Front of Slack headquarters building in San Francisco.

Slack Enhances App To Emulate In-Person Serendipity and Boost Collaboration

June 30, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
By Dom Nicastro

Slack is doing its best to bring real life into the virtual world through its workplace collaboration app.

The Salesforce-owned company rolled out a series of features today designed to emulate serendipitous, in-person workplace collaborative moments, foster asynchronous collaboration and help employees get to know each other better.

Slack Product Updates at a Glance 

  • Slack Huddles: Slack users can jump into “huddles” on the app in a channel or a direct message thread and chat in real-time rather than scheduling a meeting. Slack officials say this recreates the “fast, ambient and informal discussions you miss from the office.” They bill it as an “alternative to video meetings.” (shot across the Zoom bow?)
  • Sharing video, voice and screen recordings: Slack users can record and upload short video or voice clips, with screen sharing, for others to watch and respond to directly in channel. Slack officials say this “offers a flexible alternative to the endless stream of back-to-back meetings and updates.”
  • Slack Atlas: This feature is an enterprise directory that is designed to allow users to navigate from within Slack and connect to colleagues and navigate their organization. Basically, it’s an organizational chart but neatly gathered in the Slack app.
  • Scheduled Sends: Nothing earth-shattering here, but nonetheless Slack has added a capability that allows for asynchronous collaborating. If you want to send a message through Slack but maybe don’t want to send it right away, you can now schedule your messages to send when it’s convenient for your audience. Or really, let's be honest: this is a cool feature when you want to say something but don't want to engage with colleagues about it right away.

“We need to think differently,” Slack Chief Product Officer Tamar Yehoshua said in a Tuesday press briefing ahead of the product releases. “Our customers want to support their employees in all the different ways they work with synchronous or asynchronous, in-person, remote, structured or informal. In order to do this we need to take the same level of intention we had in designing our physical headquarters and bring it to our virtual headquarters.”

Related Article: Do You Need Slack Etiquette?

Recreate Spontaneous, Informal Discussions

Slack Huddles is rolling out to paid teams. Slack is really banking on users wanting to recreate in-person workplace collaboration on its app. Huddles, they say, will help fulfill the gap of missing the opportunity to drop by a coworker’s desk to hash out an idea or catch up with a colleague in the hallway to debrief after a big meeting.

Users can start a “Huddle” with one click in the app in any channel or DM, including with those outside the company. And co-workers can jump in. So when you’re talking to Sarah and Bill, George can just drop into the Huddle to see what’s up. “Slack Huddles are particularly useful when you want to discuss a complex topic on the fly without having to negotiate busy calendars, and want a break from being on camera,” Slack officials said in a blog post.

Yehoshua compared a Huddle to the workplace moment when an employee sees people congregating in a conference room and sticks their head in, and then leaves when they are ready to leave. “Or,” she said, “it's like tapping somebody on the shoulder when you see them working at their desk, or casual hallway conversation,” she said. “And it's also a great way for working teams to quickly swarm on particular tasks. …And I’m really happy to say that it's designed to be inclusive and accessible from the start with live captions available.”

Screenshot showing Slack's new product capability, Huddles.
Slack Huddles

Voice, Video and Screen Recordings

These features are coming to paid teams over the coming months. Instead of coordinating workplace meetings with large groups, Slack’s introducing a new way to create and share video, voice and screen recordings in Slack.

Slack users can record ideas and share in Slack, which now includes a new and playback experience that works with third-party videos. Recordings made in Slack are archived with searchable transcriptions.

From a knowledge management perspective, we must say that’s a pretty strong capability: to have searchable transcripts of people’s comments from archived videos.

“This is the beginning of making sure everyone has access to information that's transparent and searchable,” Yehoshua said. “Voice and video recordings that are on Slack are automatically transcribed so anyone who is in the channel can find them via search.”

The asynchronous voice and video recordings feature is particularly interesting, given the widespread acceptance of video communications at work in the last year, according to Angela Ashenden, principal analyst in the workplace transformation practice at CCS Insight and a CMSWire contributor.

"The prospect of sending a voice or video message is not completely unheard of," Ashenden said. "Many of us do it in our personal lives already, but for work it adds a new dimension to day-to-day business communication and collaboration, helping address the challenges of working on tasks at different times, or from different timezones for example. Asynchronous collaboration is definitely going to be an important theme in technology innovation over the coming months."

Related Article: Slack Tips for Remote Team Collaboration

Putting Rimeto Acquisition To Work

Slack acquired Rimeto in July of 2020 and is now putting it to work through Slack Atlas. Rimeto’s profile and directory features will be integrated into Slack directly through this new product.

Slack Atlas includes featuring company organizational structures, employee start dates and other custom fields. Slack Atlas is available for purchase in the U.S. and Canada only, with broader availability coming soon.

Ashenden called this a "very important" feature for Slack, not least because it starts to elevate the people profiles aspect of the way we work, something that has taken a step back in collaboration tools over recent years.

"Being able to find people, understanding who they are and what their skills are, and build effective teams is a huge problem for businesses, even before you factor in hybrid working," Ashenden said. "I suspect we’ll see a lot more investment in this area from Slack, particularly once it becomes part of Salesforce. Salesforce has been investing a lot in HR and employee enablement recently, so I think this will be an important area of crossover between the two firms once the acquisition finally completes."

Screenshot showing Slack's new product, Slack Atlas
Slack Atlas

What’s Slack’s Move Here?

So what’s at play here? The competition for workplace collaboration and hybrid-work software and hardware is perhaps as intense as it’s ever been. What’s Slack move with these product enhancements?

Slack’s making an effort to enable its app to support a wider variety of informal communications and collaboration, according to Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at Metrigy, which provides business research and consulting services.

“Today, it's primary chat,” Lazar told Reworked.co. “The new features enable easy voice chat for quick conversations without requiring launching a meeting or making a phone call. It will take some user education to break the habit of ‘can I call you?’ or ‘can we meet?’ for when people need to speak to one another, but I think these features will be useful though won't necessarily replace meeting apps. It does make Slack more like popular consumer apps like Discord and Clubhouse.”

As an analyst and a Slack customer, the most important new features are the voice/video messaging and Atlas, Lazar said. He foresees users enjoying the ability to easily record voice/video clips and share those into a channel, especially for things like status or project updates. “And Atlas will help Slack customers more easily engage with one another and find experts to assist as needed,” Lazar said. “Slack's capabilities should help them close the gap with Cisco Webex People Insights and Microsoft Teams-LinkedIn integration.”

Slack's latest quarterly revenue announced early in June was $273.4 million, an increase of 36% year-over-year. 

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