Slack launches shared channels to ditch email for working with other companies

Two companies, one Slack channel
Two companies, one Slack channel
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
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Slack see its future as the place we all go to work. Ultimately, it aims to provide the one virtual platform to launch projects, hire employees, deploy code, approve budgets, and link our conversations and work-related apps to run businesses.

So far, a major element has been missing: the ability to work between companies. Slack has devoted its energies to making it possible within one company, but on September 12, Slack announced at its Frontiers conference it was filling the gap with the shared channels needed to collaborate between firms.

It’s a significant step for a company already growing at a breakneck pace. Slack has more than 6 million daily active users, doubled the figure last summer. Two million are paying customers and include almost half of Fortune 100 companies. Slack is also spreading internationally: 55% of its total users are outside the US with massive clusters in Tokyo, Berlin, and elsewhere.

Sean Rose, Slack’s product manager in charge of the new collaboration feature, said the company’s surveys showed that two-thirds of its customers use Slack accounts to work with individuals from other organizations. Until now, that has meant work-arounds such as granting guest permissions or starting new Slack teams with limited functionality. Slack designed the shared channels feature to accommodate everything form short-lived projects to long-term relationships such as those with Slack’s own vendors.

Shared channels creates a new level of permissions within existing Slack teams for secure access between organizations. The feature enables the same integration–such as Dropbox paper documents, calls with Zoom, or checking on accounting status of projects – to collaborate. Shared teams are denoted with a unique double-diamond icon in the sidebar under either the “Starred” or “Shared” channels list.

Screenshot of new shared channels in Slack announced Sep. 12
Screenshot of new shared channels in Slack announced Sep. 12
Image: Slack

Rose said about 45 companies are working with the product in beta. They range from advertising agencies working with clients on rebranding to fashion brand Everlane’s management of product logistics with Happy Returns.

Slack’s shared channels feature likely to accelerate the transition at businesses from communicating via email, phone, and cloud documents to a  dedicated workflow app for teams (with integrations for many of those former channels).

Slack is hoping its head start, and new feature, will solidify its hold on users at smaller businesses and startups, while expanding its reach among big business customers through Enterprise Grid, as well as among biotech, financial services, government, and healthcare industries. But it’s not alone: Microsoft Teams, Cisco Spark, Atlassian’s Stride (and Hipchat) as well as a host of other chat apps and open source clones have entered the space, often at a lower prices.

Shared channels is now an optional feature for paid teams, and will roll out as a standard feature in the coming months once its beta period with initial customers is complete.