Slack unveiled a series of improvements on Wednesday that make the platform more accessible and navigable for all business users. The upgrades make it easier to access channels, find key conversations and apps, start a new message, organize channels, and toggle to different apps via shortcuts, according to a blog post.

SEE: 10 Slack tips: A how-to guide (TechRepublic)

Twelve million people use Slack every day, with the average paid user spending more than nine hours every workday connected to the platform, the post noted. While the beginnings of Slack mainly hosted tech users, the audience has since changed.

“Over the last four years, the mix of tech to non-tech has definitely drastically shifted towards non-tech being a vast majority of our users,” said Ilan Frank, vice president of enterprise product at Slack. “And those users have a different expectation for software than tech workers.”

Another component of the changing audience is what Frank referred to as “later adopters: Companies that just start deploying Slack in their tech department. They also have different expectations for software than the companies that jumped on Slack three or four years ago when we were brand new.”

This new version of Slack aims to address the needs of all users, while not disregarding existing users. Overall, this latest Slack iteration is simpler and more organized than the previous, Frank said.

As more professionals move to remote work in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these collaboration tools become even more crucial for business communication.

Slack’s new features

  • Navigation bar

Image: Slack

One of the first items users will notice is the new navigation bar, which makes toggling between recent conversations much easier. Mentions, message reactions, files, people, and apps are now all listed in the navigation bar, as well as a clear search bar at the top, Frank said.

“The left and right arrows here work just like they do in your internet browser,” Frank said. “That clock icon is your recent history, just like you’re familiar with it from your browser. You could go back before with keyboard shortcuts, but who can remember those hundreds of keyboard shortcuts?

SEE: IT pro’s roadmap to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“Those keyboard shortcuts still work, it’s just that we’ve elevated them to the top navigation. And also with “#help” [channel]. As people get comfortable with this new way of working, we want them to be able to reach out to us with one button click,” Frank added.

Paid users will also be able to organize their channels, direct messages, and apps into customizable sections within the navigation bar. Users can place any of these features under a unique section, which the users themselves can name. Simply drag and drop a channel or conversation to a section, according to the release.

“You can also customize the width of the sidebar. For six years, that was fixed width, but now that we allow you to have up to 84 characters in a channel name, it’s important to stretch it out and be able to see those longer channel names,” Frank said.

“And finally, we’re going to announce or launch some new color schemes that have been requested by many users to make Slack look like what you kind of want it to look like,” Frank added.

  • New message button

The Slack upgrade also features a dedicated compose button for starting new Slack conversations. Instead of picking a channel or person first, users now draft the message first before deciding the recipient, Frank said.

Image: Slack

“These individuals that are coming in are used to the workflows of email. In email, you start a new message by clicking on the new email button,” Frank said. “We want it to be empathetic, even in that light cognitive load of selecting a channel first, and give them the option to first just create the message and write out their message.”

If the user has to tend to another task in the middle of composing a message, the message draft will be automatically saved, according to the post.

“This also helps organizations that are using Slack for corporate communications,” Frank said. “They’re writing longer form messages where you really need to see an entire page worth of a message before sending it out. This is a great place to create those messages and then hit the send button when you’re done to send it into a channel or to a specific person.”

  • App shortcuts

Slack has been integrated with many third party work tools, but before, these apps were difficult to access.

Image: Slack

“Until now, the way to access applications is through slash commands or through a bot. slash commands, again, great for technical folks, not as comfortable for people that are not developers,” Frank said.

SEE: The tech pro’s guide to video conferencing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Prior to this upgrade, some 41% of Slack users said they didn’t know various apps were installed since they couldn’t easily see them. Another 78% said they would value having a dedicated place to see what apps they have installed on Slack.

Now, with the little blue lightning bolt button at the bottom, users can easily view and access their installed apps such as Google and Outlook Calendar, Google Drive and OneDrive, Giphy, Simple Poll, Freshdesk, and WebEx.

Creating the update

This iteration of Slack was created using an interactive building process, incorporating actual Slack users along the way, Frank said.

“In January, we invited 70 customers into a channel and we shared the designs with them,” Frank said. “Later, we actually allowed them to install the alpha when it was available and collected feedback from them on a regular basis.”

Slack made sure to work with some of its “super users,” or veteran users who have had Slack for years.

“We wanted to make sure that it still worked for them,” Frank said. “All keyboard shortcuts, slash commands, anything that you were really used to using before, still works. We haven’t removed anything that worked before. But, we found that these technical users, after several days of using this, really did not want to go back.”

The new Slack will begin rolling out for all users on March 18 and be completed over the next several weeks. In a few weeks, an updated mobile version of Slack will also be available, which will feature 11 new color themes and sidebar width customization, according to the release.

For more, check out Downloads of Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams skyrocket as enterprises move to remote work on TechRepublic.

Image: iStockphoto/oatawa