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As Slack’s Silicon Valley Presence Grows, Vancouver Office Remains Founder’s Favourite

In what seems like an overnight success, Slack—the intercommunication software developed to increase the productivity and accountability of teams—has become a household name in the span of two and a half years since their original funding.

Following in the rather large footsteps of Microsoft Office, and Blackberry, Slack went from an internal tool to public software once Tiny Speck realized the potential of what they had created. Originally Slack was used to inspire cohesive conversation within the video game development team Tiny Speck (now Slack Technologies), who were at the time making the game Glitch.

The “Real-time collaboration application and platform” officially launched as Slack Technologies in 2014, and has since gained over a 3 million daily active users. Slack (Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) isn’t new at its foundation, but it’s formatting, chat-rooms, and near 100 percent open-sourced integration with third-party services make the feast a lot more appetizing than competing co-working applications.

What started as a tiny group—with a spark of imagination—in Vancouver, has blossomed into a superstar company. With offices in New York, Melbourne, London, Dublin, Toronto, and Vancouver, the now San Francisco based technology company isn’t slowing down.

Techvibes was lucky enough to receive an invite to tour Slack’s brand new, fully decked-out Vancouver studio, located in the Yaletown district of downtown.

“When we first moved into this space, we had only the fourth floor. Now, we’ve taken over the third, second, and even the basement,” says Margarete Hernandez, Facilities Manager at Slack Vancouver.

The elevator, with a modern shine, in a building from the 1910’s, begins to ease you into the contemporary work space you’re about to enter. When the doors open to the fourth floor (where Slack’s reception is) you are greeted by a bright white neon sign that screams “Welcome to Slack; Have a Nice Day” in your face. The florescent cursive letters jump out against the classically old-school brick wall. A sign of things to come.

It feels a lot like Vancouver here. “We sourced a lot of local art, and refurbished materials,” said Stephanie Matchung, one of our guides from Rsquared Communication.

Rounding the corner from the elevator, into the reception area, you see a giant wall that is covered in moss—or as another member of the press along for the tour would call out “I’m pretty sure that’s lichen, not moss”—that reaches nearly 20 feet high and is capped off by large, sun-drenched skylights. And it was a beautifully clear day out during our tour.

The fourth floor of 1028 Hamilton Street is home to most of the Slack Vancouver execs, the IT department, their team of in-house designers, engineers, and the reception squad. It also has a very antique feeling communal kitchen that serves as the main dining area for the crew, and is where social hours are held every Thursday.

Slack is young. It shows in the faces behind the desks. In an open floor-plan, with private rooms wrapping the exterior of the workspace, smiling faces lit-up by MacBook screens seem hard at work.

It’s no secret that Slack has been ambitious with their expansion. What started as a 20 person office in Vancouver, is now at 86, with around 40 empty desks waiting for warm bodies. Including Vancouver, Slack employs north of 600 people.

There’s a comfortable feel inside their fresh, 20 thousand square-foot studio, although there is an oddly dire lack of natural light where the people actually sit.

Our tour was conducted with Facilities Manager Margarete Hernandez, and Customer Experience Lead Heather Morrison, whom both allowed a short question and answer period at the conclusion of our walk-through. We even received 5 minutes of time from Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield.

“It really feels like a family here,” said Morrison, whom oozes a fondness for her job. “It feels really exciting. Really inspirational.”

“I’d say a similar thing,” follows Hernandez. “Seeing all the changes… it’s exciting. Everybody has been very warm and open” in relation to their growth.

Slack Vancouver also houses a live support team—a group of specialists who speak with customers in real time across phone, email, and other platforms.

When asked what the thought process was behind multiple offices across the world, and the foreseeable growth among them, Hernandez said “Being able to support customers in all the time-zones,” which is important for a clientele of millions. “When we first started out, we obviously didn’t have offices everywhere, and we had individuals working remotely from those time-zones,” added Morrison. “We have this overlap where we have this handover…to make sure we can offer support even if it’s after 6, or on a weekend.”

With aggressive hiring goals, comes a need for a rock-solid onboarding, and air-tight recruiting.

