Zoho has launched a suite of new tools for its workplace communication app Cliq in an effort to make remote working feel more like the traditional office.

The new remote work tools on Cliq, which is a direct rival to enterprise chat app Slack, include the ability to “check in” to your workplace as well “peek” at colleagues’ desks via webcam to see if they are available to talk.

Zoho likened the latter to “a virtual equivalent to peeking at a co-worker’s desk to see if they’re free before heading over for a quick discussion.”

Easy check-in, meanwhile, can be connected to businesses’ HR systems so that employees can check in and out of work remotely, as if swiping an ID badge when entering or leaving an office.

Similarly, managers can now approve leave requests directly from Cliq to quickly update resource management.

“With these and many other features, Cliq with remote work tools brings the in-office experience home for improved team morale, collaboration and productivity,” Zoho said.

Downloads of enterprise communication tools have spiked in recent months as employees are confined to working from home.

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Boasting some 50m users, Zoho said Cliq had seen message volume surge by 225% in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile the number of calls made over the platform rose by 1,200%.

In Europe, group calls have increased by a factor of 25, the company said, while increasing 15 times in India and 10 times in the US.

While Zoho has a number of rivals in the workplace collaboration and productivity software space, the latest additions to its chat app appear to be a direct challenge to Slack’s position in the market.

Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist at Zoho, told TechRepublic that the main difference between Slack and Cliq was context, in that its platform integrated with existing enterprise apps and therefore didn’t require users to continually switch between different services.

“This switching between contexts happens hundreds of times each day between several business, productivity and communication apps and is a significant productivity drag,” said Vegesna.

“Contextual integration is the key. You don’t have to switch apps to chat with someone, and you can chat while in email or any other business apps avoiding the context switch.”

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One of Cliq’s new features is the ability to set statuses — which Zoho has labelled “availability transparency” — which allows users to update their work status to show, for example, whether they’re available, busy, at lunch or away from their desk.

There are also auto-timed status updates, which show whether or not a user is active based on their activity with other Zoho apps, such as Zoho Assist or Zoho Meeting.

For meetings, Zoho has added the ability to instantly start group video calls with a single click. Integration with Zoho Writer, meanwhile, allows work teams to more easily manage and share documents.

Vegesna added: “If people treat communication as a silo, Slack works. If they truly believe communication is part of everyday work and every context, then Cliq shines.”