Slack’s Research Team Values Diversity As A Competitive Advantage

The nature of interpersonal communication is fluid, with words and mediums constantly falling in and out of favor over time. This is especially true in the workplace where the days of boozy lunches and telephone switchboards have largely gone the way of the dodo bird, only to be revisited when streaming episodes of Mad Men.  

The topic of how people communicate and the importance of understanding that in the context of today’s workplace was the focus of my recent conversation with Christina Janzer, the Director of Research and Analytics at Slack. 

Slack is one of the preferred channels for communication in the modern workplace. It aligns discussions by threads or channels where interested parties can comment and track conversations. It was discovered by an accident of sorts when the founders created it as an internal messaging system to facilitate better coordination as they built their gaming startup. The startup failed, Slack survived. 

Janzer’s job is to understand how people communicate in their daily lives and then incorporate that knowledge into improvements and iterations of the platform. She described her day-to-day as studying how people get work done. That includes observing the challenges they experience, the many roadblocks that surface, and how they overcome them. 

To do that, she focuses a lot of her attention on how people interact with technology. The tools of her trade are largely user surveys and focus groups. By noting how people deploy tech to surmount their work-related challenges, she can refine Slack’s features to give workers improved ways to communicate and work collaboratively. 

Her success in doing so is one reason why Slack has grown beyond the bounds of Silicon Valley and is used by more non-tech companies and individuals. That expansion is evidence that communication challenges are universal and exist without regard to industry, workplace, or geography. Just ask any parent with a teenager! 

Janzer and her team have found that how people feel about the tools they use for work is a consistent signal for overall employee satisfaction and engagement. If they enjoy their day-to-day interactions with core tools like Slack, Asana, Salesforce, email programs, or a host of other software-based tools that take up their time, they feel better about their jobs and are more productive. 

Janzer says this is because as the nature of work continues to evolve it has become more interactive and reliant on messaging platforms. Some of this can be attributed to the enormous increase in remote working and geographically distributed teams. A reality that makes cloud-based software communication tools an obvious choice. 

For Janzer, these realities of the modern workplace logically underpin the consistent employee message that happy tools equal productive workers. She also knows that given the pace of change and the role of technology in enabling that change, the communication needs and expectations of tomorrow’s workforce could change overnight. 

Janzer did not set out to have a career in tech. She studied product design at Stanford University, where she developed an interest in understanding user experience. That led her to Facebook where she helped grow the customer support team before founding its user research team. 

It was at Facebook that she witnessed the incredibly fast shifts in user behavior made possible by technology and the massive impact it could have on people’s social lives. She loved taking time to understand people and their problems, then dissecting how technology could improve their experience socially or at work. 

Over the course of her career, Janzer has seen the growing importance and popularity in using research and behavioral study for product design and marketing. She is part of an accelerating shift by companies to tap data feeds, social media platforms, interactions with customers, and fields like behavioral science for observations that can give them a competitive advantage. 

Given her own non-traditional background in the field, she believes this diversity of experience is an important indicator of success in the field. She has found that people bring transferable skills from adjacent or related industries that provide value as a researcher. 

That’s one of the reasons she believes more women should enter the field. Having diverse researchers allows for better observations and insights of diverse research subjects groups. In turn, this helps fuel the growing body of evidence that shows diversity is a competitive corporate advantage.

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I am an advocate for women in technology. Through my founding roles at nonprofits TechGirlz and Women in Technology Summit, I work to inspire girls and economically empo...