Why private channels in Microsoft Teams is overrated!

By the name of this blogpost I’ve probably added myself to a few hate lists already! But I still stand my ground, and I’m going to explain why.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about this is a quick recap:

When you create a team in Microsoft teams, you can logically structure conversations, files and other content by using channels. Each channel has its own conversation space, a files tab and possibility to add custom tabs. These are often used to separate content from different topics. By design every member of a team has full access to all channels within that team and it’s currently not possible to set permissions on a channel level! This would be the purpose of “private channels”

Microsoft is currently working on this feature, but it’s unknown when it’s released and how it will work!

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Private channels are the most requested Microsoft Teams feature on user voice by far (See here: Microsoft Teams User Voice) and it’s not very surprising!

IT admins are used to have detailed control over what resources you may access. For example, a typical file share is made up of a folder structure with granular permission control! This is a good way of making sure people can’t access content they aren’t suppose too, but there are some caveats too!

  • Ownership and administration are often in the hands of the IT department!
  • Over time there’s a great risk that control is lost due to the many different layers of permissions!

Let me elaborate on this a little further! Having IT in charge over who can access what content might sound like a good idea, but in reality, IT has little to no real knowledge about the actual content and who really should have access to it! Many organizations solve this by having people make requests to their managers who are responsible for granting access to a folder or share, then let IT know about this and the task is executed! Many times, this creates administrative overhead and consumes time ending up in frustrated end users not being able to access needed content!

I’m not trash talking every organization with files shares out there! Many have this working in a well-structured and secure manner. This is especially true in the beginning. The risk is when this grows into a mess of different folders with different permissions and control is lost!

I’ve seen this happen numerous times. For example, when a key person in IT leave the organization for any reason and a new person steps in having no clue about the current setup! One person’s structure can be a mess to someone else, and the very important documentation is very often lacking! What might happen now, is that control is lost, resulting in a great security risk.

 

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Enough of that, what has this to do with private channels in Teams??

With Microsoft Teams, Microsoft has a new way of approaching the idea we normally have, working with permissions. Ownership can now easily be transferred to managers or even end users themselves! They are often the ones with knowledge of the content and who should have access to it! As a team owner they can grant any user permission to the teams without any IT admin interaction or higher admin privileges. If the team is public, anyone can join and get access without any administrative actions.

What Microsoft tries to accomplish is making things simpler! If you’re in the Team, you’re IN the team, meaning you have no restrictions regarding access to channels, conversations, files and other content! As a member you have read/write to all files within that team!

This is where the need for private channels arise!

Being able to set permissions on a channel level is not a bad idea per say, and I do strongly believe there are scenarios where private channels are indeed a great idea! What I’m saying is that the huge urge we are seeing for this feature is slightly overrated!

I’ve heard many people say they refuse to implement teams without having this feature. Imagine a team with 30 channels. It might sound much but a team can currently contain up to 200 channels per team and number of channels tend to grow over time. Some or all these channels have permissions set on them! (As we don’t know yet how this eventually will work, I’m assuming here this will be similar to folder permissions)

We can now quite easily see the administrative overhead for the owner(s) of this team, keeping track of permissions and handling user access requests to channels they need access to. This might start to look like the file server scenario, and this is normally not a good thing. There is a great risk that teams are provisioned and from there more and more channels gets created for different people and with different permissions, all ending up far from the real purpose of Microsoft Teams.

In my opinion, one of the strengths of Microsoft Teams, is the simple way of creating a team, invite members and from there start collaborating. Without hassle or need to overthink about permissions and access! It’s about simplicity and collaboration within the team, whose members purpose is working towards a common goal!

What’s the solution then? As of this being written, private channels do not yet exist, therefore you either accept that fact or don’t! But hear me out!!

Without having control of channels, you must gain a better level of control on the teams themselves! It makes it really important to plan this out!

Questions you should ask yourself are:

  • What is our purpose of using Teams?
  • What teams do we need and what kind of files will you keep in Teams?
  • Do you need to restrict teams creation to gain better control of all teams and their content?
  • Do you keep sensitive information? – Really important or sensitive files, that needs granular and restrictive permissions might be better suited somewhere else like on a dedicated SharePoint library.

By doing careful planning beforehand, most use cases or arguments of private channels can be solved! Also don’t forget the group chat! Microsoft Teams offers a great persistent chat in which you can invite up to 50 people! A common argument for private channels is being able to have private or important conversations between two or more users, for example between managers. If you find it not suitable having a separate team for them, use a group chat instead!

This also includes a files tab in which you can share files! This works through OneDrive keeping all those secret documents still in the ownership of the person who shares them.

The conclusion of all this is:

I do hope Microsoft find a good solution for this which gives us the possibility for private channels! I’m not against it but more afraid people will over use it, and miss out the real purpose of Teams…

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