Slack Connect now lets you DM people outside your work bubble

It could replace email for talking to colleagues outside your company.

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There's a good chance you'll still be working from home at least some of the time even after the pandemic subsides, and Slack wants to make that new lifestyle easier. It just launched its long-promised Slack Connect feature that lets you direct message anyone, not just the people inside your company or team. Send an invitation and you can start a secure conversation with an important customer or partner without having to resort to back-and-forth email threads.

Up to 20 companies can talk together. You can already use a handful of apps designed for Connect, such as a scheduler (Calendly), document signer (DocuSign) and account mapper (Crossbeam).

Connect is available now for paid Slack plans, and should eventually expand to free users. You'll have to wait for some features, though. Additional anti-phishing measures will arrive later in the spring, while custom policies and a programming kit won't come until the summer. The option to build a full-fledged business network will have to wait until the winter.

Even so, Connect is already a significant change for Slack. It could become less of an internal tool and more of a social glue that links companies and replaces existing formats in some cases, including email. That, in turn, could squeeze out Microsoft Teams and other workplace messaging systems vying for your attention.