Shared Channels Appearing Soon

At the Ignite 2021 virtual event, Microsoft talked up “shared channels,” a new way of cross-organization collaboration. Known as Microsoft Teams Connect, the feature allows team owners to add individuals and teams to a single channel within a team, or as Microsoft puts it, “anyone, internal or external to your organization.” This is different to the current approach where people join a team and have full access to everything within the team, except private channels (unless they’re added to the membership of those channels). According to Microsoft, shared channels are scheduled to be generally available later in 2021.

Like a Private Channel, but Oh-So Different

On the surface, a shared channel seems much like a private channel. Both types of channel create a sub-team within a team to access targeted resources belonging to the team. The big difference is that those invited to share a channel don’t become team members or have guest accounts in the hosting tenant. Instead, Teams federates connections between tenants to allow sharing to happen. It’s like the federation Teams supports today for chats with people in other tenants.

When a shared channel includes external members, those people have a (External) suffix like the (Guest) suffix used for guest members, and the channel has a visual marking to say that it’s shared with people outside the organization. And as with private channels, shared channels come with an icon to show that they’re different (Figure 1) and make them easy to recognize in the Teams navigation pane.

 Shared channels in the Teams navigation pane have a different icon
Figure 1: Shared channels in the Teams navigation pane have a different icon (image credit: Microsoft)

When someone accepts the invitation to join a shared channel, Teams clients show the shared channel as a resource in the Teams and channels navigation pane. None of the other channels in the team show up (a team can span up to 200 regular channels and 30 private channels). Just the shared channel shows up. The access external people have to resources is limited to whatever’s in the shared channel. Typically, a channel resources includes messaging (conversations), channel meetings, and files. Like private channels, a shared channel gets a SharePoint Online team site to share documents between members of the shared channel. And like private channels, Teams controls the management of the SharePoint site and doesn’t allow changes to be made to the membership except through Teams.

Like private channels, you can’t transform a regular channel to become a shared channel. Instead, channels for sharing are marked on creation to allow Teams to configure the necessary properties to enable access for people outside the team.

Microsoft mentions “app collaboration” for shared channels but aren’t specific about the details. Most apps are built to support one or more access models, and the experience with private channels shows that it will likely take time before even Microsoft’s own apps support shared channels.

No Switching Necessary

The biggest and most important difference between shared channels and other channels is that no switching is needed to move to a shared channel in another tenant. Shared channels from other tenants are listed as if they were in your home tenant. Behind the scenes, Teams takes care of checking that the account you sign into Microsoft 365 with has access to the shared channel, and if that test passes, you can connect without switching.

Not having to switch between tenants is a big deal. Those of how who work in the world of multiple tenants often switch tenants many times during a working day to stay abreast of developments in the different tenants. You might need to comment in a channel conversation, make a change in a document, respond to a chat, or mark a task as complete. And then you switch to the next tenant and go through the same process.

This doesn’t happen with a shared channel. Teams clients show shared channels alongside the teams and channels from your home tenant, and the movement between a shared channel and a regular channel is as easy as between two regular channels. And best of all, you can have shared channels from multiple tenants listed and be able to move from one to the other without the focus disruption of a tenant switch. Suddenly, collaboration becomes simpler and more natural.

Shared channels don’t work when a team is blocked for guest access, either by setting its properties to block guests or if a sensitivity label with container management settings to block guest access is assigned to the team.

Azure B2B Collaboration

Shared channels don’t use Azure B2B Collaboration. Today, people from other Microsoft 365 domains or those with a Microsoft Services Account (MSA) can be invited to join a team as a guest member. These users receive guest accounts in the Azure AD for the host tenant, and over time, Azure AD can become cluttered with large numbers of guest accounts. Apart from examining the activity of guests and removing the unused accounts, there’s no good way to clean up Azure AD. Because shared channels don’t need guest accounts, account debris doesn’t accumulate in Azure AD and administrators can be sure that the guest accounts which are present are needed to enable full guest access to Teams or for sharing SharePoint and OneDrive files.

The Next Step

Initially, shared channels will support personal and team membership from the same tenant. Later, Microsoft will add the ability to connect entire teams from other tenants in a shared channel. This kind of collaboration is valuable in scenarios where an organization has a project involving outside assistance from multiple suppliers. The organization can create a shared channel and invite individual subject matter experts to join, or complete teams from some of its suppliers.

Team to team connectivity for shared channels involves cross-tenant agreement for federated connections. In other words, administrators in both tenants must agree that it’s OK for teams to link up.

