Push for Private Channels in Microsoft Teams

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On March 28 there was a CollabTalk Tweetjam to discuss the requested need expressed by users and the Microsoft Teams community described as the push for private channels in Microsoft Teams. CollabTalk often organises interesting TweetJam discussions. Completely public, for anyone to join in via Twitter and the hashtag #CollabTalk whether you want to tweet, or simply lurk in the background (as I did). 

This particular TweetJam discusses “Do We Need Private Channels in Microsoft Teams?” 

“One of the most requested features with more than 18,500 upvotes in UserVoice has been Private Channels. The idea is to allow Team members to create a secure channel for discussion and sharing that can only be seen by the channel owner and invited members …”

I find the topic very interesting, and would like to provide my insights to the question.

These are the questions that were covered during the TweetJam:

  1. Are private channels in Microsoft Teams a good idea? Why, or why not? 
  2. Do private channels in Microsoft Teams go against the product’s otherwise simple/flat collaboration model?
  3. What are the business justifications for private channels in Microsoft Teams? 
  4. Are there acceptable workarounds for private channels in Microsoft Teams today? 
  5. What are the administration and compliance risks with private channels in Microsoft Teams? 
  6. What will be the impact of Microsoft Teams private channels to adoption? 
  7. If you led the Microsoft Teams product team, what 3 new features would be your top priority?

You can find the whole discussion and answers to the 7 questions by following the #CollabTalk hashtag.


Here are my thoughts on the question “Do We Need Private Channels in Microsoft Teams?”

In general my first reaction would be to answer the question with ‘No!’. Not that I do not understand the need for it being expressed by many. I get it, sometimes you may want to limit who can access some information. And at other times you may simply want to keep a lit on information overload, and therefore limit access to certain topics. But at the same time, I don’t see any problem in creating a separate team for that. In my opinion, a team is just another ‘folder’.

Filing Cabinet

Folder culture

There has been a long tradition of providing granular access to ‘folders’. Ever since humanity started writing we found ways to store our content. First clay tablets, then papyrus scrolls, and we saved them in vases. When paper became common we created bookshelves and cabinets to store. When we started using computers we simply continued down this path of thinking how content should be stored: compartmentalised in drawers and folders. In fact, folders and cabinets are still the common picture we use for icons to indicate we are talking about storing space. 

Most employees love (extensive) hierarchical folder structures. Apparent in most organisations’ massive shared drives. Often with extensive granular access levels, but very often also pretty flat, where the whole Sales department or a whole country has access to the top level folder, and its sub-folders. Often the hierarchical folder structure is not for granting granular access, but for easier ‘topic-based’ browsing. It seems folder structures are the way most people are finding their files (instead of using a search tool). Again, I think this is because our brains are hard-wired to think in folder structures ever since we stored our papyrus scrolls. This is why tagging never really caught on in the enterprise. People don’t understand them, they want folders! Having Channels serves the purpose of channeling information around specific topics or processes. It makes it easy to focus the conversation around a specific topic, as well as organising Files around that topic, or adding even more Tabs to the Teams’ Channel. Some Channels in the Team may not even be of (much) interest to you, but be relevant to other people in the group. And that’s OK. As long as information in there may be seen by others than who are invested in the topic, there’s no harm done. If it does require more privacy, create a separate Team, with different / limited members.

So, do people really need private channels, or is this ‘need’ the consequence of thousands of years thinking in folder structures?

Why would it seem different to create a separate team to provide different people access, than having a Channel in a Team for which we define different access? Isn’t the result just the same? And the pro for creating separate Teams is there is much more clarity on who can access what. It’s pretty straightforward, easy to see who is a member. I fear for much more confusion, as well as complicated member management when we are creating private folders.

What do you think? Private Channels, Yes, or No? Cast your vote on UserVoice. The current status of the Idea is ‘Working on it’.

You can find the recap of the #CollabTalk TweetJam on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/PJ_JEdN8MM8

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