Power

Slack's redesign eyes its next source of growth: Regular people

"If the software makes them feel stupid, they'll bail," Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told Protocol. The new design arrives after years of focus on adding features and amid fresh competition.

Stewart Butterfield, chief executive officer of Slack Technologies, Inc., speaks during an interview outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company's initial public offering

Slack's new redesign "will make a lot of important functionality more easily available," said CEO Stewart Butterfield.

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Slack revealed one of the most significant redesigns in its recent history Wednesday, hoping to make it easier for its growing user base to communicate with colleagues and organize their working lives at a time when businesses have become suddenly reliant on workplace collaboration software.

The new design and features arrive after a week in which Slack has seen "unprecedented, explosive growth in everything," said Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, in an interview with Protocol. Thanks to the global restrictions on travel prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, a lot of the company's customers are using Slack much more than they were a week ago, and a lot of those customers are relatively new to the app, he said. (The company has not publicly quantified the increased usage in any way.)


Protocol Cloud, your weekly guide to the future of enterprise computing. Sign up now.


The redesign, which was planned long before the current uptick in demand for the service, was sparked in large part by the realization that newer users have a hard time discovering the tools and settings that can help them manage their Slack activity, and it also makes it easier for brand-new users without a lot of activity to get up and running, Butterfield said. The new look also arrives as Slack faces new competitive pressures from Microsoft and its Teams product, which is now used by 20 million people a day (compared to 12 million daily Slack users) and which Microsoft is heavily incentivizing its partners to sell.

"We've had five-plus years of kind of the same overall framework, and during that time we've added enormous amounts of functionality, [roughly] 80% of all the features in Slack were invented after the basic UI," said Butterfield, who founded Slack in 2014 after a long career as a product designer and tech executive. "So there's just an enormous amount of product debt and design debt that was right to be paid off."

A new compose button will let Slack users write their message in a pop-up text box before choosing the intended destination of that message, which might help prevent embarrassing mistakes while hiding the usual sign that you're writing something big: the prolonged "Tom Krazit is typing" message that appears below the main text-entry box on Slack. People will also now be able to organize channels, apps and people under custom topics within the left-hand navigation bar.

"For people who are existing hardcore users of Slack, this new design will make a lot of important functionality more easily available, because we're pushing certain things into the background," Butterfield said. "It will make it much easier for people to manage really active Slack instances because they're able to create their own categorization for channels and collapse a whole bunch of them at once."


Slack compose button Slack's new compose button is one of the new features intended to make the chat app friendlier to new users.Courtesy of Slack.


Several other new features bow to the fact that while Slack rose to prominence as the darling of the Silicon Valley startup world, newer users aren't as interested in pushing the boundaries of what Slack can accomplish, and therefore often don't realize how many tools and settings they can access, Butterfield said.

"A big goal for this redesign was, how do we make it simpler for people to use Slack, enable people to be more organized, and how do we make it easier for them to access all the tools they use," said Brian Elliott, vice president and general manager for Slack Platform.

"People hate, hate, hate to be made to feel stupid," Butterfield said. "If the software makes them feel stupid, they'll bail."

Slack applications will now be available through a lightning-bolt button that will appear in the main text entry box, which will also hide — but not remove — some of the "slash commands" prized by more-experienced Slack users. A new navigation bar at the top of the Slack window promises to make it easier to switch between frequently used channels and pending messages.

The concepts behind the redesign underscore that Slack wants to be a workplace hub based around "channel-based messaging," Elliott said, which is a unique experience the company believes it pioneered.

He emphasized that Slack users spend an average of 90 minutes a day engaged with the product, a number for which there is no easy comparison with Microsoft Teams. And Butterfield noted that Microsoft Teams customers who want to use it across their entire organizations are currently limited to 5,000 users per organization, and can only set up five 5,000-user organizations. (A Microsoft representative later clarified that Microsoft Teams can be used across organizations with more than 25,000 people, but that it requires setting up multiple "tenants," or Office 365 accounts.)

