Workplace messaging platform Slack says it is developing new ways of measuring remote employee productivity beyond time worked or tasks completed — tools which could help the tech giant win over managers ordering their employees back into the office.

Slack has revealed a revamp of its core messaging platform, adding new functionality for teams spread across multiple worksites, cities, or continents.

The update includes a new app ‘workflow’, allowing users to cut and paste different digital tools together as they see fit.

Slack says this ‘block’ system will allow teams to customise and automate processes, like annual leave applications or IT tickets.

Ilan Frank, Slack’s vice president of enterprise product, said the goal is to make remote teams “flexible, inclusive, and connected”.

Such updates will likely to be welcomed by firms deeply accustomed to remote work and the Slack ecosystem.

But as pandemic restrictions ease worldwide, Slack faces a bigger challenge: convincing businesses to allow employees to work from home, even when the office reopens.

A September Productivity Commission report found as many as 40% of Australian employees conducted some work from home during the pandemic, up from 8% before COVID-19 swept the world.

Even so, many employers are still sceptical of decentralised work. Many of these concerns relate to productivity, with managers distrustful of an employee’s ability to get the job done without workplace supervision.

Existing solutions to this problem are imperfect at best.

A recent Australia Institute report revealed 39% of surveyed workers say their employers have monitored their activity through keystroke counters or directly through their webcam — measures highly unlikely to improve employee morale.

Arbitrary productivity targets can also lead remote workers to over-work and burnout, harming the mental health and financial stability of employees, and ultimately undermining the companies they work for.

Slack says it is investigating ways to provide productivity data beyond simple box-ticking, or keystroke and webcam surveillance.

“It used to be that you looked at metrics, like hours worked, you know, number of tasks done,” Frank said.

“But we’re going to look more at ‘impact’. And so, from a Slack perspective, we need to also be able to help you measure the impact of the work that’s happening inside Slack.”

Slack’s efforts to refine intangible workplace activity into hard-and-fast data are still at an early stage, but Frank said the company’s eventual tools will not circle ‘underperforming’ workers.

“Some of the work that we’re doing is around actual analytics, and revealing more of the information that you see inside Slack,” he said.

“Not for the purpose of looking at a particular employee and saying, ‘Is this employee working?’ Hopefully, there’s enough trust built in the organisation that you don’t need that.”

Instead, Slack aims to “diagnose greater effects of collaboration, teams that are working well with one another, teams that are efficient at decision making, things like that”.

Selling the promise of non-invasive productivity metrics to remote work sceptics will be vital for platforms like Slack, which thrived when offices first shut down worldwide.

Previously, Slack claimed the forced remote work experiment would have “failed” if employers feel pressured to return to the physical office.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider Australia.