We can’t make fully private channels in Teams yet. But we can conceal a channel from other Teams users.
Private Channels has taken the top spot at UserVoice, as the most-requested Teams feature. Microsoft is, as of this post, “Working on it” with no indication of a release date.
You can make a Team private, of course. But within that Team, channels are visible and searchable. If you really need to keep a conversation private, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
So what are Teams users doing in the meantime? Using workarounds, naturally. Or staying outside of Teams altogether (email, Slack, Skype for Business, etc.).
What kind of workarounds do people use? I’m going to list 5 in this post. Together they form a framework for ‘concealing’ Teams channels & their contents. Privatizing them, essentially, as best you can.
When to Conceal a Teams Channel
Why would Teams users need private channels in the first place? A multitude of reasons exist, all valid. In my research I came across several compelling ones:
- The channel would contain a set of information involving legal or compliance processes, which means it must fall under those same requirements.
- The channel would contain, and thus need to protect, a customer’s private data.
- The channel would discuss internal tests or R&D data.
- You’re planning an office party for the CEO/CIO/COO/VP’s birthday and they can’t find out early. (Hey, it’s possible!)
I’m sure you can think of other reasons to conceal a Team conversation. But please remember: Teams conversations are hosted on Microsoft’s servers. That doesn’t mean Microsoft spies on them. But the servers may reside outside the U.S., which could jeopardize regulatory compliance adherence like SOX or GDPR.
Okay! Let’s see what “concealment tactics” we have in Teams. You can use any combination of these, including all of them (they don’t conflict with one another).
Concealment Tactic #1 – Make a new Private Team
When you make a new Team, you have the option to set them to Public or Private. The first step, then, is to set the entire Team to Private. Then create your channel. You don’t have a Public/Private switch at channel level; that comes from the Team setting.
What This Accomplishes: Prevents unauthorized users from joining. Locks the gate.
Concealment Tactic #2 – Equip the Team with an Access Code
Generating an access code is simple within Teams. In your Team, click the Options menu (the ‘…’). Click “Manage Team.” In the Manage window, click the “Settings” tab.
You should see a “Team Code” section. Click it and you’ll get a Generate button. One more click and poof, a randomly-generated access code to that Team. Copy the access code and give it to your selected members.
If a member doesn’t have the access code, they don’t get in. Nice, huh?
What This Accomplishes: Provides a secondary authentication for Team members. “What’s the password?”
Concealment Tactic #3 – Limit Team member permissions
In the Team’s settings (accessible via “Manage Team” under the Team’s Options menu), remove permissions to add bots, add connectors, or delete channels from invited Team members.
What This Accomplishes: Guards against information leaks. Shuts the back door.
Concealment Tactic #4 – Lock down the files with SharePoint permissions
Maybe you’re not too concerned about others viewing your Teams conversation. But you want to make sure the files you’re discussing stay private.
Since Teams files are stored in the Team’s SharePoint site, you can block people from viewing those files. Bob German showed us all how to do it in an April blog post:
Using SharePoint Permissions in Microsoft Teams Channels – Vantage Point [MSDN]
What This Accomplishes: Privatizes file permissions, including viewing. Stows the valuables in a locked chest.
Concealment Tactic #5 – Archive the Team when no longer necessary
If you want a private Team/channel for a specific purpose, and that purpose completes, then you don’t need the Team/channel active anymore. As with older data, it’s best to archive the Team.
Now we see why you need to make a dedicated Team…you can’t archive a channel. Archive works at the Team-level. (Note: You can restore an archived Team later if you need to.)
What This Accomplishes: Locks down the Team’s data in cold storage. Closes the blast doors.
Next-Best Thing to Teams Private Channels While We Wait
Many commenters on UserVoice said they’d left Teams, or wouldn’t switch to Teams from another chat app, because of Private Channels. Hopefully these tactics will help dissuade you from the more drastic steps!
It’s a bit of a stopgap, I know. But Teams does have these tools for a reason. Concealing channels through private, secured Teams will serve most privacy needs. Until we get Private Channels.
How do you protect your chat conversations?