How to enable collaboration inside and beyond your organization using Teams Shared Channels

Microsoft Teams Shared Channels are now in a preview! This means organizations can start trying them out by themselves, instead of just looking at slides or recordings. This is the moment all organizations should start learning more about Shared Channels and what they will provide for you – and what are the things that should be kept in mind.

First and foremost: on default Shared Channels with externals are off.

Enabling Shared Channels with externals

To enable them administrator needs to log into Azure AD and turn them on separately for outbound (can your organization members join shared channels created in other organizations) and inbound (can your organization’s shared channels shared to external members).

This is the default setting

You need to change defaults on inbound (inviting externals to your Shared Channels) and outbound (allowing your employees to be invited to Shared Channels in other organizations) to enabled if you want the full federation. I have also enabled All Applications. Currently there is only Office 365, but the list is expected to grow.

When you allow external access you will be displayed a warning.

It is good to keep in mind that Shared Channels needs to be included governance models and process. For trying it out in the pilot phase you can also just choose specific groups or individual users that can use Shared Channels. It is also possible to keep defaults blocked and then add specific organizations (tenants) you work with.

The notification for Unable to find tenant remains even after erasing the name.

Adding the right tenant name shows you the name and tenantID on screen. After confirming that you can see the organization in your list to modify accesses inbound and/or outbound.

Now you can go and change inbound access to enable people from metaversed-tenant to be invited to Shared Channels.

Take a look at Trust settings for inbound access. You can decide if you want to trust MFA or compliant devices of others on either defaults (as in the picture) or per organization.

One way to get started with Shared Channels is to keep them off by default, but you can add specific organizations to enable working with Shared Channels.

For documentation, please check out Documents chapter at the bottom of this article.

There is also a Teams Adminc Center (TAC) setting at Teams policy that defines are shared channels usable in your Teams. Since this is a policy, it will be possible to take a pilot phase with a specific set of users. Even when you would have enabled full federation during the first steps you can roll Shared Channels out to people in batches – or just include your Pilot group – using Teams policy.

It is good to know that on default Shared Channels are on for your organizations inside use.

How to use and internal scenarios

Shared Channels are a powerful feature to reduce oversharing and make life in Teams world easier.

You can share a channel with individuals and teams. For example, you could have an internal project where specific people are invited to, but the project is managed by a steering group. In this setup the Shared Channel is created under a steering group (and all steering group members gain access to it) but only specific people are invited to the channel. This way life for steering group members is easier (no new team to join in) and people can still join in the conversation.

When the checkbox on “Share this channel with everyone on the team” is checked then everyone who is a member of Steering group team will be automatically a member in the Shared Channel also. If left unchecked it means that it works quite like a Private Channel instead – only selected members will have access.  These members can be in or outside of the team, which makes Shared Channels a much better option to use than Private Channels in most use cases.

Shared Channel has only Posts and Files tabs.

You can add new tabs there with the + sign.

Let’s add OneNote

Inviting individuals from inside your organization to Shared Channel is easy. Just add names and share the channel to them.

You can also make them owners if you like

Another example is sharing a channel with teams. This could be a steering group info & announcement channel, HR announcements / talk or IT support / info channel. This way the Shared Channel is with that team and shared to different teams where it appears as a channel in that team.

We can go ahead and share this with the Metaverse-team. In this case I am the owner of the team so I will choose “With a team you own”. In case I would share a channel this a team where I am not an owner the owners would get a notification and request to add the channel to one of their owned teams. So team owners quite a good control what’s being added to their team.

When I now look at the Metaverse team, I can see shared channel included there – just like any other channel in the team. Since this is internal sharing, there isn’t any warning about externals.

First, when we log in as Amy we can see that she got a notification that channel has been shared with her.

Looking from Amy’s perspective – this is like it looks to her. She is not part of the Metaverse team, but the Channel was shared with her individually. Looking at our team list, we can see Steering Group team is there – but only the Connect with Steering Group channel is visible.

Let’s write something to the channel – we can atMention the channel normally.

We can also see the notebook normally and access it.

This means people who work with Shared Channels need to be aware that everything shared inside that channel can be accessed with people who have access to that channel.

When we look at the channel as owner/member of Steering Group we can see Amy’s message and reply to it normally.

This way people can stay connected to Steering group and it is easy for Steering group to share information to everyone in the company without having to context switch to a other team and channel to write the announcement or read what people have written there.

How to use with externals and scenarios beyond your own organization

This is where Shared Channels really change the way we collaborate with others. This lets people from other organizations to work with us (or us with them) without having to context switch.

