Slack is a blank canvas. It is intended to be all things to all workplaces, and the key secret to its success is that it can be formed into whatever shape best suits your team. It has moved beyond a basic messenger service because of it interoperability–it can incorporate dozens and dozens of different apps and functions so that colleagues can communicate with each other instantly.
Under that strategy, video conferencing becomes just another way to communicate. The emphasis is on speed of connection, ease of use, and basic functionality. Writing a Slack video call review means viewing video conferencing as a cog within a slick overall communications machine. Slack video calling isn’t particularly pretty, and it isn’t meant to be–it seems to have observed the tradeoff between resolution and speed and chosen the latter. But it works, and if you’re a paid subscriber it works for groups of more than a dozen people at once.
And, as is Slack’s calling card, if that’s not enough you can always access an external video conferencing provider and run it through the shared platform–again, it is all things to all workplaces.
Video Conferencing As a Weapon of War
Just to clarify things, Slack video conferencing is for people already using Slack. VC Daily has previously discussed a trend among social messaging services toward adding basic, no-frills video calling as an uninspired add-on to their core offering, just to prevent people going elsewhere to make a video call (WhatsApp is one of these services). Slack video conferencing fits that description.
Slack added native video conferencing toward the end of 2016, at a time when its feud with Microsoft was going public via full-page press ads. That timing is important, because Slack’s workplace collaboration tool was so successful it gave rise to clones from Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. Slack had to fill out its offering to stay relevant, and presumably added video calling so that its users wouldn’t have to seek out external sources for their face-to-face communication needs.
The result is the video calling platform you use when you don’t have another video calling platform.
Video Conferencing at Its Easiest
One you’re signed up with Slack, making a video call is childishly simple. Everyone within your team is displayed down the left-hand side of the main chat screen–this is still a chat service at heart, remember. To make a call to someone who’s currently online (over desktop, Android, or iOS) you just click their name and then hit the phone icon. With the call in progress you hit the video camera icon and live visuals will be added to you chat. That’s it.
The display follows the now more-than-a decade-old Skype format of a full screen pop-out window, with your colleague taking up the entirety of the main screen and your own image tucked away in the bottom corner. It’s all very easy to navigate, with an uncluttered interface and straightforward options, like naming your video meeting and sending invites.
If you’re using Slack for free, you can only video chat with one person (which is how we tested it), but paying for a subscription gives you access to group calls of up to 15 people (less than Skype and Facebook Messenger allow). The paid service also opens the screen sharing feature, which is important for teams who wish to go beyond a talking heads meeting and introduce multimedia and the like.
There’s a mute feature that lets you cut out any background chatter, and an emoji response system that lets callers respond silently or raise a cartoonish hand to speak next, but that’s where the Slack bells and whistles run out.
Those limitations are to be expected, however, because as I said earlier, Slack isn’t searching for the perfect video conferencing experience. It just wants video to be an option within your perfect workplace collaboration experience.
What is harder to forgive was the poor performance Slack’s service gave me during this evaluation.
Our Slack Video Call Review Conclusion
My personal experience with Slack video calling was less than optimal. Calling between a cable-connected desktop and a wifi-enabled laptop produced blurry, pixelated visuals and some frozen faces. The connection at the time hovered below the average U.S. speed, which is likely a big part of the problem, but switching to Skype and Hangouts produced better images and a more stable connection–and Slack looked much better with the chat window reduced by half.
Even assuming better performance under stronger conditions, which is fair, Slack video conferencing belongs within a Slack community. It’s a great way to elevate a message exchange into a face-to-face chat, and to move from sharing a document to discussing that document within a group. However, this is video calling as formless function. The company is right to fear the rise of Microsoft’s workplace collaboration software, Teams, because its built-in video calling platform is the multifaceted, and recently updated, Skype.
As we mentioned earlier, Slack does let you incorporate another video conferencing provider into the platform, so if you want to stay with Slack and improve your options, you can add an app for a third-party service, such as the consumer-friendly Zoom. Otherwise, make sure you have a solid, reasonably high-speed connection (Slack video calling using unstable coffee shop internet might be tricky) and just accept Slack for what it is–the path of least resistance and a practical, easy way to communicate with your teammates.
Note that while this site is sponsored by Logitech, reviews contain the writer’s own opinions and are not influenced by the views of our sponsor.