Slack Connect vs Microsoft Teams Connect: Is this better than email?

The two rival platforms want to take internal company communications beyond the office

This article originally appeared in the March edition of IT Pro 20/20, available here. To sign up to receive each new issue in your inbox, click here.

Business communication is a hotly contested market with a slew of different services that your organisation can use for internal messaging. However, two companies that always seem to be pitted against each other in this space, Slack and Microsoft Teams, want to take this one step further. They want businesses to talk to other businesses from within their platforms, rather than use emails. 

Slack is a communications platform that, at its most basic, offers internal instant messaging and document sharing services to businesses. Managers and employees create and use various ‘channels’ to talk to each other and these channels help to either differentiate departments or workflows, depending on the preference of the organisation. 

Microsoft Teams is also a comms platform, but it has more emphasis on video conferencing and comes with Office 365 integration. It looks and feels very similar to Slack as it also uses ‘channels’ for collaboration. The two are fierce rivals, but currently seem to have the same goal: Make email obsolete.

Slack Connect

Slack has never hidden its contempt for email and some would say its platform is entirely built for the purpose of squashing the legacy technology. But while businesses can use Slack to talk internally, until recently they still had to depend on email to reach anyone outside their organisation. However, in June 2020, Slack launched a new feature to fix this and (in its mind) kill off email altogether – Slack Connect

Users can connect with external parties by navigating to the sidebar in Slack and clicking on ‘Add Channels’. This will offer up two options: ‘Create a new channel’ or ‘Browse all channels’ and users will need to click on the former. The channel will need a name before it can be created and then to make it different from your internal channels, you’ll need to send an invite to the outside party you wish to speak to. From there the onus is on the receiver who needs to accept the link and set the same channel up on their end (in their own Slack account). This is then verified and approved by account administrators on both sides. 

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Microsoft Connect

As Slack would have it, Microsoft Teams is a poorer version of its platform that is only dominating in the space because it comes bundled in with Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of services – the argument being that it is forced upon users rather than something they would necessarily choose to use. Microsoft disputes this, naturally, but it is now offering a service similar to Slack Connect, which it has also named ‘Connect’. 

It’s currently available as a ‘preview’, with a full release scheduled for later in 2021. It works in a similar way to Slack in that you create the channel in your sidebar, under the ‘Your Teams’ section. The shared channel is called ‘Agent Portal Launch’ and once you click on this you’ll have a popup window where you can share a link with your intended party. Once again, it will need approval from administrators on both sides. 

Pros and cons

Users can only have a maxim of 20 organisations at one time with Slack Connect and bringing in anyone new to shared channels means taking someone out. You have to bear in mind that each connection has to be verified by the administrators of your account and the same process on the other end, so initially, it’s a lot more work than a simple email. But if you have a group of businesses you regularly converse with, having a shared channel is easier, faster and more collaborative – you’ll feel less like customers and partners, and more like colleagues. So far, there is no mention of any limits for the number of organisations you can link to with Microsoft Teams Connect. 

The debate around whether or not Teams is as good as Slack is frankly pointless because, as the smaller firm keeps pointing out, Teams comes bundled in with Office 365. Slack on its own doesn’t offer the breadth of services that Microsoft does so the biggest benefit with Teams is working within a suite of services many companies already use. As such, linking Teams accounts together also enables different businesses to work on projects simultaneously. This can be done with Slack as it has an integration with Google Workplace (formerly G Suite) but it’s not one holistic platform, it’s multiple providers joined together. 

However, as the first one to launch, Slack Connect has a head start on new features and security controls. Plus it’s soon to be operating under Salesforce which could potentially increase Slack’s business customers. Analysts suggest that the acquisition will see Salesforce using Slack Connect as an enterprise networking service

Why not just use email?

There are a number of issues that plague email, such as spam and phishing, which can slow productivity and also compromises a company’s security. Add to that the growing list of additional services people are now using to work remotely and connect to partners or customers, which all have to be installed and managed by IT, and things can get very messy, very quickly. Slack’s answer is to have everything you need – coworkers, partners, vendors, customers – in one place. 

It requires a paid Slack account for both sender and receiver, which in itself is an argument to continue with email. While Slack is popular, particularly with startups, it’s but one service in a very competitive market. There’s a very high likelihood that the people you want to speak with are using Microsoft Teams, which reportedly surpassed 75 million daily active users mid-way through 2020.  

Slack is determined to kill off email, however, and it recently added a function to Connect that lets users directly message individuals from outside their organisation. ‘Slack DMs’ works in the same way as Connect in that users send out an invite to a person at another organisation that is monitored by administrators on both sides. The function was initially launched with the option to add a bespoke message to the invite, but Slack had to shut that down after concerns were raised that it could be used to send abusive messages. Despite this, Slack DMs is now available with paid accounts and, so far, there isn’t a similar feature available on Microsoft Teams Connect.

There are lots of (often similar) benefits with both services and also plenty of room for new functions to be added. But it has to be said, there isn’t really enough in either to finally render email obsolete.

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