Why Slacks CEO Doesnt Want to Kill Email

Workplace chat apps have existed for years, but few have “disrupted” office culture more than Slack. It’s converted back-and-forth threads into chirpy instant messages. It’s replaced water cooler conversation with silent DMs. It’s reorganized discussions around specific topics, added more transparency to those discussions, and made workplace communique a lot less formal (see: Slackmoji). In some cases, especially during the months-long work-from-home experiment of 2020, it’s even replaced the office itself.

But most workplaces don’t exist in a silo. In addition to their own employees, they have business partners, vendors, and collaborators. So today, Slack has announced a tool called Slack Connect, designed to make it possible for up to 20 organizations to share “channels” between them. A company might use these shared channels to talk to its supply chain operators; a venture capital firm might use it to bring all of its portfolio companies together.

“A measure of success for us is going to be what percentage of DocuSigns are signed inside of a shared channel, or how many purchase orders and invoices and service tickets are opened inside shared channels,” said Stewart Butterrfield, Slack’s cofounder and CEO, at a virtual event announcing Slack Connect. “Slack, when it’s working for an individual organization, becomes this lightweight fabric for systems organization. That’s just as valuable across boundaries as inside.”

While a huge number of companies use Slack—including many startups—it needs all the help it can get to keep up with Microsoft Teams, especially when it comes to big enterprise clients. Microsoft has no Slack Connect equivalent yet, giving Slack a potential advantage among customers with more complex needs.

After Slack’s event, Butterrfield joined WIRED for a one-on-one conversation about the future of workplace communications. He spoke about the potential to use Slack Connect for more than just business, and how Slack wants to play nice with your email inbox.

Arielle Pardes: You introduced Slack Connect today. What are the most interesting use-cases you’re seeing?

Stewart Butterfield: Of all of the use-cases, probably the biggest one is customer success and support. It’s organizations talking to their customers, especially where there’s a long relationship. Oracle’s been a customer for many years. A hundred thousand people at Oracle use Slack every day. We didn’t just sell it to them back in 2017 and then walk away—people [from Slack] literally talk to them every single day. There are people from Oracle in our customer advisory board, there’s a whole process for change management. The channel is the perfect way to do that. Rather than one-to-one communication over email or text between all of these different people, you create this environment where, even as the people on the Oracle side change or people on the Slack side change, there’s a continuity of conversation and there’s this historical artifact of the archive.

A slightly different example: In February, Jen Tejada, who’s the CEO of PagerDuty, invited a bunch of other SaaS CEOs to her house for dinner. Because that email thread was there, as the pandemic stuff started unfolding in late February and early March, this email thread became like, “Are you really thinking about closing your offices?” That conversation migrated to a shared channel between all of the organizations. It’s me and 17 other public SaaS company CEOs. Then it bifurcated into a whole series of channels: One for CFOs, who are talking about how you plan and forecast in this environment with all this uncertainty. One for the CHROs and heads of people, to think about recruiting when you can’t meet people face-to-face, or onboarding for new employees when you can’t come to headquarters, or other benefits and policy changes when you’re working from home. One for marketers, who can’t run events and do field marketing. So, that’s been super valuable and there’s no other way that could’ve happened.

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