Slack adds audio chat and video clips to make hybrid work easier


Slack Huddles (Slack)

How do you reproduce the immediacy of everyone working in the same office when we all work from different locations? It quickly became clear over the past year that sitting on end-to-end Zoom calls is not the answer. Today, the Slack messaging platform has rolled out a few alternative solutions that it’s been working on since their first chat as long ago as last October. They bring audio chat and recorded video clips to Slack channels and DMs, in an effort to complement some of the additional capabilities distributed teams will need as the world emerges from lockdown in the hybrid work models of the economy. vaccine.

  • Slack describes its new Huddles audio chat feature as “a lightweight, audio way to communicate in Slack channels or DM chat threads”, calling it “a space to talk on the fly about work.” The idea is to replicate the unplanned informal discussions that take place all the time in an office environment, from morning greetings to pre-meeting preparations and impromptu debriefings. But unlike office conversations, Huddles also has live captions and archival transcripts.
  • The second new feature is the ability to easily create and share short video, voice, and screen recordings right in a Slack channel, so others can watch and respond to them on demand, on desktop or mobile. Recording a short video or voicemail message is already common in consumer messaging. Slack now brings the same quick convenience to the work environment, with the ability to easily add screen sharing with voice or video comments. Viewers can have controls that allow them to speed up or slow down the replay, or they can read the simultaneous transcript, which is also archived and searchable, or use it to jump to specific points.
  • Today also sees the first release of Slack Atlas, a business directory based on Slack’s acquisition of Rimeto last year. This is designed to facilitate connection with colleagues within an organization and understand the skills, interests and roles that each brings to the distributed team.
  • Another new feature this month is the ability to schedule messages to be sent at a time convenient for recipients, rather than immediately – especially useful when team members work at different times or in different time zones. .

Jump on a caucus

It’s about enabling a digitally-driven collaborative approach that supports new ways people want to work, as Noah Desai Weiss, vice president of products at Slack, explains:

No one wants to go back to the old way of working. This new normal is here to stay …

But what is missing is a sense of connection and belonging. It’s the first thing people say has been negatively affected by this far-off world.

Desai Weiss describes using the new Huddles audio feature in his own team’s Slack channel, where people quickly got into the habit of jumping into the huddle in the first place and just saying “Hi” or maybe start chatting socially or about work projects. He says:

It is a very fluid kind of informal gathering. And I’ll tell you Phil, it’s that feeling you get from – nothing planned – just being in the background, this vibe, you hear your teammates’ voices when people come in. It’s the closest thing I’ve felt, at least, to that connection and camaraderie that you get when everyone shows up at the office in the morning.

But everyone is able to literally work from [anywhere]. I think our team is in four different time zones in three different countries. So it’s a sort of magical juxtaposition.

Giving the audio option has been seen by customers as “a breath of fresh air” because it’s less exhausting than making a video call, he says. In some cases, it’s literally the chance to get out, as he explains:

Not only does this reduce the pressure of the video, but it means they can take it anywhere. They can play with their children when they are together, they can easily change devices to be able to walk around.

In more rushed contexts, it offers a more effective way for people to rally around an issue that needs quick resolution. Dell Technologies’ DevOps team has had early access to Huddles and uses voice chat functionality to resolve issues faster. Karl Owen, Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell, describes it as:

An extremely easy way to switch from typing to chatting and back again, whether you’re brainstorming, chasing a bug, or just catching up with colleagues.

Video clips for offline content sharing

The ability to record and share short videos, voices, and screen shares – or any combination of the three – helps team members “shift” their consumption of content that previously required scheduled meetings. Cited in a digital teamwork tips booklet released today by Slack, Eckart Diepenhorst, director of human resources and communications at the mobility as a service provider Free Now, describes the new freedom that comes with sharing of content separate from meetings. He explains:

During confinement, I spent my afternoons taking care of my children. In the past, this situation would have kept me away from some crucial conversations. From now on, I will connect in the evening, when it is more convenient, to catch up and get the work done. Does this mean fewer meetings? Yes, and that’s a positive side effect.

We’re now sharing project updates and documentation across channels, so everyone can absorb content when it’s most convenient for them. In turn, our “face to face” meetings are shorter and more efficient as they are specifically focused on answering questions and making key decisions.

Desai Weiss provides an example of using the new video clip capability to collect feedback asynchronously from team members across different time zones. He says:

How do we take things that maybe didn’t need to be meetings in the first place, and give people new, more expressive tools to be able to communicate asynchronously, without ever having to schedule them in the first place? ? So if you want to do a design review that starts in London, you get feedback in New York, and at the end of the day when, hopefully, the folks in London are out for dinner, your team from the coast. west is able to respond.

The new audio and video communication features are powered by Amazon Chime technology, building on the partnership with AWS first announced last year (and complemented by the new partnership that Slack’s potential parent, Salesforce, has just announced). to announce last week). But Slack has also done a lot of its own engineering to bring the technology into the product. Desai Weiss says, “We are doing a lot of work ourselves to develop these new capabilities. This includes the addition of noise cancellation and voice quality improvements to Huddles audio, as well as the ability to seamlessly switch between devices without giving up. For asynchronous native video recording, most of the features are developed in-house, including the experience of desktop capture, playback, transcription, etc. According to Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, such capabilities are essential to support the digitally-driven work models that are emerging today. Hybrid work is more than dividing time between the office and the outdoors, as he explains:

I think the right question, instead of how many days a week people will be in the office, is how much has the organization brought digital tools and technology to the fore? To what extent has he started to think that software, which supports productivity and collaboration, is as important as their physical offices?

My opinion

Slack was left behind a bit last year as the world suddenly embraced video as a communication channel. But the company’s innate understanding of the new ways of working ushered in by the pandemic is helping it make a comeback. There’s nothing particularly new about what Slack has rolled out today for anyone familiar with Discord or Loom. But Slack refined them for a corporate context by engaging and listening to customers who embrace the radically different new working models made possible by digital teamwork. All of this bodes well for the bottom line when, in the coming weeks, Salesforce is expected to finalize its highly anticipated acquisition of Slack. Next, we’ll see how well the combined entity lives up to the full complex potential of the hybrid workplace.


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