New Slack feature takes aim at Zoom — and video meeting burnout

For those missing the easy access to desk neighbors at the office, Slack is here to help.

The work-messaging platform introduced a new feature this week called Huddles, an audio tool that allows team members to communicate inside a Slack channel or via direct message.

As offices slowly begin to reopen, workers that are either still working remotely or on a hybrid schedule could find the Zoom-killer feature useful since it’s designed to encourage collaboration without burning you out.

How Slack Huddles works

Remember when teammates would drop by your desk to gossip, or when there was a problem that needed a quick remedy and not endless video conferences?

Mimicking pre-pandemic office encounters has been difficult with remote work, but Huddles are geared at keeping conversation casual and creating a space where people can talk — and not feel so staged.

The tool can be activated with one click. The goal is to replicate on-the-fly run-ins without requiring cameras. This is especially useful for anyone battling burnout from too many Zoom calls and workers alway on the go.

Focusing on immediate talk — not appearance

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told The Verge that Huddles is for the kind of spontaneous office encounters that have disappeared due to the pandemic.

“It allows for two- or three-minute conversations,” he said about Huddles, which is designed for short conversations. “If you have to schedule a call… you talk for the full 30 minutes instead of the two or three minutes you needed right in that moment.”

In the interview, he added that while Huddles is only audio-only, it could potentially lead to “video sharing at some point.” However, the main aim of its current purpose is to allow people to speak more freely without having to worry about how they or their surroundings appear.

Slack Huddles

“We’ve been living in a world where if all you have is a hammer, everything appears as a nail,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the classic meetings go away, but I think we’ll stop using that hammer on a bunch of things that aren’t really nails.”

What companies have to say about Huddles

Companies like Dell started using Huddles and said that the tool allowed them to address questions in real-time right on the fly.

“Engineers who are interested and available will join, we accomplish our goal and the postmortem is handled back in the channel,” said Karl Owen, senior distinguished engineer at Dell. “We’re able to go from multitasking to focused work and back to multitasking with minimal friction.”

Other companies like Cookpad wanted to do without scheduled video calls.

“Huddles help us stay connected, even when we can’t turn our desk chairs around or run into a colleague at the coffee machine,” Hokuto Hoshi, head of corporate engineering at Cookpad, said.