Day in the Life: How Slack's Anna Pickard makes software sound human

Slack, the instant messaging app, is invading offices around the globe. The productivity tool of the moment, now valued at $3.8 billion, is the darling of tech and media companies.

Part of Slack’s success has come down to its friendly interface and sense of whimsy that sets it apart from dour office-productivity tools. Slack is pulling off what many brands find hard: Sounding human without creeping out its 3 million users.

Anna Pickard is the woman behind this voice. Or, as she puts it: “Words and talking and fancy typing.” Following an eclectic career voicing game characters and Twitter cats, the British expat is helping Slack’s 600 staff stay human by doing everything from determining the word choices in the product — “lol” is a no-no — to how the company talks about itself on Twitter.

Here’s what Slack’s creative director of tone and voice does on a typical day, lightly edited for clarity:

6:00 a.m.: Attempt to wake up repeatedly, hit snooze repeatedly. I’m not a morning person, I’m a hit-snoozer.

6:30 a.m.: I’m up and pulling on my gym kit. My partner and I swap drop-offs and pick-ups from school, and the mornings I’m not dropping off, I work out.

6:50 a.m.: On my bike and to the gym. After lifting big heavy weights and doing some boxing with my trainer Ugotchi; I feel like a badass. This sounds ridiculous when I say it in my semi-American accent, so I say it in my purest cut-glass British one, and sound even worse.

8:15 a.m.: I shower at the office. Easy when we moved into this San Francisco office — there were only about 50 of us — but there are 400-plus people here now. The bathrooms at Slack HQ all have FIP, the eclectic French radio station, piped in through speakers. This is entirely my fault, and I’m not remotely sorry about it.

8:45 a.m.: Video call with a colleague in Dublin, helping her craft her presentation for a media workshop in Oslo and make it feel like something Slack-y. Usually this is just a few tweaks: taking jargon out and helping tease out a bit more personality.

9:30 a.m.: I grab a pint of cold brew coffee and a couple of boiled eggs from the fridge and catch up on channels in Slack. Yesterday we launched “All Unreads,” a single screen that gathers all your messages and channels into one view. I’m particularly excited to see this go out, having worked with one of my favorite designers to create little screens that greet you when everything is read.

Part of my job is making sure that we maintain these moments of joy throughout the product. It’s one of the things that helped Slack grow before I started and is a vital part of the brand. I catch up on the feedback reported from our brilliant customer experience team in Melbourne and Dublin overnight about the feature so far, and scan the twitter feed for strong opinions.

10:30 a.m.: I get a reminder to finish off editing some iOS release notes being submitted to the App Store today. My creative/chaotic brain is great for what I do, but horrible at organizing me, so project managers have got used to setting me reminders for just about everything.

11:00 a.m.: I do my workshop on Slack’s voice and tone for a class of new hires. While everyone’s not going to be writing externally, it’s so important we remain human in everything we say and do. The culture turned inward makes the product, the culture turned outward makes the brand.

11:30 a.m.: Californians eat lunch at a ridiculous time. It’s basically breakfast. The cult of the food truck is strong here, and by 11.45 a.m. the line for Filipino fusion burritos is 50 people long — at least 40 of them are my colleagues.

12:30 p.m.: There is a flurry of Snapchat activity from work people having lunch in different offices. Half of us are way too old for this shit but are in denial about it.

1:00 p.m.: Sitting on a couch in a corner of the office, I take some time to prep for my next four-week “Writing At Slack” masterclass. I also update our style guide, approve some social copy from editorial and post a picture of an otter in the #happy-place channel.

Slack office
Inside Slack’s office in San Francisco.

2:30 p.m.: I’m all caught up again, and there are enough of the team around to deal with a Twitter deluge, so I post something silly on there. It’s a good way of helping the 40-plus people who help staff the customer experience side of the Twitter account to feel out more of the brand voice.

3:00 p.m.: The gong sounds. Everyone in the office stops for coffee and a stretch. It’s tradition.

4:00 p.m.: Magic Hour With Kelly And Anna. Sounds like terrible daytime TV: actually a weekly workshop with me and head of product marketing, Kelly Watkins. It’s not magic, of course, just a pair of fresh eyes on something someone’s worked hard on, but that can help give the insight you need to elevate it to the next level.

5:00 p.m.: Leave to pick up my son — he’s getting too big to ride in my bike’s baby seat, but it’s the quickest way around town. After dinner we go to the park to run around for a bit. Then bath, books and bedtime. For him. Not me. Sometimes me, to be fair, but not tonight.

8:30 p.m.: After eating something, pouring a gin and tonic, and catching up with my husband, we stick some music on and I get back online for a bit to pick up stuff that happened at the end of the day on Slack.

I fire some emails off about upcoming speaking engagements and ponder gently the fact I haven’t started my talk yet. I pour another gin and tonic.

10:15 p.m.: I’m zonked, but my husband and I have got into a ridiculous habit of podcasting late at night on the app Bumpers, making a silly little thing called “What I learnt today”. We record it, he edits it, I collapse in front of something Netflix-y and catch up on social media.

10.45 p.m.: As I’m starting to flag, a friend in the U.K. with a young baby wakes up, and I get the chance to chat. The time difference means it’s usually only the weekend to catch up with friends and family at home, so anything extra is a bonus.

And then, at some point later, we go to bed. I brush my teeth first, obvs. Clem, my cat, comes and sleeps heavily on my legs.