Workplace messaging app Slack wants to give you even fewer reasons to return to the office. The company plans to add video calling to its “Huddle” feature, which as of now allows two or more users to speak to each other via voice chat. Multiple coworkers will also be able to share their screens simultaneously in the same group call after the update goes live. So remember to change your desktop wallpapers and change out of your pajamas before you click the join button.
Announced Wednesday morning at the app’s Frontiers conference, the planned fall update will transform the quick voice-chat Huddles into something that more resembles a shared workspace, including video as well as screen and document sharing. Slack said that users will be able to drop in and out of a video huddle within any slack channel they belong to.
The features have been hinted at for over a year. What’s perhaps the most interesting feature is that huddles will allow multiple people to be able to share their screen at once, displaying each side-by-side. According to Katie Steigman, Slack’s director of product management, fellow users can use a simple marker tool to draw on each other’s screens. Up to 50 people can be in the huddle at once, but the number of tiles that can appear on-screen is limited to 12, which includes screen shares.
In addition, the company announced a new version of Slack meant for government agencies or contractors using high security standards. The company said the new version is already used by parts of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration, Army Software Factory, as well as contractors like Lockheed Martin. That dedicated government version of the app should be available some time in July.
Steigman said the point of huddles is to be “lightweight,” meant to speedily get coworkers on the same page without having to transfer to other apps. She stressed the new features aren’t meant to replace apps like Zoom for those longer meetings or for webinars with audiences above 50.
“We wanted to start supporting the use cases where work is happening, where you’re having those specific conversations within your team,” Steigman said. “We want to complement what’s already happening in Slack, not try to do everything.”
Slack Video Huddles start in a minimized screen at the bottom left of the app, and then can be transformed into a group video conference similar to Discord. A chat log remains on the right part of the app for users to post messages and documents. After a meeting, the chat log gets saved and put back into the channel where the huddle was started.
These features aren’t revolutionary by any means, but they do add an extra layer of expedience to the workday, and members aren’t required to turn on video when they slide into the huddle chat. Slack has tried to position itself as a semi-casual work platform with Instagram-like features. Huddle users will be able to add reactions to other users with emojis, effects, and stickers that remain up on the screen. Steigman said the system is designed to condense notifications and reactions to reduce spam.
Slack and other workplace chat apps play large roles in companies’ work-from-home or hybrid policies. Slack’s user survey from April this year says that more than a third of full-time workers in data, creative, or leadership positions have gone back to working in the office full time, whereas 66% are working partly in the office. The company further reports that those employees who returned to the office full time said they had worse work-life balance and stress.
After spending so much time working from home during the worst days of the pandemic, many tech employees are rejecting companies that lack remote work policies. Salesforce, which owns Slack, advertises multiple hybrid working options. Some like Tesla CEO Elon Musk have mandated that anybody working for him must be in the office 40 hours a week, which Musk described as “less than we ask of factory workers.” This is a particular sticking point for Twitter workers, who fear what should happen to their permanent remote work policy if Musk eventually buys the company.