Replacing Helpdesk with Slack

Last month I was moderating a Teem Workplace Experience ( WX ) Panel at Box, an event where we invite IT & Facilitates professionals to listen to their peers share insight about their culture, process, and overall workplace. During Q&A, an audience member asked, “How does Box manage internal IT/Facilities Support Tickets?”.

It quickly became a share-all about the pros and cons of Atlassian’s Service Desk, ZenDesk, and ServiceNow. After a few minutes of lively discussion, I shared how we did Helpdesk at Teem . . . we only use Slack.

I could quickly tell that this was an “aha moment” for many, and based on the number of questions that followed I thought I’d share how we do WX Helpdesk here at Teem . . .

The “Why” of WX Helpdesk

Wait, what the hell is WX?

Skip if you know, otherwise real quick . . . at Teem we have combined IT & Facilities ( and HR to a degree ) under the umbrella term “Workplace Experience” or WX. We believe that the two functions have more in common, and software like the kind we build here at Teem is helping eliminate the silos in teams that support end-users. I’ve written a lot more about what WX means to me and Teem here: “An Emerging Role in Workplace Experience.”

Okay, let’s continue . . .

Transparency & Speed

For many, submitting an issue to a Helpdesk issue tracker feels eerily similar to sending a message into a blackhole. Too often a ticket is submitted, and without much reason or clear communication the issue report is closed or ignored. With the intent of merely trying to solve a problem to get back to work, co-workers often end up frustrated, or worse, demoralized by the lack of clarity.

In Slack, we use a public channel called #wx-helpdesk where we ask people to hop into the channel and message whatever issue, question, idea, complaint, or request they may have. The message now becomes a highly visible artifact that we can now take action on, and now no one has to question where his or her “ticket” went because everyone can see it.

Fusing The Physical & Digital Workplace

It is my personal belief that a significant axiom in the future of work is a successful workplace that seamlessly blends the physical and digital. The idea that many of the day to day real-world office tasks can be influenced, managed, and empowered by ephemeral digital technology will become the backbone of the office. With Helpdesk, our team wanted to create a great experience regardless of the mode an ender-user employs to contact us.

Now when someone messages our team in Slack, we work to combine a digital response and an in-person response. It isn’t rare to submit a message and to have someone from our WX Team show up next to you to help out within minutes. With remote employees, we work hard to follow up in person to create an in-person connection; I believe a critical component of the future of work is “connection.” In a world that increasingly blurs digital and physical realities, more meaningful human connections can help illuminate our often stateless digital persona.

The “How” of WX Helpdesk

At Teem we asked people to stop submitting tickets into our Helpdesk Ticketing system and instead explained that we would be taking all issues/requests/feedback in a dedicated Slack channel: #wx-helpdesk. Slowly, but surely, people started trickling into our newly formed channel, and people quickly began to fill our channel with messages.

A Culture of Threads

When someone sends a message to #wx-helpdesk, we work hard to keep things tidy and tight by using Slack threads. We believe in having a low-noise, high-value channel and so we are continually pruning our channel and reminding people to use threads. Slack can get very chaotic, and threads help us keep things under control..

Emoji Reactions 😜

To increase visibility and accountability further, we have instituted a handful of emoji reactions that we use to convey state. Due to the often lengthy names of emojis, we used Slack custom emoji alias feature to make them easier to understand.

👀 :read: ( alias for :eyes: ) Our WX Team will mark a message as :read: when an item is, well, read. It lets our team and the individual reporting know that someone saw the message. It’s a subtle ( and powerful ) acknowledgment that you’ve been seen.

🖐🏼 :taken: ( alias for :raised_hand_with_fingers_splayed: ) If someone on our WX Team reads a message #wx-helpdesk and they begin working on it, they will mark the message as :taken:. To the reporter, it communicates that work has started, and who is working on it. Furthermore, it prevents duplicate work being done.

🏓 :passed: ( alias for :table_tennis_paddle_and_ball: ) Our Slack channel has become so useful that people will wander in and ask non-sensitive HR questions, Sales process questions, etc. We will tag the message with :passed: and in a thread @-mention the person we believe can help out.

Finance owns Expensify, we “passed” and tagged the admins to help out.

✅ :done: ( alias for :white_check_mark: ) After the task has been completed, and have confirmed such in the thread we mark the message as :done:.

As people have hopped into our #wx-helpdesk channel, our language of communication has begun to spread to other channels. While emjoi’s can be a fun way to react, we are learning that there is value in creating more precise means of communicating state and interaction with our Slack messages through emojis.

Everyone is Helpdesk

One of our secret ambitions and hopes of making Helpdesk more public in Slack was that people outside our WX Team would feel compelled to help out one another. Lucky for us, it happened quickly and organically, often before we see an issue people are jumping in and offering accurate and valuable support to the team. It took a moment for people to feel comfortable chiming in, but we made sure to celebrate and acknowledge people for stepping up to help out their teammates. We expected our #wx-helpdesk channel to be more transient and have a low number of users, but as of writing, 78% of our Slack users stay in the channel and are engaged in helping out!

Not a single WX Team member replied while others worked out a resolution

Our transition into Slack for Helpdesk Ticketing hasn’t been an overnight success, but five months in we are getting there. At Teem we have been using Slack for over four years, and in that time I’ve learned that you have to carefully curate and evolve your Slack Culture to get the best results. Often Slack is the Wild West, and there isn’t much law and order, and the whole town is overrun with gifs. We had to work hard to promote threads, intentional emoji usage, and channel focus.

Our shift in our single #wx-helpdesk channel has introduced a new era in our Slack instance, one where the lines between the digital and physical are hard to separate. It took deleting messages, coaching, and a whole lot of trial and error, but our result is a complete shift in our digital and physical culture here at Teem.

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