You’re not alone: How Slack ERGs stay connected during remote work
By Nadia Wynter
At Slack, empathy, solidarity and courtesy are three of our six core values. (Craftsmanship, playfulness and thriving are the others.) These values acknowledge that Slack employees are human beings who are in the business of serving other humans. And a big part of humanity is celebrating and supporting the things that make us unique.
Although we strive to ensure psychological safety within our organization as a whole, we recognize that our employees are not a monolithic group. And for many people, what helps them be their full, authentic selves is to be connected to a community of others with similar identities and backgrounds. Employee resource groups (ERGs) at Slack fulfill that purpose. Our ERGs help drive belonging by providing support, professional development and a range of programs to employees and creating a dedicated space where they can connect with one another.
Creating space for groups to come together is one thing, but during remote work, how do the ERGs of Slack keep the connection flowing? We talked with Slack ERG leaders to find out how different communities have met the challenges of the past year, and how they continue to cultivate connection, inclusivity and flexibility.
“As leaders of our ERG, when we’re vulnerable, we make it OK for others to be vulnerable too.”
Put safety first
Pandemic or no pandemic, establishing a safe space is key to building community within an ERG. Frances Coronel, a co-lead of Fuego, the ERG for employees who identify as Latinx or Hispanic, says, “Trust is one of Fuego’s core values, and instilling trust across our community members is vital to our ERG’s success.” (Fuego is the only ERG at Slack to have been launched and converted from incubator to full ERG status during the pandemic.)
While Slack generally recommends defaulting to public channels, a way to achieve trust and safety in some instances is through a private Slack channel, and this holds true for our ERGs. “We only let in those who understand what the space is for and are in agreement with the terms and conditions,” write Sandra Illi Villarreal and Lia Ayana, the co-leads of Earthtones, the ERG for employees who identify as people of color.
On top of laying out the foundation of trust, leaders must model open communication to show that it is a supportive place to express oneself. “In addition to cultivating a private space, as leaders we must set the tone by being vulnerable in the designated spaces,” Villarreal and Ayana write. “As leaders of our ERG, when we are vulnerable, we make it OK for others to be vulnerable too. We also make sure that those people who take the leap and express their vulnerability in our channel feel heard by using emoji reactions and commenting in-thread.”
Find new ways to connect
The pandemic forced people to adapt and, in many cases, to get creative to bridge the gaps among remote workers. And for most people, that creativity was virtual. Out, the ERG for Slack employees who identify as LGBTQ+, participated in Pride in all new ways. “Virtual Pride 2020 brought me so much joy!” says Trish Ang, the Out lead. “It was incredible seeing people learn to vogue, play bingo, celebrate QTPOC (queer and trans people of color) artists, and have a dance-off, even over Zoom.”
Video conferencing made it easier to connect all around—within the ERGs and outside them—leading to new experiences. “In November we hosted a panel with two Medal of Honor recipients and invited contacts from other company ERGs,” says Kim Hale, a co-lead of Slack’s Veterans ERG. “Out of that invitation, we were able to start a Slack Connect channel with representatives from other veterans ERGs. We’re working on a joint event for this spring!”
For several ERGs, new Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions have been a big hit to get to know one another, including new employees who haven’t met their colleagues in person yet. “We started in-channel AMA sessions with new members of the ERG as a way to highlight them and share more about what people do outside of their roles,” says Ang. Having AMAs regularly is helpful so that members can look forward to them; Coronel says Fuego’s AMAs are held monthly.
It’s also important to think about accessibility for maximum engagement. That includes recording events so members can watch them when they have time, and being mindful of workers’ different time zones. “We now use closed captioning and always record events,” write Villarreal and Ayana. “We’re also starting to experiment with a rotation/selection of event times so that everyone can take part.”
“We started in-channel AMA sessions with new members of the ERG as a way to highlight them and share more about what people do outside of their roles.”
Step up, and step back
Whereas some of Slack’s ERGs picked up the cadence of activity during the pandemic, some recognized that they needed to dial back the output. “We’re small, so we’ve looked for more opportunities that are low-lift and high-impact,” says Hale. “We also rely on our fellow ERGs to help cross-post cool events.”
While Earthtones has increased the frequency of its events to two to four per month, with aspirations to be more global, Out decided to limit the stress on leads who plan events. Out did, however, use the space to start a spin-off group for even more open conversation among members. “We recently formed an #out-parents subgroup to discuss the challenges of family-forming as LGBTQIA people,” says Ang.
Bring others into the fold
The primary focus of Slack ERGs is to provide support for their community members, but that doesn’t mean they exist outside of the broader Slack community. Each ERG has a #hello channel for allies to post questions and relay opportunities to connect. And sometimes an ERG will reach out for specific support. Ang, a software engineer, put a callout in #hello-out for assistance with an internal feature driven by the Out ERG. “The biggest learning here has been that it’s OK to ask for help!” Ang says. “By putting the request out to our allies channel, we’ve found the team we need to make this change happen.”
Beyond asking for help, ERGs very much value connecting with the wider community, and that’s good for everyone. “Share everything you possibly can with allies and in wider channels when it makes sense,” says Coronel. “Whether it be icebreakers, upcoming events, milestones hit, etcetera, it’s all fair game and really helps others know that we’re here, we are doing great work, and we want you to be a part of it.”