February 26, 2015 6:30 AM EST

From overwhelming email threads to bad PowerPoint presentations, workplace communication has needed a makeover for a long time. Many have tried and failed–including Google’s much heralded office software Wave, which shut down in 2012. Now San Francisco–based startup Slack is bringing a new approach–and fans as well as tech experts say it may have cracked the code.

Unlike its predecessors, Slack melds chat and search in a dead-simple interface, helping it gain a half-million users in just a year. That’s “what gets people over the hump,” explains Forrester analyst TJ Keitt. Slack is free for a basic version but charges for advanced features.

Slack is one of many apps vying for a share of the $4.7 billion-a-year office-software market. Yammer, acquired by Microsoft in 2012, lets workers collaborate on presentations. Another startup, Convo, aims to revamp email by sorting data on the basis of relevance to your projects, not message history. And FB@Work, unveiled in January, is a version of Facebook specifically tailored to the office.

Of course, offices can be slow to evolve, with managers hesitant to abandon tried-if-tired email systems. And employees may be reluctant to change their familiar workflow. Once they try something new, however, they might like what they find.



Slack can help you host chats with either a single colleague or an entire team–an alternative to endless email threads.


FB@Work uses Facebook’s algorithms to display relevant information about projects, news or company updates an employee might have missed. It’s still in early testing.


Yammer is integrated with Microsoft Office 365, which lets users have group conversations with co-workers in Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.


Convo’s mobile app can auto-zoom to the exact line of a document flagged by a colleague, making it easier to work with files on phones.

This appears in the March 09, 2015 issue of TIME.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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