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Slack Canvas helps tame information overload in chat

Slack chat can bury vital knowledge under a flood of new messages. The company said its Canvas tool will let workers pull out, save and collaborate on specific material.

Slack will launch a tool called Canvas that saves time by helping workers find essential information quickly within Slack chats.

Canvas, which Slack will release next year, is like a virtual whiteboard or webpage where teams can create and edit content. The tool, unveiled at Salesforce's Dreamforce conference this week, will address one of Slack chat's shortcomings -- the tendency for new messages to bury vital data. Slack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Salesforce.

"[With Canvas], you can easily pull out the information that gets sent in a channel message and pull it over to Canvas, so it doesn't get lost in the stream," said Nate Botwick, vice president of product at Slack.

Employees searching for data lose time, which lowers productivity. The average office worker spends about 20% of the workweek trying to find internal information, according to a report from consulting firm McKinsey.

Canvas can hold more than chat messages. Workers can add text, images, YouTube videos, Twitter posts and file links. When teams share a file from Salesforce software such as Tableau or third-party products such as Jira and GitHub, they will see a preview of the content in Canvas.

Workers can also perform tasks in Canvas. Following its $27.7 billion acquisition of Slack, Salesforce tied the collaboration program more closely to its suite of products by including the ability to trigger Salesforce actions from chat. That capability will also work in Canvas, enabling workers to click a button to request time off or start an incident report.

A Slack Canvas example screenshot
Workers can complete tasks, such as requesting a new phone from IT, from within Slack Canvas.

Slack sees multiple uses for Canvas, including employee onboarding, company newsletters and executive briefings.

Canvas could enable a new worker to complete first-day tasks such as requesting equipment from IT, watching orientation videos and learning about co-workers entirely within Slack.

"You can be reading about what you need to do on your first day and actually be taking those actions right in line, without jumping to another tool or leaving Canvas," Botwick said.

Canvas encourages workers to use Slack for more than just chat, Metrigy analyst Irwin Lazar said. Like collaboration products Microsoft Loop and Notion, Canvas provides a place where employees can view and edit different content without juggling multiple applications.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see canvases become the primary means for group collaboration [on Slack]," Lazar said.

Slack expects to launch Canvas in the first half of 2023.

With the Canvas introduction, Slack made video generally available in its impromptu meeting tool, Huddles. The update lets workers hold quick video conversations and share their screen with Huddles, which previously only allowed audio interactions. The feature lets teams collaborate visually without opening another collaboration product, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Slack also took a step toward enabling workers to automate work processes. The company placed its automation tools in open beta, allowing third-party developers to create "building blocks" that trigger actions from within Slack. Workers will combine those blocks in Slack's Workflow Builder tool to create an automated string of activities. For example, a Salesforce Service Cloud alert could prompt the creation of a Slack channel and invite team members through the PagerDuty app.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole Times, Sharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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