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News Analysis

Slack Huddles Up, Zoom's New Collaboration Environment, the Metaverse Gets a Standard & More News

9 minute read
Mike Prokopeak avatar
Slack adds video chat and a new product for the public sector. Zoom announces Zoom One, the metaverse gets a standards forum and more digital workplace news.

This week, it was Slack's turn to outline its thoughts on the workplace, hybrid work and remote working, and introduce some new products, of course.

The Slack Frontiers event took place in person in New York City and on Salesforce+ for remote participants, a nod in the direction of the hybrid future that the collaboration and messaging platform is betting on. The event featured a number of new upgrades that should help workers achieve work goals, the most significant being the announcement that Slack is adding video chat, multi-user screen sharing and a Huddle message thread that automatically saves to channels.

Given the number of video and video-driven chat apps that currently exist on the market, another one could really mix things up. But Huddle itself is not new, so the addition of video is aimed at making Slack chat better, without adding to the meeting overload that many workers are already experiencing.

“As companies have navigated this uncharted world of flexible work, Slack has been rethinking what new tools are needed for the digital HQ," Noah Desai Weiss, senior vice president of products at Slack, told the audience at New York City's Javits Center. "The new co-working capabilities in Huddles provide teams with deeper ways to collaborate and quickly make decisions without leaving Slack — or adding to our overscheduled calendars.”

Slack claims that there is a 95% satisfaction rating with Huddle, which is possible given how easy it is to use. Introduced about a year ago, it was an instant hit with people looking to chat quickly inside Slack without having to set up a separate video meeting. The idea, Slack said at the time, was that it would emulate an office where workers could walk up to colleagues to chat or ask a question about a work project.

Adding video into the mix seems like a good step and will make collaboration more personal and easier. The new video addition should avoid the need to coordinate calendars, schedule time or spin up a meeting in another app. It also works much the same as Huddle currently operates. By default, all Huddles will start as audio-only conversations in a simple, minimized screen. Once the video capability is added, users will be able to turn on video when needed to engage in real time collaboration and communication.

Users will also be able to share screens with teammates, with the ability for multiple people to share simultaneously. In Huddles, multiple people will soon be able to screen-share, making it easier to pull up presentation decks and documents to work on together in real time. The co-working space in Slack Huddles will be available to all teams in fall 2022.

It is clear that Slack is not looking at this as a way to compete with the likes of Teams, Google Meet or Zoom and aims only to improve the entire Slack experience. What's not clear is where this is going to ultimately go. It may be that this simple form of video communication will be enough for many workers and that it will keep users from straying to other apps in the absence of something that enables workers see each other.

GovSlack Brings Slack To The Public and Regulated Jobs

Slack also announced an official government offering called GovSlack. According to Slack, the new offering will be a “natural companion” to Salesforce’s Government Cloud Plus and will work with a directory of app partners.

GovSlack will provide governments and their partners with a secure, centralized digital headquarters. This version of Slack will run in a government-certified cloud environment and provide the same experience that exists in public versions of Slack, while complying with the security and operational requirements of the federal government. The company says that it has completed extensive testing with public sector customers, and that the new product will be launched next month.

Some of the new features of GovSlack include:

  • Support for key government security standards (FedRAMP High, DoD IL 4 and ITAR).
  • Ability to run in AWS GovCloud data centers maintained by US personnel.
  • External collaboration with other GovSlack-using organizations through Slack Connect.
  • Access to encryption keys for advanced auditing and logging controls.
  • Permission and access controls at scale through Slack’s enterprise grade admin dashboard.
  • A library of curated applications including DLP and eDiscovery apps.

GovSlack is also currently pursuing FedRAMP High and DoD SRG IL4 compliance certifications.

The end result is that public sector companies will now be able to pull content form major apps like Box or Okta, the identity security app, into Slack. In the case of Box, which is already present in many government organizations, agencies that require the highest levels of security and support for compliance will be able to use Box Content Cloud within their Slack workplace. This will enable Slack users communicate and collaborate with content saved in the Box Cloud which, Slack said, will deepen citizen engagement. Watch out for GovSlack in July.

