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PHOTO: Jeremy Galliani

With all the focus on Microsoft’s Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. it almost slipped under the radar that Slack has been busy building out its functionality again, this time with the acquisition of email app provider Astro. 

The irony of this acquisition isn't lost on anyone who has followed all of the discussion pieces and blogs which followed the company's launch five years ago debating whether Slack would herald the end of email. With this acquisition it appears the San Francisco-based company is quietly accepting this is not going to happen in the medium term, or even in the long term. The acquisition also offers a clue into what Slack will do with its recent $427 million funding round.

Slack executives have repeatedly stressed that their ambition is to make Slack a single place to work. And with research report after research report finding email continues to be the top enterprise communication and even collaboration tool, Slack is clearly taking a "if you can't beat them, join them" approach with this buy. 

With the acquisition now complete, Astro will close down its app on Oct. 10, presumably to reappear in some shape or form in Slack. The announcement on the Astro site explains:

“On Wednesday October 10, we’ll shut down our Astro apps for Mac, iOS, Android, Amazon Alexa, and Slack. As of today, we’ve also disabled signups of new users. For current users of the Astro apps — because we continually sync data with Gmail & Office 365 accounts, you can switch to email apps from Google, Microsoft, Apple or other providers without seeing any changes in your messages or calendar events.” 

More importantly, though, is what Slack said about the buy in a blog post: “Last year, we predicted that channels will become the main form of business communication by 2025. Today, over 50 million channels have been created in Slack — this shift is clearly gaining momentum." It continued, "But we all know that email is still a very important tool in business communication. Billions of emails are sent every day, and in those are millions of documents exchanged, contracts negotiated and decisions memorialized. We’ve taken some steps to make it possible to integrate email into Slack, but now we’re in a position to make that interoperability much simpler and much, much more powerful."

It added that this is "a natural next step as channel-based collaboration becomes the default way of working." So what can we expect now? The timescale for the integration process has not been revealed, but Slack has a record of doing these kind of integrations very quickly, especially as it also appears to be bringing the 28 employees of Astro into the Slack family. More on this to come.

Companies Struggle With 'Performance' Culture

A recent Gartner study found that aligning a company’s workforce with the desired culture can improve performance against revenue goals by 9 percent. However, only 31 percent of HR leaders believe their organizations have the necessary culture to drive performance. 

The report, "Executive Guidance: Culture in Action: The Role of Leaders in Making Culture Perform" (registration required), also found that no cultural type is a consistent predictor of organizational performance. Rather than focusing on what type of culture a company should have, business leaders should turn their attention to getting their culture to perform. Three elements create a successful culture and, in turn, successful workplace engagement. They are:

  1. Knowledge: Know what the culture is.
  2. Mindset: Believe in the culture.
  3. Behavior: Behave in a way that supports the culture.

Failure to achieve workforce-cultural alignment can cause employee performance to decline by as much as 12 percent. “While many leaders may view culture as a ‘soft’ topic, it has become a key differentiator for how and why organizations outperform," said Brian Kropp, group vice president of Gartner’s HR practice, in a statement. “Workplace culture can impact a company’s access to talent as job seekers increasingly consider the culture of prospective employers — and investors as well."

Over the past month we have looked at employee experience and employee engagement in some detail. No matter what disagreements there are on how best to achieve both in the digital workplace, there is no disagreement that both are good for the enterprise and enterprise productivity.

The business website Business Case Studies defines culture as one where people are imaginative and creative, rather than being reluctant to take risks. So who is responsible for developing this workplace culture? According to the Gartner research, it’s all down to business leaders. To realize the business benefits of a culture that performs, leaders can’t just role model the culture — they must be active in embedding the culture and their company’s priorities into systems and processes.

They also need to provide business-unit leaders with support and resources to do the same. Efforts to operationalize the culture must be meaningful to the entire organization and permeate every facet of the business, from budgets to processes to workflows. Yet with only 31 percent of companies having cultures that drive performance, the reason the other 69 percent of companies don’t must therefore come down to poor leadership, or failure by leadership to understand the need for a work culture that drives performance.

Salesforce Introduces Quip Slides

Ignite wasn't the only conference taking place this week. Salesforce's annual Dreamforce conference is in full effect in San Francisco, with many announcements delivered to improve customer interactions. But one announcement for the digital workplace came in the form of Quip Slides and new integrations between Quip, Box and Dropbox.

Salesforce acquired document platform Quip in 2016. With the new Slides capability, teams can collaborate on interactive, social presentations which benefit from a tight integration with the rest of the Salesforce offerings. What this means in practice is real-time updates within a Quip Slide deck when changes are made in a Salesforce report. Einstein AI underlies the tool, prompting collaborators to take next steps and offering suggestions on who to send the deck to next to speed decision making.

Quip also gets an upgrade by way of third-party integrations, in the form of Live Apps. Box and Dropbox both revealed applications which allow for the direct embedding of Box files and folders within Quip and the ability to insert Dropbox files as well. The Box Files Viewer Live App is now available in the AppExchange, with the Dropbox Live App expected for general availability later this month.

Google Unveils Improved Android Messaging

Google announced it is rolling out improvements to search in Android Messages this week to help users find content in text messages. The search bar will allow users to search either by specific user or content type. 

Other new features on the way include contact sharing and automatic previews. In the past, Android Messages would provide page previews for URLs in chat. The app can now provide similar automatic previews for street addresses in the form of a card that includes a cover image.

The final upgrade is a new “Tap to share a contact” that will open Google Contacts and lets users select an entry to share in your current conversation.

Bluescape Enterprise Available on Intel Unite

Also this week, San Carlos, Calif.-based Bluescape, has announced that users of the Intel Unite solution will also be able to use its virtual collaborative workspace enterprise offering. Intel Unite is a conferencing technology that provides a secure wireless connection to conference room displays for domain-joined users. Bluescape's workspace supports communication, visualization and organization.

This means that during a hosted Intel Unite meeting users can work either in the room or remotely on an online whiteboard, adding documents, images, videos or web-based content. Team members can also add content, write, draw or add notecards within the meeting room on a large format touchscreen or from their laptop or mobile devices.

The company plans to make it possible to bring third party applications and various content into the meeting room in the future.

FADEL Announces OpenText Integration of Rights Cloud

Finally, this week, New York City-based rights and royalty management software developer FADEL today announced it has made its Rights Cloud available for integration and resale by Ontario-based OpenText. As a result, users will be able to check and clear digital assets against contract rights terms directly from OpenText Media Management. The integrated solution provides OpenText users with a single “rights” source across agreements, talent and assets.

Rights Cloud by FADEL is a marketing technology that provides a single “rights” source across agreements, talent and assets and gives those organizations content governance, compliance management and smart insights for advertising content. The result is full visibility into when, where and how content can be used.