How Threads Helped WillowTree Increase Collaboration and Efficiency

Between all of today’s communication tools—Slack, email, video chats, and more—it’s easy to become overwhelmed with notifications and spend a lot of time searching for important details. RescueTime found that “the average knowledge worker checks in on email and IM every six minutes.”

Computer science professor and author Cal Newport’s recent New Yorker column also noted that this constant communication is becoming a problem.

“We’re simply not wired to monitor an ongoing stream of unpredictable communication at the same time that we’re trying to also finish actual work,” Newport said.

WillowTree product architect Greg Ciolli and his remote project team experienced this firsthand in 2020. WillowTree, a digital product agency that designs mobile apps and websites, has over 500 employees in multiple locations across the United States. Communication happened across multiple applications, making collaboration challenging as the company grew and adjusted to more remote work as a result of the pandemic.

Threads ended up being the perfect solution for a recent project Greg’s team was working on. Our platform provided one central place for WillowTree to house important information and have long-form, asynchronous discussions in an organized and searchable format. The switch saved time, simplified communication, and improved productivity.

Problem: WillowTree needed to bridge the gap between various communication apps

Before Threads, collaborating across locations and utilizing a variety of communication tools wasn’t as streamlined as it could be.

“Our design team would use Figma, our dev team would use Jira [and] Confluence, and then all teams would use Slack and email,” Greg said, noting this was in addition to video chats and telephone as well.

Having important information and asynchronous conversations across multiple platforms sometimes slowed things down. Team members didn’t always have the information they needed in one central location.

As the project manager, Greg relied on email notifications to handle facilitating conversations.

“I would try to use my inbox as a to-do list because every application sends me an email,” he said. This system worked, but not as efficiently and consistently as he hoped.

Overall, he wanted a tool that could take communication to the next level for an even faster response to critical questions and issues.

Solution: Consolidated communication into one platform with Threads

Greg looked for a way to support his growing team by keeping communication fluid and in sync. He knew he needed a single location where important long-form discussions could take place, and team members could collaborate and search for information.

About eight months ago, he came across Threads. Since then, the platform has helped his project team consolidate communication into one place and made collaboration more fluid.

Threads breaks down communication into “forums” and, as our name implies, “threads.” A “forum” is like a topic in an online forum where users have discussions around a common theme. The setup of these forums varies from company to company, depending on specific needs.

A “thread” is a specific discussion within a forum. Everyone can start and contribute to threads, which follow a nested reply structure that you typically see in online forums and email chains.

“It's intuitive because everyone's used email before,” Greg said. “But it allows those long-form conversations. So, in that way, it's similar to a Jira comment thread. It kind of merges those two together.”

Because the team found the platform intuitive and the forum format was familiar, onboarding was relatively easy. Greg said it only took about a week to get his team up and running with Threads. To help with onboarding, Greg utilized our Slack integration that made it easy to utilize Threads for deeper discussions and decision-making.

WillowTree structured Threads like a knowledge base or FAQ, with many threads phrased like questions. That made it easy for developers and designers to search for what they need and collaborate more efficiently.

“Team members are happy now with the fact that they know where to go search,” Greg said. “Search works really well in Threads, so they can find what they're looking for pretty quickly.”

Greg also noted that the “Mark as Decision” feature in Threads has been a game-changer for his team. It helps close the conversation loop and makes it clear that a consensus has been reached.

“Being able to use the ‘Mark as Decision’ feature really quickly to close a conversation has probably been the biggest feature for our team,” Greg said.

Results: Threads gives WillowTree more time to improve its product

Threads has helped WillowTree reduce meetings, stay more in sync, and move faster, resulting in increased productivity.

“Productivity is probably the biggest benefit that we've seen,” he said. “Everyone knows where to go, and they can find information quickly, which results in the quality of our end product being better because people can use the time that they saved to improve the product.”

Though they’re still using some of their past tools, communication is much more streamlined. Greg said he has fewer inbox notifications from other applications, and he’s able to respond faster to those simple queries and can turn to Threads for more detailed discussions.

“I would have approximately 50 email notifications a day before Threads,” he said. “Now, there's still some of those conversations that take place, but it's a manageable amount. And typically, I can respond to those comments without having to snooze the notification to come back later.”

Threads also helped WillowTree to limit meetings by using Threads for long-form discussions and decision-making. When meetings are necessary, the team uses Threads almost like an agenda. They’ll discuss active threads and the next steps or action items surrounding them. Meeting notes are then also documented within the platform so people can keep moving forward.

“When we do have to have meetings, they are made more efficient by the usage of Threads,” Greg said.

WillowTree’s next steps with Threads

After a successful few months, Greg said he’s looking forward to using the platform at WillowTree on an ongoing project-by-project basis.

Project teams can choose to adopt Threads as they see fit. Greg said there’s an upcoming project that he thinks will be a great opportunity to utilize Threads. It’s similar to the project he’s been working on, but with a different team and client. The new team will be able to access the knowledge base Greg's group already created in Threads, along with building out their own space for discussions.

Overall, Greg said he encourages teams to give it a try.

“Threads takes the place of a whole bunch of different communication mechanisms and simplifies the conversations that happen over time,” he said. “It's like email, but actually manageable. It's been a good tool, and we've really enjoyed it.”