Slack trials private shared channels, adds admin controls

Slack aims to reduce reliance on email for both internal and external communications as it pushes further into workplace collaboration.

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Magdalena Petrova

Slack has talked of its high expectations for group chat channels, which it argues will replace email as the primary means of workplace communication by 2025.

While channels are becoming a popular method for internal communication, Slack also wants to push them as way to interact with external companies – and stakeholders, too.

With that in mind, the team messaging company has expanded its shared channel feature – unveiled as a beta trial at its first conference in September last year – to enable private conversations between workers at separate organizations.  A third of its paying users have now signed up for the beta, Slack said.

Shared channels differ from guest account access, essentially creating a chat room for employees at two independent companies that regularly interact. The feature was initially made available to paid Slack customers for “public” discussions only, meaning that all users can view and join discussions in the shared channel. 

Beginning today, Slack will also offer the option for private conversation. The feature, available as part of the beta release, will enable discussions between customers and partners that are confidential and not intended for view by all employees. As with standard private channels, users must be invited to view or join a shared channel. Content in these private chat rooms is also walled off from  search by non-members.

“We can now enable shared channels to be private so that two companies working together can have added privacy within their company and control that privacy from either side,” said Slack Product Manager Sean Rose. “An example use case would be a company working through a new benefits system with an HR provider before they have announced it to the entire company.”

To manage the new channel options, Slack has added a channels Administration section to its workspace menus. This allows admins to view all of the external workspaces their workspace is connected to, as well as create new shared channels and view pending shared channel.

Privacy settings for the shared channels can vary on each side, so one organization could designate a conversation as a private while another makes it public.

Shared channels – public or private – are not yet available to Enterprise Grid customers, though they are expected to arrive arrive soon. Slack did not provide a specific timeline for that rollout.

Shared channels do offer an alternative to email for businesses, said Alan Lepofsky, Constellation Research vice president and principal analyst.

“Today, the ability for anyone to connect with anyone else, without knowing what tool they use, remains one of the strengths of email,” he said, adding that group messaging vendors such as Slack are “trying to emulate that ease of use, making it seamless for two organizations to connect and collaborate.

“Shared channels are an important step towards that, enabling two organizations that use Slack to connect to each other,” said Lepofsky.

While competitors such as Microsoft Teams rely on guest access, where external users must be invited, shared channels provide “more security and administration, as each organization manages their own members,” said Lepofsky.

In addition to the shared channel announcements, Slack has launched a new feature for its Enterprise Grid product; organization-wide channels that enable messages to be sent to all Slack users in a company.  

“Organization-wide channels are a great way to reduce the use of email for corporate communications,” said Lepofsky. “Channels are more engaging, as employees can respond directly to the message, and they are available to new employees who join even after it was originally posted.”

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