[TechSparks 2021] Slack CTO Cal Henderson breaks down the new office, says work will never be the same

On Day 1 of TechSparks 2021, Cal Henderson, Co-founder and CTO at business communication platform Slack, says the future of work will continue to be hybrid, with employees bonding over new digital infrastructure and collaborative work tools.
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COVID-19 has changed work for ever. 

Cal Henderson, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at business communication platform Slack, said work is never going to feel the same as before, with changes accelerated by the pandemic and adoption of technology.

He predicts that the hybrid workspace will be more distributed, with organisations moving towards greater collaboration and transparency.

“It's going to be a very different office feel…. We are going to (use) digital tools more and collaborate through the internet as we kind of have been through this pandemic,” Cal Henderson told Shradha Sharma, Founder of YourStory, at TechSparks 2021, India's largest and most influential tech-entrepreneurship conference. 

“We are also going to spend a lot of time in person with our co-workers, but in a way that feels different... spending time doing collaborative work, not just sitting next to each other on desks, doing individual work.”

The company, which was acquired by Salesforce for $27.7 billion in 2020, is a key channel for many enterprises and businesses that increasingly rely on workplace collaboration tools to bring together a distributed workforce.

Slack’s India push

Slack, which recently appointed Rahul Sharma as Senior Director and Country Manager for India, has a large footprint in the country on the customer side, as well as employee base. 

The company’s engineering hub in Pune is growing, as is its sales and marketing team as it looks to sign on more customers in the geography, Cal said.

On the customer side, Slack powers workplace communication for the likes of Swiggy, Zomato, and Razorpay among others, apart from the India offices of its global customers.

“Much like our initial big growth in the US and North America, where we started seeing a lot of unicorns as well as soonicorns, the growing companies who are going to be the next wave of successful startups are adopting Slack in this era of distributed companies…,” he said, adding that the tool was used across sectors such as fintech, edtech, and other technology verticals. 

The growth story

Slack’s first mover advantage helped it create a niche for itself. The product started out as an internal communication channel for the co-founders’ previous video game development company.

“We were in the US on both coasts...and built a set of tools to let us work together better while we were trying to make games. We realised when we were winding the company down….maybe if it works well for us, it would work well for other teams like us, small engineering-focused teams,” said Cal, about the company’s serendipitous journey. 

The co-founders found investors willing to bet on the idea, which timed with the rise in consumer messaging, and launched their startup in 2013. 

Slack’s annual revenue crossed the $100 million mark in 2017, an industry milestone for software companies, and reached $400 million two years later. In 2019, the company went public. 

After its complete integration with Salesforce earlier this year, Slack has been marketed by the former as part of its commerce, experience, and platform product suites, as well as industry-specific cloud offerings. 

The future of work is digital

As demand for additional features grew during the pandemic-led remote work model, Slack incorporated audio and video features along with its chat option. 

Cal said employees spend more time collaborating online than in the office.

“Until the last year and a half, I think we just never thought about it in the same way. It's just like, oh, those are the tools. And so we think that Slack as a product and Slack as a category is the right kind of tool to be sitting at the centre of how people work….and has become the de facto digital headquarters for a lot of our customers over the last year and a half,” he said.

The Slack co-founder reiterated that this new infrastructure – and the new way of working – was likely to continue over the next decade.


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For a line-up of all the action-packed sessions at YourStory's flagship startup-tech conference, check out TechSparks 2021 website.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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