Blocks stacked tall into the sky

Enterprise collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Workplace from Facebook naturally take center stage for many companies during the world’s unprecedented shift to remote working environments due to COVID-19.

Not that workplace chat and collaboration tools like these weren’t growing before the virus became a world health pandemic this month. Gartner predicted the worldwide market for social software and collaboration in the workplace is expected to grow from an estimated $2.7 billion in 2018 to $4.8 billion by 2023. "Most organizations would have already had an enterprise collaboration tool by now," said David Coleman, senior industry collaboration analyst.

Some, however, are just signing on. Microsoft Teams officials reported March 19 the collaboration app has seen unprecedented spike in usage, growing by 12 million in a seven-day period to 44 million daily users. Those users generated over 900 million meeting and call minutes on Teams each day the week of March 16. 

On March 18, Slack announced in an SEC filing that from Feb. 1 to March 18, it added approximately 7,000 new paid customers. Compare that to each of the third and fourth quarters of the fiscal year ended Jan. 31: through that period, Slack added approximately 5,000 new paid customers per quarter.

What's Happening at Slack, Microsoft, Facebook?

How is your organization collaborating today in the remote-working shift? Ramping up new tools? Beefing up old ones? We know there are a myriad of choices for enterprise collaboration tools. Today we’re highlighting and discussing the latest developments on three of them that may appear on your shortlists: Microsoft Teams, Slack and Workplace from Facebook.

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Slack on App Security, COVID-19

“The security of customer data takes precedence over everything else we do,” Paul Rosania, senior director of product at Slack, told CMSWire in an email interview. “Slack is a critical business tool for millions, and we have an always-on enterprise-grade security program that keeps customers’ data safe and secure. In light of COVID-19, we are executing against our pre-established business continuity and pandemic plans.”

Cal Henderson, co-founder and CTO of Slack, and Robby Kwok, senior vice president of People at Slack, on March 6 co-authored a blog post in which they discussed business continuity during COVID-19. They addressed two primary themes from customers and prospects amid the COVID-19 outbreak: Can Slack’s business continue to run, and can Slack’s infrastructure scale to handle additional load? Slack had 12 million paid users as of October.

Microsoft Teams on App Security, COVID-19

Asked about Microsoft Teams’ response to COVID-19, a Microsoft spokesperson released the following statement: “To further support our customers, we rolled out updates that lifts user limit restrictions in the free version of Teams, and we are also offering a six-month free trial of Office 365 E1 to support businesses not currently licensed for Teams. With these expanded offerings, we hope we're playing our part in supporting public health and safety by making remote work even easier.”

It should be noted that Microsoft Teams suffered a two-hour outage March 16 in Europe. “We’ve taken steps to address an issue that a subset of our customers may have experienced. Our engineering teams continue to actively monitor performance and usage trends,” Microsoft officials said in a statement

Microsoft Teams is built on hyper-scale, enterprise-grade Microsoft cloud, delivering advanced security and compliance capabilities to customers, said a Microsoft spokesperson. Teams complies with 17 global standards, meets the industry’s most stringent security and compliance demands, and helps customers meet their obligations to over 42 local, national, regional, and industry-specific regulations. Content shared within Teams is encrypted in transit/over the wire, and at rest in Microsoft data centers.

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Workplace from Facebook on App Security, COVID-19

Security is always top-of-mind for Workplace, a spokesperson from Workplace from Facebook shared with CMSWire. “Workplace benefits from Facebook’s world class security infrastructure, and even undergoes stringent security verification audits every year,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve achieved certification against ISO27001, ISO27018, SOC2, SOC3 global standards, adhere to the EU-US and Swiss-US Privacy Shield Frameworks, and are GDPR compliant. We haven’t had to change anything following COVID-19, because our security measures have always been above and beyond.”

Workplace, which announced 3 million users in October, is providing access to the Advanced Tier of its virtual work collaboration platform free of charge for governments and emergency services globally for one year. Officials also cited that organizations such as the World Health Organization have free access to the platform through the Workplace for Good program.

Latest Slack Product News

Slack on March 18 released enhancements that officials said will make it easier to work inside Slack. Highlights of the rollouts released over the course of the next few weeks include:

  • Navigate channels and search with a new navigation bar.
  • Discover conversations, files, apps and more at the top of the sidebar.
  • Start a message from anywhere with a new compose button.
  • Organize channels, messages and apps into custom, collapsible sections.
  • Take action with your apps through shortcuts. 

Latest Microsoft Teams Product News

Microsoft Teams officials released a blog March 19 that outlined some new developments in the product, including the following.

  • Real-time noise suppression during online meetings.
  • A raise-hand feature that lets anyone in the meeting send a visual signal that they have something to say.
  • Integration between Teams and RealWear head-mounted devices, where firstline workers will be able to access information and communicate hands-free.
  • A bookings app for managing virtual appointments.
  • Pop out chats into a separate window to help streamline workflow.
  • Offline and low-bandwidth support.
  • Microsoft 365 Business Voice in the US for small-and mid-sized businesses that makes Teams a complete phone system and a new Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan lineup that will include additional licensing options for Firstline Workers.

Latest Workplace from Facebook Product News

Workplace from Facebook last month released Insights, a new section of the Workplace Admin Panel that allows users to track and measure Workplace usage such as employee sentiment, trends within groups, post-level activity and more. Users can track information on people, content, groups, posts and interactions.

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What Excites Slack for the Future?

