Slack keeps up with the coronavirus pandemic through new updates like corporate DMs

Slack’s popular corporate messaging app is getting several new updates to help the wave of companies frantically shifting to accommodate employees now working from home.

The workplace software company announced the new tools on Wednesday as part of its Frontiers user conference, which like many other recent tech events, is now online owing to the impact of COVID-19.

As Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua explained in an earlier interview with Fortune, Slack’s internal research concluded that overall, “people are pretty positive about” working from their homes. 

However, she added, “We are finding that people have an increased feeling of loneliness and isolation,” underscoring the challenges companies face dealing with workers who may be struggling with mental health and grief in the coronavirus pandemic.

Arguably the biggest update Slack is making to its chat app is giving employees the ability to send workers outside their organizations direct messages, or DMs. With the new feature, which will debut in early 2021, a worker at Company A can send another employee at Company B a request to chat in a direct message, as long as both of their employers are connected in some way, such as through a partnership or customer relationship.

When the person at Company A sends the DM request to the worker at Company B, a new chat will appear that’s hosted on the Slack account of Company B.  

To accompany the new corporate DM feature, Slack is also debuting a feature for corporate IT managers so they can preapprove certain Slack channels to allow people from other organizations to participate in channels deemed appropriate for third-party employees to chat about work projects.

“We assume it’s someone you already know,” Yehoshua said. “We want to be careful on not allowing spam on the forum.”

The company also plans to debut in 2021 its verified organization feature, which will let people know via a check mark that they are communicating with people from other companies deemed appropriate by their management.

Slack is also debuting new features to make it easier for companies to better integrate their various workplace tools within Slack. It’s part of a larger initiative by Slack to make its app work better with other enterprise apps

Although not part of the company’s new updates, Yehoshua also said that Slack is trying to simplify the process of onboarding new employees to Slack, so companies can more easily get their workers up to speed with the program as they shift to work-from-home environments.

Additionally, Slack said that it’s thinking of new ideas to make its chat app more attractive to users, although such ideas won’t necessarily be debuting anytime soon.

Yehoshua said Slack is intrigued by the possibility of users being able to send short video or audio clips to each other as a way to more quickly discuss or brainstorm ideas without having to commit to a formal video call. The point is to reduce the number of online video calls people may have to make each day, now that they are working from home.

“Zoom fatigue is real,” Yehoshua said. 

While Slack is not currently planning on debuting short video or audio messaging features, the company is an investor in the startup Loom, which is developing similar corporate messaging tools. 

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