In Before At times, we used to squeeze in real life. Free from the formalities of a meeting or the intellectual rigor of a brainstorm, a huddle was a spontaneous, productive, and (mostly) good sport, similar to a basketball team taking a time-out to plan strategies. There was a commotion when a colleague strolled by your desk and asked for a quick second that stretched to five minutes. We huddled together by the water cooler or in the kitchen. Then 2020 arrived and we all know what happened next.
Last June, the popular workplace chat app Slack Huddles introduced a feature designed solely to replicate real life. It was an instant hanging space that was easily launched from a Slack channel or a live message. And that, according to Slack, has been a hit. It’s the fastest-adopted feature in Slack’s nine-year history. Nearly 44 percent of Slack’s paying corporate customers use Huddles on a weekly basis, which equates to a total of 243 million minutes per week. Most Huddles last only 10 minutes, which may not please the engagement gods, but speaks to some efficiency – much like these IRL huddles.
Now Slack is adding more bells and whistles to Huddles. At its annual conference on the work of the future, Slack announced a renewed version of Huddles that claims to transform the humble Huddle into a “coworking space.” And the most important new feature in this vision for the work of the future is … video chat.
The new Huddles, when launched this fall, will include video chat just like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Slack has been offering one-on-one and group video calling since 2016, but the feature is not easy to find; by moving it into Huddles, Slack hopes it can drive some of the momentum these audio chats have amassed. Video in Huddles will include a blurred background option, which is now standard on video conferencing apps. Screen sharing will soon also be an option in Huddles, and more people will be able to share their screens at the same time (which, to be honest, sounds chaotic).
Users can also fire Slack “reacji” – emoji, effects and stickers – during video chat, which floats across the frame. And live chat logs that happen under Huddles, as well as any links or documents that are shared, are automatically saved in the channel or message thread from which Huddle was launched.
This is actually the Zoomification of Slack, although Slack seems allergic to the Zoom comparison. Slacks senior vice president of product, Noah Desai Weiss, says video conferencing serves “a host of important use cases,” but that the new Huddles are something else. “We’re really focused on one area that we think is underserved, which is how do you get a small team to actually be able to work together in a common digital space?”
Fair enough. Slack Huddles are available as a feature within Slack, which means you can not use Huddles to post a Zoom-like link or invite them to a scheduled video meeting. Huddles also limits the number of participants – to 50 people in the business version of Slack, or just two for free Slack users.