Private channels for Teams are finally here.

What are Private Channels In Teams?

Updated: 4th Nov 19

Private Channels (which are being released this week) will allow team owners to limit which team members can see the conversation and content within a particular channel within a Team (kind of a private space between a wider Team). This allows team admins to right-size channel participation and exposure without having to create discrete teams to limit visibility. This can help with reducing team sprawl and can help with internal and B2B communications.

Private channels will be indicated by a small lock / padlock icon next to the channel within a Team.

  • Team owners will be able to see all channels and private channels
  • Team members will only be able to see and participate in private channels they have been added to.
  • Any member of a Team can create a private channel and they then become the owner of that private channel even if they aren’t the owner of the Team.
  • Private Channel owners can add and remove members just like with a Team but to be a member of the Private Channel, the user must be (at least) a member of the Team first.
  • External users/guests can be added to a Private Channel just like with a Team but again the the guest must also be a member of the Team first.
  • Related to the above… YOU CANNOT USE A PRIVATE CHANNEL to invite guests and then only share certain information with them and not the rest of the Team.

But it’s not been an easy journey!

  • Private channels have been the most requested feature on User Voice
  • The feature has been in development for over two years now
  • On March 19th this year Microsoft announced that private channels will be coming out later this year
  • This week the upcoming change started apprwaing in customers Office 365 Message Centre
  • They start rolling out this week (Nov 4th)

Why do we need Private Channels in Teams?

Pretty much ever since Teams was released users have been asking (shouting) for Private Channels. The concept sounds straightforward enough; private channels would only be seen and accessible by the creator and whoever he/she invites. In practice, however, the feature has been a major development challenge.

According to the user requests and comments in Teams User Voice, people generally want more options when it comes to creating channels in Microsoft Teams. Specifically, they want channels that are:

  • Public-Open (Visible anywhere including outside the organisation that anyone can join)
  • Public-Invitation (Visible anywhere including outside the organisation; must be invited)
  • Company-Open (Only visible inside the organisation and anyone inside can join; those outside the organisation must be invited)
  • Company-Invitation (Only visible inside the organisation, must be invited)
  • Secret (Invisible to everyone except existing members, must be invited)

The need has raised quite a debate

What might seem a simple request has created lots of friction and almost brexit like opinion polls over the last couple of years

The “Pro” private channels want it becuase:

  • Private channels enable admins to have more granular control over who can and can’t access certain content.
  • Sensitive material can be more easily gated.
  • Having private channels would also make something like a manager/executive-only chat within a Team possible or make a customer focused team have an internal “private” area

The “anti” private channels don’t like the concept of a private channels because:

  • Teams is all about open collaboration. It was designed to make working with others as seamless as possible. Once you’re in a Team you have access to everything in there so the concept of a private channel goes again the grain.
  • By implementing more controls and requiring the team owner to manage permissions for every private team that gets created, it can quickly become counter productive and ‘anti’ to the purpose of the platform.
  • Private channels can be seen as unnecessary. You can arguably create a new separate team if you want privacy.
  • If you want a private chat between two or more managers/execs, you could simply create and use a regular group chat.

These are all workable (though not necessarily as convenient) options.

Why has it taken so long to develop?

Outside of the long and extensive debates above and Microsoft having to try to make sense of it, consult with large enterprise and event run early alpha tests with clients to test and confirm the pro and cons, the design and implementation of this feature has been complex

In simple terms, Channels in Teams simply were not originally designed or created to be “blocked off” or isolated and so because of this, the architecture of channels doesn’t lend itself to being private and has had to be majorly modified to accommodate this feature

There’s more to it than this though…

Every Team that’s created is enabled by other components of Office 365. For example, Teams need Planner for task management and SharePoint (that includes One Drive) for file storage. If a certain channel in a Team became private…

  • SharePoint permissions would be broken.
  • Planning permissions would be broken.
  • Stream permissions would be broken.
  • Tab level permissions would be broken.

The engineering team at Redmond have had to overcome a whole load of technical and process integration obstacles to provide options for organisation who wish to make part of their open collaboration platform. not open!

I already use Teams? What do I need to do?

You don’t have to do anything. Private channels can be used or disabled should IT not want this feature being used…whilst not released yet the options to control it are available now in the Teams policies settings in the Teams Admin Centre.

There isn’t a process to covert a Team into a channel within another team so this is a process you’ll need to consider and think about and there will be use cases for such you’ll want to consider… A personal example for our organisation is where we have Team sites for customer project work which is internal and another customer Team site we use for sharing and collaborating with a customer..

We in effect have duplicate Teams today for this reason. I expect we will look to consolidate these down to one and use private channels within a wider channel that we will use for internal / company confidential communications and docs.

Of course… This also is a great time to look at house cleaning Teams across the estate…Time will tell on that one!

When it is available?

Private Channels is rolling out this week…so now (almost). Like all new features.. They take a few days to roll out depending on your Office 365 release schedule.

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