Microsoft Teams Connect will be in private preview for a while yet. During this period, Microsoft will refine how shared channels work and the surrounding infrastructure like compliance, management, and governance. And once the wraps come off for a public preview, you can expect Practical365.com to take a deep dive into how shared channels work.


For more information about shared channels, see the 1:15-4:45 segment in this Microsoft Mechanics video featuring Microsoft VP Omar Shahine.

About the Author

Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond has written thousands of articles about Microsoft technology since 1996. He is the lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook, the only book covering Office 365 that is updated monthly to keep pace with change in the cloud. Apart from contributing to Practical365.com, Tony also writes at Office365itpros.com to support the development of the eBook. He has been a Microsoft MVP since 2004.

Comments

  1. Kalpesh

    Hi Tony

    Will this new feature allow a M365 group from a federated tenant to be added to a team in a host tenant?

    i.e. instead of inviting 100 external users to my team for collaboration, can I ask an Admin in the federated tenant to create and maintain a M365 group, which will have access to certain channels in my team?

    1. Tony Redmond

      I believe you’ll be able to invite a complete team (group) from another federated tenant to join a shared channel. You can then control the membership of the team in your tenant. However, let’s wait and see what the public preview delivers.

  2. Martin Coupal

    Hi Tony, so I understand the external user needs to have an azure account to be part of a shared channel, right?

    1. Tony Redmond

      Although we don’t have full details until Microsoft makes its announcement, it seems likely that the initial deployment of shared channels will be limited to people who have Teams. In other words, if your tenant uses Teams, you’ll be able to share channels with another tenant who also uses Teams. All of this is subject to federation controls. We should hear more at Ignite.

  3. Louis

    Hi, any update on when shared channels will be rolled out?

  4. Diana

    This a good feature, i hope subchannels under channels can also happen…

  5. Mike

    Can this be used to share channels between Individuals within the company ?

    So the example is

    Private Team Created
    With channels that are shared within various individuals but those individuals don’t get access to the General channel they just see the channel within that team that is relevant to them ?

    1. Tony Redmond

      Yes. That sounds like the scenario Microsoft intends to deliver.

  6. Kevin Ainscliffe

    Hi similar to Abel’s comments. Any update to when this will be introduced? This would be be really useful and is needed now! This will massively support business planning.

    1. Tony Redmond

      Microsoft hasn’t made a public enouncement yet. Even if we knew the date, we couldn’t say due to NDA.

  7. Carol Ostos

    Thank you for the article Tony. I think we all agree that this feature would radically change the way people collaborate with guests but I am still failing to see how you could jump on it if you have already invested in setting guest access with sensitivity labels, 2FA/OTP for guest enrollment, retention policies, governance. As much as I’m up for easing the users pain I am concerned about opening a can of worms when it comes to security, governance and compliance.

    1. Tony Redmond

      Let’s wait and see what Microsoft delivers in production. Guest access has had several years to develop mature methods for managing connections. We might need a similar period to fully sort out federated connections.

  8. Greg

    Virtually everything we do involves collaborating with outside clients – so the idea is great. We have a huge problem with external guest accounts.

    The thing that will cause this not to work is: “Team to team connectivity for shared channels involves cross-tenant agreement for federated connections. In other words, administrators in both tenants must agree that it’s OK for teams to link up.”

    There has to be a better way of doing that.

    1. Tony Redmond

      Could you suggest a better way? Federation is used today to allow users to chat with people in other tenants. It works OK, even if it’s a pain to maintain the list of acceptable domains (I hope this can be done using PowerShell soon).

  9. Peter Bech-Lutzka

    Thanks Tony. This is a very valuable article, which in a good way describes to me what to expect and how security will work. Looking very much forward to this feature and to not have a lot of guest accounts in Azure AD 🙂

  10. Jeremy

    It seems from the video that this is effectively an “(External) chat” (like they used to be with file sharing enabled) pinned into the UI of a Team to look like a channel. Its great for informal interactions.
    For full team collaboration (for example marketing working with an advertising firm on a laumch) you’ll still use guests.

    1. Tony Redmond

      I’d be careful about making any assumptions about how shared channels will work until we are much closer to general availability. It’s clear that they use a form of external federation; we now have to see how that works with associated applications like SharePoint and Planner to see just how far this new model extends.

  11. Abel

    How much later in 2021, we need this NOW!

  12. Joel

    I’m curious to see if the chat retention policy of the originating Team/Channel is honored in the guest/external user’s iteration of the channel. Have you heard any information on that?

    1. Tony Redmond

      At this point, I assume the effective retention policy will be that of the tenant which hosts a shared channel.

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