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Slack is bridging email to chat, improving calendar integration and search

Slack is bridging email to chat, improving calendar integration and search


Most of the new features will be available later this year

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Slack arrived more than five years ago with the bold attempt to try to kill email in the workplace. It’s 2019, we’re all still sending emails, and Slack may have even made emails stronger. Thankfully, Slack has realized that our email and calendaring solutions are useful and should work more closely with its chat software. We’ve seen this recently with Office 365 integration, and now the company is going a few steps further by bridging email and calendaring directly into Slack.

Slack has built a new bridge between its service and email. If you’ve got someone in your organization who refuses to use Slack or if they’re a new hire who still hasn’t signed into the service, then you’ll still be able to chat with them straight from within Slack. In the coming months, you’ll be able to @-mention these people in channels or send them a direct message, and it will route these messages to their email inbox. Replies will come straight back into Slack, and the back-and-forth exchange will also transform into a full Slack history if the person decides to join Slack.

Unfortunately, this bridge is only enabled if admins have provisioned these Slack users inside an organization, so you won’t be able to just Slack people by email just yet. It’s a first step toward fully bridging email into Slack, though. You could imagine Slack might let you send emails to contacts outside your organization in the future and then directly connect you via the messaging service. This could truly help move email from a back-and-forth system to real-time communications.

This email bridge is only part of Slack’s new improvements, and the company is getting far smarter about how it handles calendar integration. You’ll soon be able to sync your Slack status to your Outlook or Gmail calendar so colleagues will know when you’re in a meeting or out of the office. Slack will also detect when you’re talking about creating a meeting and underline things like “today,” which you can click on to create a meeting in Gmail or Outlook.

Meetings typically have calls associated with them, and Slack is going to allow its partners like Zoom, Hangouts, and Webex to show who is on the call within Slack and the ability to quickly join. This is all part of the deeper integration of Google Calendar and Outlook into Slack. If you missed a meeting, then Slack might even display a replay in a common view. This smarter calendar integration should be available in Slack later this year.

Another big part of Slack is search, and it’s fair to say it hasn’t always been easy to manage. Currently, you can search using the search box or perform quick commands from Cmd + K or Ctrl + K to navigate around Slack. Both of these are now being combined into a single universal search where you can find unread channels or direct messages and quickly be able to navigate around. This new search interface should be available in the coming weeks.

The last big improvement Slack is making is something the company calls “workflow builder.” It’s essentially a way to let any Slack user create a basic app for routine tasks without having to learn code. We’ve seen Amazon do similar things with Alexa Blueprints, and Slack’s approach lets you create things like HR forms, employee surveys, or even a welcome message for new hires. Slack users will no doubt come up with interesting ways to use this new functionality, and I think most will find it useful for organizing lunch spots or dates when everyone is free for a meeting. This workflow builder will be available later this year, and a preview will be available soon.