As businesses eye a return to the office, many are settling on a mixed approach to remote and in-office work. For those outside of the workplace, this creates challenges in re-creating serendipitous and ad-hoc interactions — the digital equivalent of a tap on a colleague’s shoulder, or watercooler chat.

With the launch today of Slack Huddles — first discussed as a prototype last October — Slack hopes to lower the barrier to start conversations in its app with “audio-first” meetings reminiscent of Clubhouse, Discord and other voice-based tools.

Slack Huddles provides a more casual and informal approach to meetings that video apps tend to lack, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said in a presentation Monday. “Just like email is not a great means to base all of your internal communication on, the formats that we have for meetings — blocks of 30 minutes, everyone in the conference room, or a screen of little rectangles and video feeds of people’s faces — that can’t possibly be it,” he said.

“[It means] moving from a world where meetings have to be structured, to where they can be more ad hoc and spontaneously emerge and get some of that serendipity back in the conversations,” he said.

Slack users can start an audio meeting with colleagues in either channel conversations or with direct messages by clicking a “headphones” icon in the left-hand sidebar. Once started, participants can share their screen to discuss a shared document, for instance. It’s also possible to start an audio chat room with external participants, Slack said.

“[Slack Huddles] provides Clubhouse-like functionality inside of chat rooms and allows it to better compete with alternatives like Discord,” said Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at research and advisory firm Metrigy.

However, he expects Slack Huddles to be more of a niche feature, “as most Slack customers already have a meeting app that they’ve integrated into Slack” such as Google Meet or Zoom, for example. “Slack will need to educate customers on when it makes sense to use Slack Huddles versus other meeting apps (or Slack’s own video meeting capabilities),” Lazar said.

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