells doom for corporate inboxes: Slack CEO

The forced migration of workers from their cubicles to home offices, courtesy of the coronavirus outbreak, will fast forward the demise of the corporate inbox, says Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield.

"What's happened here is that we have skipped a couple of years in what's an inevitable transition … away from inboxes and from an individual approach to a team approach," the chief executive of the workplace messaging service told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The rush to remote work poses an unprecedented challenge for workers, says Slack founder Stewart Butterfield.Credit:Josh Robenstone

"The email is not going to go away because it has its uses, but, frankly, it's a terrible choice in these sort of dynamic situations."

Valued at over $US15 billion ($24.6 billion), Slack is the poster child of the office collaboration technology scene, and the recent surge in demand for remote working promises an unprecedented windfall for the company. The number of people using Slack at the same time ticked over 12.5 million this week, average messages sent per day are up by 20 per cent and average active usage has surged past a billion minutes each weekday.

Those numbers are likely to keep improving as the pandemic continues to spread. Slack isn't the only company benefiting from the craze, with Microsoft's collaboration platform Teams and remote video conferencing outfit Zoom also going gangbusters.

According to Mr Butterfield, the increased intensity of usage, while welcomed, also posed the toughest test yet for the remote working trend.

"This is not just the regular work from home transition, this is working in a pandemic and a big challenge for a lot of people who have never had a home office."

"Kids are staying home from school, grandparents can't help out and you can't really go out anywhere, so all of these conditions make this a very unique situation," he said.

He was also circumspect about how long the remote working boom would last, especially as the spectre of a global recession looms over the global economy.

"There's a huge opportunity as new people sign up but I think that will pass because there has been a mad rush."

"But we have to balance the short-term opportunity we have against the potential risks faced by our customers," he said.

"Many of our customers are small businesses and they could go out of business, we have large airlines, hotel chains as customers and they are being hit very hard."

Slack started life as an internal tool for Mr Butterfield's video games development company but its subsequent pivot into a workplace productivity tool now puts it at the front line of an unprecedented shift in the way we work.

It's a challenge Mr Butterfield said the company is taking very seriously.

"In many we were built for this, not necessarily for working from home, but certainly for creating the sort of alignment inside an organisation that delivers transparency and allows organisations to be more capable of dealing with disruption."

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