Slack is getting Instagram-like stories and push-to-talk audio calls for the pandemic era

Slack is getting Instagram-like stories and push-to-talk audio calls for the pandemic era

Slack is getting ready to introduce Instagram-like stories and push-to-talk audio into its communications software before the end of 2020. Both additions are born out of the shift to remote working during the pandemic era we’re all adjusting to. Slack is hoping these features might cut down on constant video calls or inefficient text conversations, and bring back the impromptu office interactions most people haven’t experienced for months.

While Instagram stories are designed to share your every day life experiences with friends and family, Slack’s stories aren’t really about videos of your pets, favorite food, or vacations. Slack sees the video snippets as a way for remote workers to check in and provide status updates, for example, or to set the daily agenda for a team.

“It’s very much like Instagram stories, or snapchat stories, but in Slack,” is how Slack’s CEO, Stewart Butterfield, explained the new stories video feature in an interview with The Verge this week. “There was a joke going around that soon all software will have it, and I thought that was funny at the time. But especially during the pandemic, and the difference in how we as a company are approaching work, means it’s an idea that’s time has come.”

Prototype of how Slack’s stories feature will work. Slack

“Instead of having this 15-minute daily stand-up meeting, can we record the video earlier… and get rid of the 15-minute meeting?” asks Butterfield. Slack is still experimenting with and prototyping how stories will show up, but these short videos should appear alongside channels, allowing people to use them as a way to check in with each other or even as a form of status updates. “It’s a little bit more of a human way of giving updates,” says Butterfield, and a more informal and flexible way for people to participate in meetings without having to hold a dedicated one.

Video conferencing has never been a core part of Slack, and the company’s direct video and audio calling features haven’t been a particular strong point either, just as Zoom has entered the mainstream. That’s left Slack adjusting to this new era where everyone is suddenly jumping on more video calls for work and even social activities. Slack partnered with Amazon earlier this year to switch to Chime for voice and video calling, and now it’s experimenting with features beyond traditional video calls.

“Video conferencing is obviously not going away, but I think it’s a legacy of the last 20 years of unified communications as a category,” explains Butterfield. “I think over the next 20 years, especially given the stuff that happens with our mobile devices as consumers, I think we need room for more than just video conferencing as a means of people communicating using voice and video.”

Prototype of Slack’s always-available audio feature. Slack

Alongside the new stories feature, Slack is also planning to introduce instant audio. It will work in a similar way to push-to-talk, as a feature to enable spontaneous calls with co-workers within channels.

“The idea is we already have channels… starting a call or scheduling a call can feel pretty heavy whereas when we were all in the office leaning over or shouting out to someone a couple of desks away with a question feels very lightweight, so we’re trying to recreate that,” says Butterfield.

This always-available audio sounds like it will work like a Discord call, where there are always available voice channels that people can hop in and out of and see co-workers online and chatting. “The idea is that the call isn’t something that starts and stops, it’s something you enter and leave and the call is always there permanently associated with the channel,” explains Butterfield.

It seems like an ideal feature for smaller, more agile teams where you quickly need to huddle and discuss a project or idea, without scheduling time for a full video call. “It’s not something that will sneak up on people, it’s meant for very specific participation,” says Butterfield. “It’s meant for generally small teams that are working very close with each other on a specific problem.” Voice can also convey more nuance than a typical text-based Slack conversation can.

Both of these new audio and video features are still in the prototype phase at Slack, but Butterfield says they should arrive “some time this year.” With only a few months left of the year that is 2020, it’s safe to say these features will definitely be arriving soon, but they could be marked as beta or roll out gradually.

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