In the Before Times, we used to huddle in real life. Free of the formalities of a meeting or the intellectual rigor of a brainstorm, a huddle was spontaneous, productive, and (mostly) good-sported, the workplace equivalent of a basketball team taking a time-out to strategize. A huddle happened when a colleague strolled by your desk and asked for a quick sec that stretched to five minutes. We huddled by the water cooler, or in the kitchen. Then 2020 arrived and, well, we all know what happened next.

Last June, the popular workplace chat app Slack introduced Huddles, an audio-only feature designed to replicate the real-life thing. It was an immediate hang space, launched easily from within a Slack channel or a direct message. And it has been, according to Slack, a hit. It’s the fastest-adopted feature in Slack’s nine-year history. Nearly 44 percent of Slack’s paying enterprise customers use Huddles on a weekly basis, which equates to a combined 243 million minutes per week. Most Huddles last only 10 minutes, which may not please the engagement gods but speaks to a certain efficiency—much like those IRL huddles.

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Now Slack is adding more bells and whistles to Huddles. At its annual conference on the future of work, Slack announced a revamped version of Huddles that claims to transform the humble Huddle into a “coworking space.” And the most significant new feature in that vision for the future of work is … video chat.

The new Huddles, when it rolls out in the fall, will include video chatting much like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Slack has offered one-on-one and group video calling since 2016, but the feature isn’t easy to locate; by moving it into Huddles, Slack hopes it can ride some of the momentum that these audio chats have gathered. Video in Huddles will include a blurred background option, as is now standard on video meetings apps. Screen-sharing will soon be an option in Huddles, too, and multiple people will be able to share their screens simultaneously (which, if we’re being honest, sounds chaotic).

Users can also fire off Slack “reacji”—emoji, effects, and stickers—during video chats, which float across the frame. And live chat logs that happen during Huddles, as well as any links or documents shared, will be automatically saved in the channel or message thread from which the Huddle was launched.

It is indeed the Zoomification of Slack, though Slack appears allergic to the Zoom comparison. Slack’s senior vice president of product, Noah Desai Weiss, says video meetings serve “a ton of important use cases” but that the new Huddles is something different. “We’re really focused on an area we think is underserved, which is, how do you get a small team to be able to actually cowork together in a shared digital space?”

Fair enough. Slack Huddles exists as a feature within Slack, which means you can’t use Huddles to send a Zoom-like link or invite them to a scheduled video meeting. Huddles also caps the number of participants—to 50 people in the business version of Slack, or just two for free Slack users.

That leaves Slack, which was acquired by Salesforce last year for $28 billion, teetering between diving into the videoconferencing market and trying to stay outside it. “That’s a market with a lot of big dominant brands—Cisco, Zoom, Microsoft. And it’s tricky being in an adjacent market,” says Mike Gotta, a research vice president at Gartner who analyzes workplace collaboration and employee communication software. “Once you start offering some of those features, well, then you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.”

One of the more befuddling aspects of the new Huddles is why, if it was already such a success, Slack would want to mess with it. There is one obvious answer: because Zoom and Teams actually are competitors, and Slack wants to draw users back into Slack as much as possible. It's also possible that Slack may eventually charge big businesses more for certain Huddle features, though Desai Weiss says that the full experience is available on all three of Slack's paid plans and that it has no plans to change that. The company built the new Huddles, Desai Weiss insists, because users were “enthusiastically asking” for the original version to be extended with new features. 

Still, there seems a real risk of bloating Huddles, which, as one WIRED editor put it, could be akin to attaching a Conestoga wagon to a race car. If Huddles is one of the closest things we have to spontaneous, swing-by-your desk communication at work right now, why bog it down with videos and chat boxes and reaction emoji? Video apps like Zoom have become an actual lifesaver during a time when our real-life interactions were forced into virtual spaces. But they’ve also made us less mobile, and cognitively exhausted.

Slack says Huddles will still support impromptu conversations, living one click away from any channel or DM starting in audio-only first. And at least Slack will not attempt to detect its users’ fatigue from their facial expressions or voice tones in Huddles. Zoom has recently come under fire for a feature for sales teams that tries to infer a person’s engagement and patience during calls. When I asked Desai Weiss about this, he replied, “Honestly, until you asked that question, I had never even thought about that, and I can safely say we have no plans or intentions of doing anything in that vein.”

Until people start using the new version of Huddles, the better-or-bloated debate won’t be settled. And even if Huddles is the future of work chats, the future of actual, physical work spaces still hangs in the balance. Slack is betting that the office of the future is hybrid, with some in-person days, some work-from-home days, and more teams scattered across time zones and space. “Now that we’re 27 months in [to the pandemic], we’re seeing that this new normal isn’t a snapback to the five-day work week,” Desai Weiss says. “The new normal is embracing the flexibility that it turns out people always wanted, but never had access to before.” 

That’s certainly one way to position another video chat app, which might make even the most office-averse worker yearn for the days of IRL huddles.