‘The great resignation’
He envisages teams working together on big projects, such as marketers launching a new website or recruiters organising a job fair, to have “a dozen little two-minute conversations” without needing to arrange a time that is perfect for everyone.
In the long run, he views Huddles and several other new features, such as an org chart called Atlas, as part of a new “virtual HQ” that replicates all the functions of a physical one.
That is the carrot, but Butterfield also offers a stick. He says companies that are inflexible about hybrid working will end up shedding employees and struggling to hire new ones amid what Texas professor Anthony Klotz has dubbed “the great resignation”.
Klotz argues millions of people who hung on to their jobs during the pandemic will be spurred by reopening and their experience of global disaster into seeking new ground. “The ultimate answer will be determined by the market,” says Butterfield. “Being together in person is fantastic, [but] it’s less necessary than we thought… no individual person, no CEO, gets to decide. We’ll collectively figure it out, and employees will vote with their feet.”
All of which sounds very similar to Microsoft’s brave new world. It too has announced a “virtual HQ” platform, called Viva, and chief executive Satya Nadella has said there is “no going back” and that “flexibility” will be key. The company has even commissioned research finding that 40pc of workers worldwide are considering quitting this year.
Butterfield claims that he has not been paying much attention to Microsoft lately due to the demands of his new nine-week-old child. Still, he acidly describes the decision to bundle Teams with Windows 11 as “indicative of their preferred set of tactics’’.
He sees it as a return to the monopolistic Microsoft of the 1990s, when the Seattle-based behemoth was hauled before US courts for bundling Internet Explorer into Windows and reached a settlement forcing it to open up some of its systems. “They are very aggressive,” says Butterfield, “and I think they recognise the long-term importance of this virtual headquarters [idea].”
Even so, he doesn’t rate Microsoft’s chances. He pooh-poohs the vast difference between Slack’s user numbers and its rival’s, pointing out that less than half of Office 365’s paid users also use Teams, despite them being bundled together. Windows 11, he predicts, will have the same result, leaving Teams as bloatware – pre-installed software that users do not want – on many computers.
A spokesman for Microsoft responded that people “love” Teams’ integration of different functions, and characterised Slack and other competitors as in pursuit, saying: “Its success is a big reason why competitors are working to combine their services to create a flexible offering that stacks up to what Microsoft offers today.”
Butterfield is unconvinced. “Instagram didn’t need to be pre-installed on [iPhones] to get big,” he says. “Competing in terms of the value created for people, or the benefits that customers realise, is going to be a better tactic in the long run.”