Zoom Makes Remote Collaboration Easier

Slack is not the only video communications company with something new to offer this week. Zoom has also been busy, this time with the launch of a new unified collaboration environment called Zoom One.

It may or may not be an accident that Zoom has launched this the same week that Slack has been so busy, but regardless Zoom One is going to be a major addition to the Zoom portfolio and does seem to indicate that Zoom has ambitions beyond video communications.

Zoom One, according to Greg Tomb, president of Zoom in a blog post, pulls together chat, phone, meetings, whiteboard and other solutions to provide teams with multiple ways to connect and collaborate from a single, unified platform. Like Zoom's other offerings, Zoom One also comes in a number of flavors depending on what you are looking for:

Learning Opportunities

  • Zoom One Basic provides free 40-minute Zoom meetings for up to 100 attendees, persistent Zoom Chat for team messaging, limited Zoom Whiteboard for synchronous and asynchronous work, and real-time transcription.
  • Zoom One Pro provides everything Zoom One Basic offers without meeting time limits, plus cloud recording.
  • Zoom One Business provides everything Zoom One Pro offers, plus meetings for up to 300 attendees and unlimited Zoom Whiteboards.
  • Zoom One Business Plus provides everything Zoom One Business offers, plus Zoom Phone Pro with unlimited regional calling and Zoom’s new translation feature.
  • Zoom One Enterprise and Zoom One Enterprise Plus provide everything.

And there’s more. Launching first in Zoom One Business Plus and Zoom One Enterprise Plus packages, Zoom is also introducing translated captions, which will allow users to view captions translated into the language of their choice. At launch, translations will be available between English and 10 additional languages, or from any of the 10 languages to English. Translated captions display at the base of the screen while in a Zoom Meeting. Translations are available in Chinese (Simplified), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian.

The pricing offers a free layer at the basic end and, according to the website, goes up to $220 per user/year for Business Plus packages. There is also an Enterprise offering but that price is only available by getting in touch with the company.

It’s still not clear how any of these video communication tools are going to fare in the new world of hybrid work, or indeed if hybrid work is going to last. A growing number of organizations are insisting that workers return to the physical workplace. It also remains to be seen whether these new offerings have enough appeal to keep Zoom relevant as that return to the physical workplace continues.

The Metaverse Gets Its Own Forum

Finally this week, as the work of defining and building the metaverse continues, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Meta and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft announced the creation of a new group that aims to develop a set of industry standards that will make all the different metaverses that are starting to emerge compatible with each other.

There are other companies involved too, as well as standard-setting bodies like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the group said in a statement announcing its creation on Tuesday. In fact, the Metaverse Standards Forum is made up of some 37 tech organizations, but Microsoft and Meta have been the most vocal about the rise of the metaverse so their participation is notable.

What is equally notable is the absence of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple which is widely expected to become a major player in the space once the mixed reality headset it is rumored to be developing is released later this year or next. Gaming companies Roblox and Niantic also were not included among the forum's participants, nor were emerging crypto-based metaverse platforms like The Sandbox or Decentraland.

However, this is likely to change in the future. Hosted by the Khronos Group, the Forum is open to any company, standards organization or university at no charge through a click-through participant agreement. Companies that wish to provide Forum oversight, and may wish to fund Forum projects, can choose to become a principal member.

By way of explaining its objectives, the Forum stated that its role is to build consensus on which metaverse-relevant interoperability problems can be improved today through standardization work and actionable projects. "We are 'baking the open standard bricks' for the metaverse, not 'trying to design the metaverse cathedral,'" according to the Forum's site.

It added elsewhere: "The metaverse is motivating the novel integration and deployment of diverse technologies for collaborative spatial computing, such as interactive 3D graphics, augmented and virtual reality, photorealistic content authoring, geospatial systems, end-user content tooling, digital twins, real-time collaboration, physical simulation, online economies, multi-user gaming, and more — at new levels of scale and immersiveness."

The creation of common standards and frameworks in the tech industry has always been a difficult and even antagonistic process. How this plays out remains to be seen but as the metaverse becomes more important in the enterprise, the Forum is likely to become an interesting focus for lively discussions on the issue.