"We've seen very, very few uses of Teams that are at all like the way people use Slack," Butterfield said. In his experience, most Teams users consider it a replacement for Skype for Business ( which Microsoft is phasing out next year), and use Teams as a hub for voice and video calls, features that are available in Slack but less developed: Slack actually uses Zoom for internal voice and video calls, he said.

Still, Slack investors have not reacted well to the growth of Microsoft Teams, although recent market activity makes everybody's stock look pretty bad right now compared to a year ago.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


Earlier this month Slack reported earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations, with a 49% jump in revenue compared to the previous year, but its stock fell precipitously in the aftermath of that earnings report thanks to lower-than-expected guidance being issued right at the start of the massive work-from-home movement caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The new features will begin rolling out Wednesday for desktop users, arriving over the next few weeks. A new edition of Slack's mobile app that incorporates the new features will follow.

Clarification: This post was updated March 19 to include a statement from Microsoft regarding how many people in one company can use Teams.

Workplace

You need a healthy ‘debate culture’

From their first day, employees at Appian are encouraged to disagree with anyone at the company — including the CEO. Here’s how it works.

Appian co-founder and CEO Matt Calkins wants his employees to disagree with him.

Photo: Appian

Matt Calkins often hears that he’s polite, even deferential. But as CEO of Appian, he tells employees to challenge each other — especially their bosses — early and often.

“I love arguments. I love ideas clashing,” Calkins said. “I regard it as a personal compliment when someone respectfully dissents.”

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Gopuff says it will make it through the fast-delivery slump

Maria Renz on her new role, the state of fast delivery and Gopuff’s goals for the coming year.

Gopuff has raised $4 billion at a $15 billion valuation.

Photo: Gopuff

The fast-delivery boom sent startups soaring during the pandemic, only for them to come crashing down in recent months. But Maria Renz said Gopuff is prepared to get through the slump.

“Gopuff is really well-positioned to weather through those challenges that we expect in the next year or so,” Renz told Protocol. “We're first party, we control elements of our mix, like price, very directly. And again, we have nine years of experience.”

Keep Reading Show less
Sarah Roach

Sarah (Sarahroach_) writes for Source Code at Protocol. She's a recent graduate of The George Washington University, where she studied journalism and criminal justice. She served for two years as editor-in-chief of GW's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet. Sarah is based in New York, and can be reached at sroach@protocol.com

Enterprise

AT&T CTO: Challenges of the cloud transition are interpersonal

Jeremy Legg sat down with Protocol to discuss the race to 5G, the challenges of the cloud transition and nabbing tech talent.

AT&T CTO Jeremy Legg spoke with Protocol about the company's cloud transition and more.

Photo: AT&T

Jeremy Legg is two months into his role as CTO of AT&T, and he has been tasked with a big mandate: transforming the company into a software-driven business, with 5G and fiber as core growth areas.

This isn’t Legg’s first CTO gig, just his biggest one. He’s an entertainment biz guy who’s now at the center of the much bigger, albeit less glamorous, telecom business. Prior to joining AT&T in 2020, Legg was the CTO of WarnerMedia, where he was the technical architect behind HBO Max.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Workplace

How Canva uses Canva

Design tips and tricks from the ultimate Canva pros: Canva employees themselves.

Employees use Canva to build the internal weekly “Canvazine,” product vision decks, team swag and more.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Ever wondered how the companies behind your favorite tech use their own products? We’ve told you how Spotify uses Spotify, How Slack uses Slack and how Meta uses its workplace tools. We talked to Canva employees about the creative ways they use the design tool.

The thing about Canva is that it's ridiculously easy to use. Anyone, regardless of skill level, can open up the app and produce a visually appealing presentation, infographic or video. The 10-year-old company has become synonymous with DIY design, serving as the preferred Instagram infographic app for the social justice “girlies.” Still, the app has plenty of overlooked features that Canvanauts (Canva’s word for its employees) use every day.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins