Slack Overhauls its Interface to Put it on Better Footing Against Microsoft

Slack asserts its UI changes will make its collaboration platform easier to use, as well as speed up everyday tasks.
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Five months after rolling out product changes meant to make its app ecosystem a bigger selling point, Slack Technologies  (WORK) - Get Report is overhauling the user interface for its collaboration platform.

The UI overhaul, which was revealed on Wednesday morning, includes changes to Slack’s top navigation bar and sidebar. Slack is also adding a button meant to let users quickly compose messages, and introducing a shortcuts button that provides quick access to various features within both the Slack app and third-party apps.

Slack asserts that the revamped navigation bar will let users more rapidly search Slack and toggle between conversations (the latter has until now required keyboard shortcuts). The top of the revamped sidebar, meanwhile, will feature links for seeing files and mentions/reactions (in addition to threads and apps, as is currently the case).

Also, users on paid plans will now be able to create customizable sections within the sidebar featuring related channels, message threads and apps. And Slack is giving users more ability to tweak the look and feel of its app (for example, sidebar widths can now be adjusted).

Slack's new user interface at a glance. Source: Slack.

Slack's new user interface at a glance. Source: Slack.

Initial actions supported by the shortcuts button include making calls, creating polls, building custom workflows and creating meetings via Cisco Systems’  (CSCO) - Get Report WebEx conferencing platform. Slack, which has over 2,000 apps in its app directory, promises additional shortcut options will be added in time.

During a product briefing, Slack VP Brian Elliott indicated that users also will eventually be able to customize which actions go into the shortcuts button. He also noted that Slack wants to use machine learning to help users find conversations that they’re likely to be interested in, based on both their own past activity and the activity of others.

The UI revamp comes as Slack remains in a pitched fight with Microsoft’s  (MSFT) - Get Report Teams collaboration platform, which is bundled with many corporate Office 365 plans. Last November, Microsoft claimed to have more than 20 million Teams daily active users (DAUs), up from 13 million as of July.

Slack reported having more than 12 million DAUs in November (up from 10 million in Jan. 2019), including over 6 million paid users. The company also used the occasion to suggest its DAUs are on average more valuable than Microsoft Teams’, noting that paid users average more than 90 minutes per workday on Slack and that Slack’s platform handles more than 5 billion actions per week.

Slack’s DAU count might be meaningfully above 12 million at this moment, given the surge in remote work activity that has happened amid the COVID-19 outbreak. During last Thursday's earnings call, CFO Allen Shim noted Slack has seen “a surge in interest” lately, while adding much of the surge involves new users signing up for free plans.

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