Microsoft Teams is the hub for productivity in Office 365 and creates a space where users can chat, share files, hold virtual meetings and leverage business applications all in context and from a single interface.
The primary method for organising workstreams is called a ‘team’. Any Office 365 user in the organisation can create and become an owner of a team, which gives them administrative powers including the ability to control the membership and content within that team.
Each team has several channels that organises chats and files around specific topics, projects, or even departments. For example, an organisation might have a content marketing team which has several channels such as “Blog Editorial” and “Social Media Analytics” that every member of the team can see and participate in.
Private channels, by default, enable any user within the team to create and become an owner of a channel with a subset of the team’s membership. In other words, only members in the team can become members in the private channel and only members in the private channel have visibility into its contents, almost like a team within a team.
Ultimately, the goal is to allow for confidential collaboration on both sensitive and non-sensitive topics within a single team, without accidentally oversharing information for everyone to see.
Specifically, users can communicate on sensitive items that are not appropriate or need to be secured from the larger team. In the past, a new team with a new membership would need to be created, but now these conversations can be held within a private channel, preserving the original context and organisational structure.
For example, private channels will be significant in helping employees that may be working on confidential customer projects such as upcoming mergers or acquisitions, the development of new policies not yet ready for company-wide consumption or any projects that require limited insight from the wider team.
With private channels, management can have consistent, secure collaboration with only the necessary team members.
In terms of governance and information management, the biggest takeaway is that each private channel will have its own corresponding SharePoint site collection for storing files, similar to how each team has its own site collection. The owner of a private channel is the owner of the site collection.
If you are an Office 365 administrator, you will want to ask yourself a few questions on how you will deal with this added complexity. You don’t want to keep private channels disabled long-term as this will result in less efficient methods of collaboration or worse – oversharing in the larger team. Instead, you will want to consider:
How to protect yourself from data loss in private channels. This includes documents accidentally deleted more than 93 days ago, but also what to do if a private channel owner accidentally rolls back their site collection.
Will you allow anyone in your organisation to create private channels? For what purpose will you allow private channels to be created? Will you allow sensitive content to be hosted in private channels? If not, how will you enforce this?
How will you appropriately archive or expire content within inactive private channels? After how long?
The addition of private channels allows Microsoft Teams to function more similarly to how real-world teams operate and aims to improve employee efficiency and productivity. The changes resulting from private channels are necessary to optimise the mechanics behind Teams and SharePoint and ensure all private channel data is truly secure. Ultimately, Microsoft’s architecture for private channels opens up new possibilities for the creation of content and provides greater ability to then publish Teams to broader audiences.
John Peluso is the public sector chief technology officer at AvePoint
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