How to stay connected with external partners in the world of remote work

Can’t meet face to face with agencies, clients, consultants and customers? Try these tips for collaborating together in a shared Slack channel

Anyone who works with external partners will stress the importance of face time. From creative agencies hunkering down at a company’s headquarters for a week of brainstorming to salespeople stopping by their customers’ offices, these interactions are a staple of business as usual … and business in 2020 is anything but usual.

How do you move work and relationships forward when these types of meetings are no longer possible? More than 32,000 Slack customers rely on shared channels to bridge those in-person gaps. A shared channel allows separate organizations to collaborate in Slack as easily and productively as they do internally. They offer a direct line to clients, agencies, consultants and customers.

Once a shared channel is linked between organizations, work on projects can continue in one place for all to see. Members of the channel from either side can join the conversation as needed and scroll through the channel history to see past discussions and decisions. Ready to give shared channels a try? The tips below will help your teams work together just as closely as they would in person.

How to create a shared channel

Before you can work in a shared channel, you’ll have to set one up. It’s quick, easy and takes just four steps:

  1. Create a channel as you normally would
  2. Copy the short link you’re provided with and share it with your partner
  3. Wait for your partner to accept the invite
  4. Get admin approval (if necessary)

Find more details, and some handy visuals, on our shared channels resources page.

1. Align on communication norms from the get-go

Set work expectations between both groups early by writing a set of practices and pinning it to the shared channel. This can be a single message or document that summarizes:

  • Who’s in channel and who could be invited in the future
  • Typical overlapping hours of the workday when you can expect quicker responses
  • Any security notes or requirements from either team
  • Agreement on which apps both teams will use to collaborate together
  • Who the main points of contact are for particular projects and topics, along with how to get in touch with them when questions arise
  • The emoji reactions your team uses and how the other team should interpret them
  • Expected etiquette for notifications and threads, which can help keep channel noise to a minimum and conversations focused

2. Commit to moving all files, feedback and updates into the shared channel

There’s incredible power in being able to interact quickly and directly with external partners. Communication can be as fast as a phone call, and with the ability to also collaborate on files and across screens, you’ll get approvals completed in ways that will save everyone time and effort. Here’s a sampling of what moving work into shared channels can unlock:

Fashion brand Cole Haan uses shared channels to seamlessly share design files with its outside vendors. In the past, working with a print vendor would require a time-consuming four-step process. “Now that can happen basically automatically, and in a fraction of the time,” says Andrew Coulter Enright, the vice president of brand design. “Those details allow us to move faster.”

Slack’s own support team, as well as the technology company Fastly, use shared channels as a conduit to help triage and resolve customer issues quickly. Similarly, swapping updates with an ad agency in a shared channel allows teams to shift their media buys on the fly—much faster than communicating through a 30-person email chain or taking time to organize a meeting with every stakeholder.

For those who manage relationships with multiple companies, having a channel shared with each of them is a great way to instantly access and track all your customers and their accounts. Use these channels to send regular updates, quickly change course on plans when necessary or answer any questions that come up along the way.

3. Use shared channels for both synchronous and asynchronous work

Slack is great at real-time interactions and coming to decisions quickly together. But you can also use it asynchronously, as each team works on solutions when they can. This can be vital for teams working across time zones or individuals who need flexible working schedules.

Successful asynchronous work requires everyone to be on the same page about when they can expect answers to their questions. Use the channel topic to highlight typical response times, and state this clearly in the message or document outlining communication norms you pinned to the channel.

4. Loop in teammates as needed

The ability to add new cross-functional team members as needed is a key benefit of shared channels. Say you need to bring in someone from finance to start on the next contract for a project already in progress. There’s no need to wait until the next weekly status call. Instead, invite them to the shared channel, have them introduce themselves and review the work to date to get up to speed.

5. Set up multiple, more specific shared channels

Here at Slack, we often create separate, more specific channels for various aspects of a project or campaign. For example, one channel would focus on marketing efforts while another covers technical development aspects, with a third zeroing in on logistics.

If your relationship with an external organization is long term and involves several projects with different teams of people, consider a similar, more granular approach to your shared channels. Multiple channels shared with one organization might include:

  • A shared channel for each project you are working on together, i.e., #q3-ad-campaign, #q4-plans, #2020-projections
  • An #announcements channel to share wider news with both companies about all the current work and upcoming projects

Get your partners on board with a free trial

Shared channels currently work between any two paid Slack workspaces (with support for more than two organizations coming soon). If you work with partners who aren’t using a paid version of Slack—or Slack at all—they’re eligible for a 90-day trial of our Standard plan. Simply send a shared channel invite to your partner, and if they’re on a free or new-to-Slack team they’ll be prompted to activate the trial.

Looking for more inspiration around collaborating in this way? Check out these industry-specific shared channel examples or see how our customers use them day in and day out.

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