Teams is the ultimate platform for sharing and collaboration and chances are, as a follower of this blog, you know that channels are at the heart the way you use Teams. You probably also know all about standard channels. But you may not know the benefits that private channels give you, and you might not have caught the hot news that shared channels are coming to Teams later this year. 

Our quick recap of Teams channels – and an early introduction to the imminent shared channels – should set you up for making the very best of Teams in your business.

Your Teams site is organised into distinct, well, teams. These are designed to bring together people to work on a common theme, project or discipline – or they might even reflect the structure of your business. Documents, notes, and conversations within the team are only visible to team members. A team can get big however, projects can be complex, and there can be lots of team members wanting to branch into different conversations or work on separate tasks. This is where channels come in.

Channels help organise conversations within a team, to make it easy for team members to switch easily from topic to topic without detail being lost and, because all documents are stored in SharePoint, all the data managed in a channel will be accessed through SharePoint and access determined by the channel it was created in. More on that later…

Standard Channels

Setting up

When you set up your Teams you will have started with your first team and your first General channel – every team has one. This is at the core of each team, and it can’t be renamed or deleted. You’ll probably use this General channel for high level communications about the project or topic that the team was created for, you might even announce the creation of other Standard channels here as you evolve the team. It might be tempting to keep all your communication in this General channel but, even in the smallest or simplest team, active discussions can quickly become hard to navigate so it’s worth limiting the ability to post in General to the team owners and using standard channels to organise conversations.

You can have up to 199 standard channels within a team (plus your one General channel) but to avoid a mess of topics and chats, it’s worth deciding up front what channels will work best for your project or topic, and then setting them up with the restrictions you want. 

Channel ownership is important

You should assign channel moderators to ensure that the content stays within the parameters you’ve set, and possibly limit the ability to add new posts to just moderators. It’s likely that just a few channels will be used regularly so it’s much better to start with just a few channels and add more when there is a clear theme that needs its own space. 

Apps

To make the most of any channel you can extend them with apps, including tabs, connectors and bots that make the channel a valuable place to work and collaborate. Microsoft built-in apps include Lists, Tasks, Praise and Approvals and these are the ones to start with. As your Teams adoption matures, and you are confident with the widespread usage, you can look to third-party apps for more targeted add-ons. 

Private channels

A private channel is different to a standard channel as you can restrict access to a subset of the team. This can create a focused, safe space for sensitive information or a dedicated space for selected team members to collaborate on a distinct task within a project, without the need to set up a new team.

Setting up

You can have up to 30 private channels in a team with as many as 250 named members and they can be created by people you have designated either at a team or organisational level. You will also have a private channel owner and they can add any team member or remove someone. Although team owners can see the names of a private channel within their team, they can’t see the files or conversations within it unless they themselves are members. 

Private files

Most importantly private channels each have a dedicated SharePoint site to ensure that documents and files enjoy the same restrictions as a private channel, and users can freely share sensitive or private documents with confidence. 

Watch out

Not all apps work within private channels, for example, Lists work, but Planner doesn’t. Have a play with the apps you want to use within private channels and give us a call if you need help.

Shared channels – coming soon

As part of the Microsoft Teams Connect initiative, shared channels are being introduced in late 2021. Currently in active trial these channels will allow Teams users to collaborate with individuals outside of Teams using ‘external federation’. External federation is currently used for calls within Teams today, but shared channels will extend this to cover channel conversations and document sharing. 

Announced at Ignite 2021, shared channels aim to allow team owners to add individuals and teams to a single channel within a team or – simply – give access to “anyone, internal or external to your organisation”. Like private channels these will give named channel members access to selected resources, conversations, and data. Although shared channels will be clearly marked within the channels list, and visible to all team members, an external user with access to a shared channel will not be able to see anything other than that shared channel. 

Like a private channel, every shared channel will get a SharePoint Online team site to share documents between members. 

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