Slack Integrates with Outlook and OneDrive: Why?

Further enhancements as Slack nears public listing

Slack Integrates with Outlook and OneDrive: Why?

When Slack bought Astro last year, users, admins and analysts had been wondering what Slack’s interest was in the email provider. The app had been shut down but it seemed a strange move to buy them just to shut them down – though stranger business transactions have occurred.

Would Slack try to make email cool again? Had their strategy turned to buying and killing email providers so they could once and for all say they have killed email? No. Slack CTO, Cal Henderson, said himself that “email will never die” and this latest announcement from Slack backs his theory.

“Email is never going to die completely. Long-term, it is the cockroach of the internet; nobody likes it but it is impossible to eradicate. Email addresses will be around indefinitely. But I think what is going to happen is…more and more use cases, which email isn’t suited to, will move away. If you look at the standard inbox on email today, it is a mix between that internal and external communication, friends and family, spam, marketing messages.

It’s a product that has been in the workforce for 30 years and isn’t scaling to the level of communication people have in the workplace now. As more and more information work becomes teamwork, and collaboration is at the core of that, email is not the right tool for that kind of communication.”

Latest Slack updates

Recognising that most companies are yet to move away from the inbox and the calendar associated with popular email clients, Slack will now integrate with Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft OneDrive.

Here’s what you can do via the integration:

  • Connect Outlook Calendar: Respond to invites, join calls and sync your status with Slack
  • Jump from Slack straight into a call using apps like Microsoft Skype for Business
  • Automatic status sync from Outlook lets teammates know when you’re busy; no longer relying on manually updating your Slack status
  • Send emails to Slack with a new add-in for your Outlook inbox
  • Import and search files from OneDrive
  • Preview entire Office files (PowerPoint, Excel and Word) inside Slack

Why is Slack adding these integrations now?

Other than the obvious bolstering of the platform in the lead up to their direct listing, Slack has a few reasons to have added these features.

The first is simply that people use Outlook, OneDrive and Slack together. There is no formal Slack research but the number of users with Microsoft Office 365 and Slack is large.

Slack included this snippet in a blog post suggesting the reason for integration:

“By using apps to connect Outlook and OneDrive with Slack, repetitive tasks such as checking your calendar or sharing email attachments with a group can be done right from your workspace. Each little improvement to these workflows adds up to a whole lot more time for you and your team to do your best work”.

So, we’re talking productivity. Small gains to make the journey shorter.

You may be guilty of thinking this is Slack backtracking on their “email is bad” mentality. Sure, some companies have got rid of email altogether – and I salute their efforts. However, reality is that whilst you could kill email culture with your own organisation, the rest of the world is not on your level and external communications persist in the form of whatever your client, contractor or supplier uses. The most likely and most common platform? Email. The biggest email platform in the world, still? Microsoft Outlook.

What else is on the horizon?

Slack has already launched Enterprise Key Management this year. Otherwise, they were quiet at the time of Enterprise Connect. During Enterprise Connect, both Cisco and Microsoft announced a whole host of artificial intelligence style additions to their meeting and collaboration platforms.

This year has, however, seen the introduction of small, important enhancements to the Slack user experience and security offering. These include:

  • Dark mode for mobile
  • Mobile security updates for Enterprise Grid
  • Introduction of Block Kit
  • Tips launched for new users
  • Faster import speeds
  • Channel search

So, what else is coming to Slack? The public roadmap is available on Slack’s Trello board. However, this integration was kept under wraps. Here’s what is public knowledge for the near future:

  • Custom install apps
  • Token rotation
  • New display types
  • New interactive elements
  • Workflow builder, phase 1

How does this impact Microsoft Teams?

When learning that Slack had integrated into Outlook and OneDrive, the Microsoft Teams bell rang. Is this an attempt to reel in existing or potential Microsoft Teams customers? It will likely take more but it’s a good start.

More realistically, this is Slack suggesting they no longer need to be classified as shadow IT. There is, no doubt, a large number of unsanctioned Slack teams and workspaces in enterprises whose collaboration strategy is Microsoft Office 365.

Even more realistically, Slack is providing a better experience for existing users that can’t or won’t move away from Outlook. Interoperability is the unsexy buzz word that is too long to be marketed right now. Cisco’s SVP of Collaboration Technology, Amy Chang, said in a keynote at Enterprise Connect: “Of course our customers have other software”. She then announced limited Cisco and Office 365 interoperability.

Slack’s press release suggested that the new release is “breaking down walls for our customers and allowing them to collaborate seamlessly across their entire productivity suite for maximum flexibility”.

Whilst this isn’t total Microsoft and Slack interoperability, or anywhere near, it’s a step in the right direction for the sake of the users. A refreshing change from vendors prescribing what their customers should be using, and a more human approach of determining what is a real-life use case that can be turned on.

To start using the new integration, you simply need to search Outlook or OneDrive in the Slack app directory or find them both in the daily tools section.


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