Microsoft Teams private channels – the good, the bad, the ugly!

It is pretty straightforward, right now the Microsoft Teams UserVoice post “Support for Private Channels“ has 23.592 upvotes which is by far the most in the whole Microsoft Teams UserVoice list. It is pretty clear that the people really want this feature to be released! Microsoft is taking their time releasing it, but it should be there soon. Back at the Collaboration Summit in Wiesbaden, we saw Microsoft employees were already using it and it seems like there were only some last screws to be tightened.

You can look up the UserVoice request here!

Wait, what are private channels?

In case you missed out on that, the demand behind this feature request is to give granular control over who can see and interact with which channel in a Teams team. According to the initial request, there are plenty of channels needed by the users.

Five types of public/privacy that is being asked for by users:
– Public-Open (visible anywhere including outside the org and anyone can join)
– Public-Invitation (visible anywhere including outside the org, must be invited)
– Company-Open (only visible inside the org and anyone in the org can join; outside the org must be invited)
– Company-Invitation (only visible inside the org, must be invited)
– Secret (invisible to everyone except existing members, must be invited)

source: Uservoice

I have to admit for some of the categories the goal is not yet clear to me, but I am sure there are use-cases that have produced these requirements. Perhaps, however, something was misunderstood about a team and a channel during the preparation by the requestor. We will never know!

Nevertheless, there are some use- cases where I would make use of the functionality, especially the last one „invisible for everyone except existing members“. But more on that later.

In my opinion, the basis of the idea is to have one team created with different channels that have only a part of the team participants as channel members. For example, when working with confidential stuff this totally makes sense to me.

During the Keynote at the ECS 2019, there was a sneak peek of what private channels may look like in the user’s interface. You can watch the recording right here If you pay attention you can see a teams channel with a lock behind it at 05:52 minutes – or in the screenshot below ;).

Also, you can see the new upcoming „New conversation“ button at the bottom of the recording that we are also waiting for! But more on that in another post.

As you can imagine, there are many arguments for this function but also counterarguments. So let’s look at the most important arguments together and dive right in!

 A little fun fact, by the way, you can already search for help on creating private channels on the Microsoft Docs page. Which means they are already updating their resources! Have a look 

Why you should want them

I think there are several reasons for the demand for this feature and at least in Germany there is a special one added to the demands from other regions.

From my perspective, there is still kind of an inhibition threshold when it comes to sharing knowledge and information in an organisation or a department. Especially when people have to share their opinion/knowledge/information with a bunch of people, sometimes there is kind of “anxiety” to be vulnerable to others. It is quite hard to write this feeling down (which you get when talking to people with this anxiety). Maybe it is that hard because I can´t comprehend it quite well. But I hope you get an idea of what I want to express. Again, this is a totally personal assumption from my experience as a consultant talking to users.

As I already mentioned above, with private channels, you will be able to edit the members of a private channel and do not have to let every team member watch your stuff. This is another upside of this feature because by using it in the right way, you can reduce the number of teams significantly! Recently I talked to someone about building a basic structure for implementing Teams in their organisation. It turned out that every department wanted to have one team for department stuff. In addition to that, every department leader wanted to have a team for further development of this department with only a handful of team members in it.

See where is leading to? With this new feature, the customer would be able to shut these „development“ teams down and move everything from there to one specific channel in the original department team. This would lead to less muddle in the user’s interface. Then all the data, communication, and information for that department is stored in one place.

I am sure there are a lot of other use- cases out there, and please feel free to share them with me. I am curious about what you got for me!

Why you could struggle with using them

The main aspect of Teams is to collaborate in a lean and agile way. Simple, quick, fast, but also reliable and binding. When cutting through these streams of communication you are taking a step back towards the information silos many of us are coming from! Right now you have the „key“ to every information stored in the team you are participating which is a huge win in my opinion, and it is great for transparency from an employee perspective. With shutting down some channels there will be a line some employees could not cross.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that the hiding and bunkering of information is something many people, especially in Germany, are performing. This new feature can possibly support this way of working again.

In addition to that, it can also create additional confusion when introducing teams. From my experience, I can tell you many people are overwhelmed by the new features and possibilities they get when implementing Teams. At this point it is even right now hard not to lose the people when introducing Teams teams, channels, members, owners, all the new stuff! It is really important to keep that in mind!

Another point is that the lean and agile tool gets more an more swells up. I mean there are already plenty of options to get in touch with people like normal chats, group chats and teams. Again, more options often refer to more confusion when implementing.

What I am scared of

Either I am struggling with private channels, or not there is a high demand for this feature which is not there for no reason. Nevertheless there are a few things that can go wrong and you should be aware of.

One thing we as more or less end users can not act on is the way it gets implemented and how good the usability is. Because hands down it is hell of a task to implement this feature! When we review what happens when we create a team it is truly impressive.

After you created your team in the backend, there are many things happening in a short amount of time. Planner, SharePoint, Stream, Outlook – all these apps will be included. Every app gets kind of an individual „branding“ for the created office 365 group, so when subdividing the channels, this easy and intuitive membership can get lost pretty fast. In the end I am glad Microsoft takes their time, and I am sure that the feature will be great to use.

I personally hope that the people implementing Teams get the adoption and education part right for this feature. In case this feature gets used in the wrong way there are many things that can cause problems. In general users often tend to create channels where they don´t need to. After working in these channels for a few days and creating content in there they notice that. Now imagine private channels where not everyone is seeing their existence – you see where this leads to?

Which chances I can see

In many use-cases, private channels can be the answer to resolve the problems, and it can also help to reduce the number of teams created on the same or similar topics.

In environments where the users do not already reach the stage of „working out loud“ and feel more comfortable with, let’s call them soft-silos, it can also help to boost adoption if implemented right!

All in all, I am very excited for this new feature, and I hope they will release it soon because there is a lot of confusion out there and rumours are called from the rooftops more and more.

What do you think of private channels and how do you plan to use it? Let me know I am stoked for your messages!

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