Slack CEO reveals what it's like to lead one of the biggest workplace chat apps as the coronavirus continues to force people to work from home like never before

  • Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield posted a detailed account on Twitter of what the last two weeks have been like for the company as the coronavirus pandemic has upended business.
  • Butterfield discussed the challenges of predicting how his company will perform in the future as the coronavirus has made operations unpredictable.
  • He also posted charts illustrating how the volume of newly created teams on Slack began to increase over the last two weeks.
  • Many tech workers, venture capitalists, and others praised Stewart for his insight and transparency in the replies.
  • But others questioned what Slack is doing to help those in need at this time.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the way businesses operate across the United States and around the world, resulting in unprecedented layoffs in the US and forcing companies to quickly shift to remote work arrangements.

For Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who operates one of the most widely used office communication platforms, that has resulted in an unpredictable and surreal last couple of weeks.

The CEO shared a detailed account on Twitter of what the last two weeks have been like at Slack now that companies are relying on its tools more than ever before. That’s all while Slack had to prepare for its third earnings report as a public company and brace for a scenario in which some of its clients may be run out of business.

In his Twitter thread, Butterfield discussed the challenges of predicting how a company will perform as the spreading coronavirus has made work unpredictable for many companies. Butterfield also posted charts showing how the volume of newly created teams on Slack began to surge after March 12, the day it reported earnings, compared against the beginning of the year.

Slack’s stock dropped by more than 20% after-hours on March 12 after it reported its fourth quarter earnings results. Although quarterly revenue beat expectations, the company issued lower than expected guidance and showed signs of slow growth.

“We want to be ‘reasonable’ and ‘prudent’ and earn the trust of analysts and investors over time by being honest and straightforward,” he wrote in one tweet. “But we literally have no idea what is going to happen and neither does anyone else, really. The error bars on any prediction will be miles wide.”

“We want to guide to something we know we can achieve, and that means factoring in the downside scenarios more heavily,” he added in another tweet. “And that’s what we did.”

Earnings day felt “surreal” for Butterfield, as companies across the country and the world – including Slack – are far from conducting business as usual.

“When the possibility of millions of deaths is slowly starting to sink in, it’s hard to say an otherwise normal CEO thing like ‘the macro environment is creating significant tailwinds for the business’ and it felt completely impossible to extrapolate out from this present moment,” Butterfield wrote in one tweet.

Stewart’s thread earned praise from some founders, venture capitalists, and tech workers for his insight and transparency.

But a few replies were more critical, with some questioning whether Slack was planning to offer free services or hire those who have been impacted by layoffs.

Slack is offering a few special options for media organisations and researchers working on projects related to the pandemic and non-profits. The company is offering free upgrades to paid plans for local media outlets and scientific publications covering the coronavirus, and is lifting the 250 user limit on its standard plan for non-profit organisations for three months. It’s also offering free upgrades to paid plans for organisations working on coronavirus research, and the company is contributing resources toward the COVID-19 global hackathon hosted by Devpost.

In his tweet thread, the Slack CEO also described how the team was “energised” and “moving fast” on earnings day noting that the team had to step up its internal communications to reassure staff as anxiety and uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus increased.

“We will look back at this time and realise how much it defined our belief in what we can accomplish as a team,” Butterfield wrote in an internal message to staff, which he shared in the Twitter thread. “Stay focused. Stay awake. Everything we’re doing matters.”

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