Slack’s new video and voice tools are nod to changing face of work

Slack started talking about a new set of communications tools to enhance the text-based channels at the end of last year. Today the company released a new audio tool called Slack Huddles and gave more details on a couple of other new tools including the ability to leave a video message and an enhanced employee directory, which you can access from inside Slack. All of these appear to have been designed with the changing nature of work in mind.

Let’s start with Slack Huddles, the audio tool that lets you have a real-time conversation with someone in Slack instead of typing out all of your thoughts. This will be much easier for people who find typing challenging, but the company also believes it will allow more spontaneous discussion, which mimics being in the office, at least to some degree.

“Huddles is a light-weight, audio-first way of communicating right in Slack. [It] recreates the spontaneous and serendipitous interactions that happen outside of scheduled meetings,” Tamar Yehoshua, chief product officer at Slack explained in a press briefing yesterday.

As companies continue to introduce more flexible working models, they will have to adjust how they work. Huddles is one way of thinking about that, says Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield.

“Some things can be synchronous, but only take three minutes. Instead of [scheduling a meeting for] next Tuesdays from 11:30 to 12 and [using] the whole half hour because that’s what we scheduled, it’s two or three minutes, right now, And if the conversation fizzles out in the Huddle you leave it open, maybe someone joins later and says something, which you wouldn’t do on a call,” Butterfield said.

And recognizing that not everyone will be able to hear, the new tool includes real-time transcription.

The company has also been talking about providing some kind of video message capability since last year. The idea is almost like a video voicemail or an Instagram Story where you shoot a short video and post it in Slack. “We’ve been thinking about it and we believe that by giving people a way to expressively and asynchronously share and consume information we can enable people to be more flexible in how they work, and reduce the need for video meetings,” Yehoshua said.

The new feature will enable Slack users to play back video, voice and screen recordings natively in Slack. People can record and upload short clips into a channel or DM, “enabling others to watch and respond on their own schedule,” she explained.  While this feature isn’t ready to release yet, Yehoshua reported it is being piloted and will be available to paid teams some time in the coming months.

The last piece is based on the Rimeto acquisition, which Slack bought last year with an eye toward upping their corporate directory piece. The Rimeto product has in fact been repurposed as Slack Atlas, a corporate directory that users can access right in Slack, rather than moving to another program to find that information. It’s another way Slack can keep users in Slack to find the information that they need, while avoiding context switching. This is currently in limited customer testing, but should be available some time later this year, according to the company.

Slack first announced these tools last year, initially saying they were experimental, but quickly shifting them to the product road map. Butterfield appeared in a Clubhouse interview in March with former TechCrunch reporter Josh Constine, who is now a SignalFire investor ostensibly to talk about the future of work, but he also went into more detail about these tools for the first time.

It’s hard not to wrap this discussion into the future of work, and indeed Slack’s future as part of Salesforce, which bought the communications tool for $27 billion last year. Work is changing and Slack is looking to be a broader part of that solution, whatever the future holds.


By Ron Miller

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