Microsoft Teams Private Channels

In November, Teams got a new functionality, which received the most upvotes (more than 25.000) on Microsoft Teams UserVoice (the website on which people can suggest new features) out of all the listed feature suggestions – the option to create private channels inside of teams.

Microsoft Teams users will know that channels are the component of Teams in which actual communication, exchanging of files etc. actually takes place. Microsoft Teams enables all member of a team to access everything in all the (public) channels of that specific team.

The concept sounds great, since we usually want the flow of information to be as smooth as possible between members of a team, which can represent a department, a project team etc. But the problem is (or was) that team leaders would sometimes like to withhold information from the whole team and share it with just a subset of a team. Up until now, organisations solved this issue by creating new teams, in which only a smaller subset of people from the original team were included or by using group chats.

Both methods required an additional amount of administrative overhead, which is now unnecessary with the arrival of private channels. Private channels allow us to specify which members of the team, in which the private channel will be created, will have access to that channel. The use cases for this feature are endless – it can be created by the owners (admins) of the team, so they can privately discuss if any new members are needed in the team or if any existing members are not needed anymore, it could be used by project leaders to discuss information which should not be publicly available yet etc.

The creation of a private channel starts in the same way as a public channel. We click on the 3 dots next to the name of the team, in which we need the private channel, and click Add channel. As usual, we give the channel a name, after which we need to be careful to set the Privacy of the channel to Private. After clicking Next, we get the option to set the members of this new private channel from the pool of existing members of the current team.

After we are done with creating the channel, we will see it in the channel list, and we will quickly be able to tell it apart from the other channels by the small lock icon next to its name. The main difference from a standard (public) channel, of course, is that this channel is visible only to members of the channel, other people won’t even know it exists. The only exception is team owners, who can see that there is a hidden channel in the team administration, but they are not able to access it. Members of this private channel can use it to communicate and share files with other members of the channel, without having to worry that unauthorized people will be able to access the information contained in the channel.

Let us give just a brief description about what happens in the background when a private channel is created. Each private channel actually creates a new Site Collection on our SharePoint. Some of you probably know that a new Office 365 group, with the accompanying site collection, is also created when we create a new team. Why then, do we need a new site collection for a private channel within the same team?

The problem is that a site collection administrator cannot be prevented from accessing any part of the site collection he is administering. So, if a new site collection was not created, the admins of the original site collection, which would contain the private channel, would be able to see the content of that private channel, which is not necessarily something we would like. Microsoft has tried to keep administration simple despite this complication. The name the new private channel site collection is based on the name of the original team name/site collection. So, for example, the name would be Teams Test Private Channel, which can also be seen in the URL, …/sites/TeamsTest-PrivateChannel/

At the moment, private channels are not quite as flexible as standard channels. For example, Planner and Forms are not available in private channels. Microsoft didn’t want to complicate SharePoint administration too much because of private channels, so private channels are created based on a special Site Collection template – teamchannel#0

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