Private Channels Survival Guide

A week ago Private Channels started to appear in Teams across several Office 365 tenants. As this #1 awaited feature is now usable, it has also spurred out several questions. This guide tries to clarify when and why to create a private channel, what it means, what to avoid and some practices that you can use to get more out of this feature.

I added a couple of chapters about management to the end of the post 13.11.

When should I create a Private Channel?

In short: you have a team with members and you need to have a place where you collaborate securely with only some of them. Your work / outcome is secret or cannot be shown to all team members but it is still tied strongly to this full team. Some examples

  • A project team that has partners and possibly other externals in it. You need a channel for company’s internal decision making and budgeting. Only a few people can see the budgeting and internal talk of those partners in the project. Resources needed: conversation and documents only.
  • A project team with multiple partners. One partner has confidential IP that is needed in the project, but they also work with other partners in some selected project areas. In order to avoid creating a new team and managing it’s access for partner a private channel can solve this need. Resource needed: conversation and documents.
  • Teamspace where is a lot more members than the real team has. These happen when portion of the company is collaborating with a team in their teamspace, thus making it more like a hallway than an office. While sometimes this is ok (everything is transparent) there are sometimes needs to have a private area for team’s internal communication and materials. This is a borderline need – if you are ok that everyone else in the company sees the chat and content go with traditional channels. If not: a private channel may be helpful. However, you cannot scheduled meetings in a private channel nor you can use planner.
  • Office / city team which includes all company employees in that site. While most of the information is transparent and open to everyone, there is a need for management / team leads to exchange ideas, handle conflicts and collaborate on documents. A private channel can be used for this, especially if meetings are scheduled via standard meetings using Outlook. This is again a borderline if you are to create a new team, or do you go with a private channel.

When not to create a private channel

As important as private channels are, they should not be the default solution to maybe-problems. Instead of making arguments why a channel should be a normal (public) one, you must have solid, good, arguments to define why that channel needs to be a private one. Ask yourself ”why it is important that the content of this channel is not visible to others”, ”who will I add to this channel”, ”what would happen if somebody outside private channel members would see the information” and ”will this block teamwork”? Again in short: don’t create a private channel because you feel you need it (ie, you feel better and more confident when only a few people see it – just like in a email).

The danger of private channels is that they hide and silo information unnecessarily from the rest of the team.

For example, avoid private channel creation on these

  • Project management
  • Project steering group
  • Subteam or by activity (like a developers)
  • Office / location channel
  • Technology channel
  • Scared of transparency / old habit

In some cases there may be more sense to create a new private team than a channel under a team

  • Information under NDA for now, team could be accessed later by all company members. While it is easy to switch a private team to public, you cannot change a private channel to be a public channel.
  • You need channel meetings and / or planner
  • In addition a subset of team members you will need to give access to some others as well.

If you are contemplating if a channel should be a private or public – create it a public one.

When planning to use a private channel make sure you don’t complicate the permissions and understanding who can access and what.

Private channel under the hood (technical specs)

When you create a private channel a lightweight SharePoint Site Collection is created. While this increases a number of site collections created, it is not bad as it first sounds. The upper limit of available site collections has been risen to 2 million (from 0.5 million before Ignite). A separate site collection makes the private channel contents more secure than a mere folder or library would. While this has created a noise in Tweetbubble this is not a issue to worry about separately. Instead focus on why, how and when to create a private channel, their governance, playbook and lifecycle. The site collection is just part of the equation.

  • A team can have 30 private and 200 other channels. Including those channels that are soft deleted (that can be recovered)
  • A private channel can have up to 250 members
  • Team owners are not automatically private channel owners
  • Team owners can see, delete and restore private channels – but not access their content unless they are given access
  • Private channel’s have their own set of owners
  • Team owner cannot add members to private channels, only private channel admins can do this. This applies to settings and tabs as well.
  • If a user is removed from a team, they are also removed from all private channels.
  • A private channel cannot be changed to public.
  • A public channel cannot changed to private.
  • Stream, Planner and Forms are not supported tabs – however I was able to add a Stream video as a tab.
  • You can have a Meet Mow -meeting in a private channel but you cannot schedule a meeting to a private channel.
  • You can not record a private channel MeetNow meeting. Best practice: use Outlook scheduling for meetings.

Read more & stay up to date about private channels:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/MicrosoftTeams/private-channels

Managing private channel life cycle

Recommended practices and what not to dos

Good practices to do first

  • Create / update a playbook when in your organization a private channel should be created – and when not to
  • All existing teams: all team owners turn off the switch that team members can create private channels (this should be a job for team owners only). This requires some effort to do, so it is important to communicate about this and why this is done.
  • When a private channel is create at least one (preferably two) team owners are added there as private channel owners

Don’t

  • Change permissions of any content in private channel’s SharePoint site or libraries. This will only create confusion. –> only manage permissions in Teams (who is a member of the private channel)
  • Include private channel tabs information from other teams or sources without thinking about it twice and making sure members know it thrice. It may give a wrong impressions to private channel members that it is covered by a private channel when it is not.
  • Don’t share private channel content in other teams (and ”fix” the permissions manually). Again: private channel members won’t know that something is not staying inside the team.

These scenarios can apply to pages and documents but especially these apply to OneNote notebooks. Keep permissions simple.

Use pinned channels with private channels

The new feature, pinning a channel to a top of teams, is especially useful with private teams. This allows you to make sure the selected channels are always visible. Since the channel is private (confidential) most likely it has more valuable and important content that you should pay attention to quicker than for the rest of the team.

Private channels can provide a lots of value – unless they are over-used. In that case they only silo information and hinder collaboration unnecessarily.

… menu with private channels

The ”magic three dots menu” is slightly different with private channels than with standard channels.

  • Manage channel gets you to private channel settings I described earlier in this post. From there you can set member permissions, atmentions and fun stuff settings.
  • There is no channel moderation in private channels
  • You can sen emails to private channel as to any other channel. Unlike a standard channel you can leave the private channel. Keep in mind that if you do it, you will loose all permissions to private channel content as well.

Roster pane

Private channels also have a roster pane, that isn’t available to standard channels. You can open the pane from the right clicking the team icon. From the roster pane you can add members and go to private channel settings (=manage channel).

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