Typical scenarios could be:

  • A Project
  • Support
  • Sharing information (like latest Microsoft 365 news)
  • Marketing campaing with multiple organizations
  • Joined sales case

Typically, these would be aligned to our existing teams, instead of creating new ones

  • A project shared channel would be under “our” project team
  • Support shared channel would be under “our” customer team (which is otherwise internal)
  • Sharing information to multiple customers at the same time (under IT or consulting)
  • Marketing campaing under MarCom team
  • Joined sales case under a customer or generic sales team

When thinking community or other use this makes it also easier to communicate and share files with the community. Just thinking our Teams Finland – instead of a persistent meeting chat we will have a Shared Channel where we can chat together and share files. This will be a slow start though, because on default external Shared Channels (both inbound and outbound) are off. Hopefully many organizations start by enabling outbound use of Shared Channels.

And yes, notifications will work normally!

Let’s share the Connect with Steering Group -channel with an external person. This could be, for example, a board member. I am going to share it with external individual.

Let’s add my alter ego in another tenant.

Since the person, I shared channel with, is external they can be only members.

My alter ego receives a notification that he has been added to shared channel

I can see the shared channel in my team list.

This tells me that

  • Steering Group team is from mrteams -tenant
    • Connect with Steering Group (External) points out that the channel is from external organization and also shared (the icon)

When I go and start writing a message to the channel I also get information that there are external people in the channel.

When I click the “other orgs” link I can see who are in the channel and from which organization and who are externals from my alter ego’s point of view

I can reply directly to messages or add new conversations.

I can also open the OneNote and edit it’s contents (read on, since this didn’t work today when I clicked the OneNote tab)

There is a caveat in the OneNote – I can’t access it directly via channel tabs. If I try to open it that way I get an error message. This may be because it is in preview or still rolling out – I am expecting it will work just fine soon.

Instead I can navigate to files and locate the notebook from there (under Shared Documents under Documents) . Then it works normally and OneNote opens.

It is possible to add and create new documents and people – both internal and external – can work with them.

It is possible to add tabs to channels – for example Lists is something that both internal and external channel members can do.

You can also share the channel with an external team: just share with team and use external team owner’s email address where the request is sent to. That person can then approve the request and choose to which of his/hers team’s Shared Channel is added. After that the Shared Channel owner (in it’s home organization) gets another approval request to accept channel sharing to that external team. This way team owners in both organizations agree that “yes, this channel can be shared there”.

What to watch out for and what to know?

The first one is of course to train users to understand Shared Channels. What they mean and why they need to be interested in them. This is of course to avoid mistakes where it is thought that Shared Channel is for internal use only. Microsoft Teams is already highlighting and warning about that when I participate in a conversation.

Another thing to watch out is not to make Shared Channels a boogieman. This happened with some organizations when it was possible to add guests to your tenant. I have seen some very complex processes with agreements that made it not worth the trouble to set up guest access in some cases. It is good to remember people will also use the easiest way to get the job done. If Shared Channels don’t work, then files are shared via OneDrive or just sent out via email. If Shared Channel cannot be used to communicate with the customer then people will use a group or meeting chat. Or email or WhatsApp.

It is good that CIO/CTO, IT department and Admins read through Shared Channels documentation and validate if they have something that needs to be prepared before enabling them, but I would get that project starting sooner rather than later. CIOs and security people want to know about how you can find Shared Channels in Audit Logs and eDiscovery Search. And Tony Redmond has written a great article how to track user access to Shared Channels with Azure AD sign-in logs.

This may also be a good moment to start securing your essential documents with Azure Information Protection. This hasn’t been used as widely as I would think: if you are worried about your content then protect it! But Information Protection is another story – and not in scope of this blog post.

In the core: Shared Channel is managed by the organization who shares it. They have full options to secure and govern the data to make sure about compliance needs.

People are added to Shared Channels with their real identity, so they are not guests in your tenant. You may have some rules defined for guests, so you need to check out how you implement them to people in Shared Channels who join with their real identities.

There are also some limits for Shared Channels.

  • Shared Channel is limited to 1,000 direct members, including up to 50 teams. Each team the channel is shared with counts as one member for purposes of this limit.
  • 50 shared channels per team
  • Channel can be shared with 50 teams (excluding the parent team)
  • Shared channels support tabs except for Stream, Planner, and Forms.
  • LOB apps, bots, connectors, and message extensions are not supported for public preview.
  • When you create a team from an existing team, any shared channels in the existing team won’t be copied over.
  • Notifications from shared channels are not included in missed activity emails.

People need to be educated about Shared Channels, so they don’t accidentally share there something they think is going to be visible to their team members also.

As Shared Channels is now in the preview, it means only Teams users who have Public Preview enabled can create or manage them. You can invite people in the normal generally available Teams to use and participate in them, but they cannot create new Shared Channels.

Documentation

There are documentation available about Shared Channels in Microsoft Docs.

Picking a few important ones to get started, in addition to links in this post:

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