(Editor’s note: Earlier this year, before the major outbreak of coronavirus, CMSWire asked officials at Slack, Microsoft Teams and Workplace from Facebook officials what excited them about the product roadmap). Slack's Rosania told CMSWire he’s excited about “shared channels.” Shared channels lets two separate organizations work together in a Slack channel, each from within their own Slack workspace. Shared channels enable businesses to interact with their customers, partners and vendors directly in Slack. Slack released shared channels from beta in September and by the end of October, 26,000 paid customers were using shared channels. “Shared channels is the most important innovation in the category since Slack first launched,” Rosania said.

Bear Douglas, Slack’s director of developer relations, said Workflow Builder, which allows users to quickly create customized workflows that automate routine processes and communications directly in Slack, is a promising capability for Slack’s roadmap. “We’re continuing to expand Workflow Builder’s capabilities,” she said. “Last month, we released three new improvements to Workflow Builder: ways to download form responses; to schedule workflows; and kick off workflows from external services using webhooks. We’ll continue to make enhancements to Workflow Builder in order to improve the productivity for teams, whether or not they have access to development resources.”

What Excites Microsoft Teams for the Future?

Karan Nigam, group lead, product marketing for Microsoft Teams, said in an interview with CMSWire said he’s excited about bringing “artificial intelligence (AI) into the everyday experience” into the Teams platform. He cited the capability to translate messages from one language to another. “It’s a small example but a very relevant example for the everyday experience,” Nigam said.

Nigam also cited the example of being able to change backgrounds during Teams-based meetings; blurring out people in backgrounds at coffee shops, for example, or setting customized backgrounds. “The magic really starts happening when you start using artificial intelligence to solve some of these everyday pain points,” Nigam said.

Microsoft Teams also has a “massive opportunity with Firstline workers” and making Teams a relevant experience for some of those industries like healthcare, manufacturing, retail, HR recruitment, marketing and digital agencies. Nigam also said Teams is working on the best ways to bring together multiple generations — with different collaborations strategies and needs — in the workforce.

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What Excites Workplace from Facebook for the Future?

Christine Trodella, head of Americas for Workplace from Facebook, told CMSWire in an interview that Workplace is focused on continuing to serve companies and their employees, regardless of where they get their work done. “Workplace will continue to roll out features that help everyone from the C-Suite to the frontlines connect in a meaningful way, beginning with two recent announcements: Workplace Academy and Insights,” she said. “Workplace Academy is a training hub for all users, including live interactive training, self-paced courses and learning videos. Insights allows IT leaders and HR teams to explore how their employees are using Workplace and discover ways to maximize the value of it internally.

Analyst: Worry Less About Roadmap, More About Today

Diane Myers, senior research director at research firm Omdia, encourages buyers of enterprise collaboration tools not to get too buried into the long-term roadmap — especially now. For most businesses today, she said, tools like Slack, Teams and Workplace will have comparable capabilities. “It’s really about the basics: being able to do one-to-one and group chat, easily share documents vs. emailing files or having live documents when people are working on them in a single repository,” she said. “So to me that's kind of step one building that kind of that collaborative connectedness that so many businesses thrive on.”

Routine Inquiry: Teams or Slack?

That said, certain types of communities flock to some tools more than others. Art Schoeller, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said with Slack he finds a “rare phenomena”: a certain community of users who adore it. And that would be developers. “They love it,” he said. “And you can run them over with a train. And they'll get up afterwards and they'll run with it. The developer community is enamored with Slack.”

Real-time becomes a big part of the conversation when selecting enterprise collaboration tools. Some people often say Slack is superior in this regard to Teams and other tools like Workplace. “That is a big of a stretch for me,” Schoeller said. “Teams can do real-time, too.” Schoeller said he gets many "Teams or Slack" phone inquiries. If your organization relies upon many non-Microsoft web services, Slack might be the way for you to go, according to CMSWire author David Lavenda. "On the other hand," Lavenda wrote, "if Microsoft forms the core of your organization’s IT stack, then it makes sense to standardize on Microsoft Teams, even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Slack."

Microsoft also has an edge because Teams is part of the Office 365 suite, naturally. Most organizations crave the single product solution that the suite provides: one license, one support contact, and (eventually) one smooth user experience, Lavenda wrote. Maybe companies can live in a world where Slack and Teams coexist. It has been reported recently that Slack is working on tech to allow workers on Slack to communicate with those on Teams. 

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Workplace Gets HR Votes, But Is Privacy a Concern?

Workplace from Facebook often gets votes from HR teams because the theory is it's attractive to young users, but, Schoeller notes, the younger generation left Facebook a long time ago.

Coleman noted that it's likely not too many organizations trust Facebook because of its privacy and security mishaps the last couple of years. The company is still feeling the effects of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data scandal. It's constantly touting improved privacy policies.

Dealing With Multi-Tool Reality

The first thing those in charge with managing their workforce’s enterprise collaboration app ecosystem should know is to recognize that it’s rare that any organization standardizes on one tool, according to Schoeller. “It is an absolute myth that organizations standardize on one,” Schoeller said. “I did a presentation at Enterprise Connect last year, and they had a roomful of 150 people. I asked how many of their organizations have more than one messaging app. And 90% of the room raised their hand. As an analyst and researcher, I’d like to say the best practice would be to standardize because you don’t want too many tools in your collaboration toolkit. Too many of them overlap. But I can't tell people to do something as a best practice, when in fact, almost nobody does it.”

To help make the right investment for your organization, it’s not so much looking at what each tool is best at, but more so about who will be using it in your organization, Schoeller said. “It's not what they’re best at," Schoeller said, "it's who’s ending up using it."