“There’s a mandatory four week onboarding process that starts when someone is hired. The first two weeks are spent at head office in San Francisco.” Said Morrison. And it seems very in-depth. Having known a few people that have gone through the on-boarding process at Slack, I can assure you that it’s a jam-packed, strenuous, and intensive regime.

But there’s a struggle when a company begins to grow at a fascinating pace

“We’re looking for people who align with our values. Ready to come here and just thrive…which is one of our values; thriving.” Morrison says with a chuckle. “We’re looking for folks who love problem solving and they’re very curious, right, because they’ll have that want to help people and get to the bottom of everything. But also, super empathetic. Just understanding that these are humans on the other side.”

It’s obvious that Slack aims to only acquire people who can really get passionate about the work, and the product involved with their roles. Which can be a difficult goal to score when you look at their expansion rate, and hiring flurry.

The room pressed Morrison and Hernandez on what they feel makes working at Slack so exciting (a word they used often to describe their environment). “

“The people…it’s so great surrounding yourself with people that are passionate, and that have different interests than you do. That cultivates your self, personally,” sated Hernandez. As the Facilities manager, she is part of every Vancouver employees onboarding process. “Our leaders. Stewart’s presence in the office means a lot to me,” mentioned Morrison. “He’s somebody that I really, personally, admire, because he’s so genuine. He’s somebody that I can really get behind.” She continues. “Everyone here is inspired by that.”

“There’s none of that stress,” Morrison adds. “Like when you would walk into a corporate environment.” And the conviction in her sentiment cements her honesty.

I’ve never met a Slacker that put out anything resembling displeasure in their situation there. This new facility does a fabulous job of invigorating the system. That pride and progress is palpable. It’s an office space that is built by an adoration for a culture that has come from the very top of the ladder at Slack.

It’s a brag-worthy, Silicon Valley-inspired Slacktacular. Although, both interviewees were quick to say that they do NOT have a ping-pong table, a standard for nifty tech companies seeking to lure in young talent—for some reason, don’t ask me, I’d rather play billiards.

When I asked what they would brag about, Morrison said “humility runs pretty deep here” before Hernandez said “The space. The office.”

While Vancouver has a little ways to go before they’re considered a tech industry mainstay, there are many unique, and difficult things about running a tech company in the north west. “I think, because it’s growing… one of the biggest hurdles for us is people even discovering us, and knowing that we’re here.”

“You can come from a different background, and eventually find ease working at a tech company,” Hernandez said in conjunction with the interesting nature of the tech industry growing in Vancouver proper. “I think it’s great that we’re cultivating people from outside of the industry, to be part of the industry.”

When we breached the discussion about the diversity among the employees at Slack Vancouver, Morrison hesitated to say for sure, but the majority of what was noticed throughout our tour was late-20’s to early 30’s. And neither commented when asked about male and female percentages. But a blog post shared with me states that in February of 2016 Slack had 43 percent of their management team identify as women, while 24 percent of their global engineering base identifies as women, and technical roles only count 25 percent female representation.

Slack Vancouver wasn’t separated from the general worldwide statistics drawn from their internal survey, but my eyes saw that they fit in around global company average.

There is still a lot of space for Slack to grow, and it doesn’t feel like this crazy ride they’re currently on will slow down in the coming years.

CEO Stewart Butterfield added, during our brief Q&A, “This is my home base. It’s nice…it’s my favorite office.” The CEO seems like a rather soft-spoken guy. Maybe one that is a little bit of a fish out of water—especially if you consider his history in video game development.

“Look at how beautiful the office is,” quipped Butterfield when a fellow reporter asked what would entice a young, tech-inspired person to come work here. “Slack is a special company in the sense that the extent of our success in the long run is still to-be-determined. But, we’re in a wonderful space through hard-work and thought, but mostly good luck and timing, vis-a-vis the enterprise software space.”

And he comes across so sure of it. “Being at Slack now, in our early years, will be similar to having worked at Google in 2005, or Facebook in 07-09, or Apple in the mid 2000’s,” Butterfield emphatically claims in punctuation to our conversation.

Overall, Slack feels fresh. More so now, after their multi-million dollar renovation. There’s a product here that is fundamentally changing the way offices, and teams communicate (just look at their user survey), and if all goes according to plan, we could be looking at the next Google.

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