Connect Two (Or More) Accounts with Microsoft Teams Connect
This year at Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams Connect. Teams Connect eases collaboration with people inside and outside of your organization by enabling shared channel-like functionality.
To best understand what Teams Connect is and how you can benefit from it, it’s important you first understand the inner workings of Microsoft Teams.
Some background on Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is an extendable platform for collaboration on Microsoft 365.
Instead of segmented information and workplace silos, it provides content in the right context through the use of channel-based working.
Within each team in Microsoft Teams, users get a set extra services aside from appears on the front end:
- SharePoint site including a document library to work on files.
- OneNote notebook for unstructured notes.
- Exchange Online mailbox with a shared calendar to plan meetings and calls.
- Planner plan to manage tasks within your team.
- Power BI workspace (you will need an extra license).
- Stream video channel.
Access to a team is secured by an object in Azure Active Directory called Microsoft 365 Group.
This group has a list of members and defines who can access the team:
Microsoft Teams uses a straightforward approach for roles:
- Owners create a team, invite and remove members and guests, and can delete a team.
- Members can create channels (standard and private) and create tabs.
- Guests can only work in their given structure.
It’s external users and guests who will benefit the most from the introduction of Teams Connect.
External users in active directory
As an owner of a Microsoft Teams team, you can invite members (internal) and guests (external).
Internal users are already present in your own tenant’s Azure Active Directory. Guests get added to your Azure Active Directory as external users, indicated by the `#EXT#`-suffix:
Usernames of external users look like this:
As you can see, the source of authority is the External Azure Active Directory.
There is a connection between channels and the document library in SharePoint.
For every standard channel you create, a folder is created in that document library. Files shared in a channel show up in the folder inside of the document library that reflects the channel.
User experience for external users
Sharing information securely across organizational boundaries is in high demand.
Collaboration with guests takes place in the tenant they get invited to. This means that they need to switch to that tenant to see new messages.
This also means that they are not logged into their own home tenant.
This is a major showstopper for collaboration as guests don’t get the full user experience like members.
Members feel that guests are still disconnected from the team.
Their user experiences are not comparable.
This leads to cumbersome workarounds like @-mentioning the channel to enforce a notification.
In some cases, people start using email again to state that a conversation takes place in Teams. In the end, those workarounds will create a less satisfactory user experience.
As a guest, you can use this practice:
- Create different profiles in the browser of your choice and then even install this website as an app.
- Install the website as an app in Microsoft Edge
The web version of Teams doesn’t give you full functionality and collaboration isn’t as seamless as it can be. The Teams web client doesn’t support virtual backgrounds among other features.
Mentally, switching context can be exhausting and a real kicker for productivity. It also forces us to have more windows open which is a distracting factor for many of us.
To solve this, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Teams Connect.
Teams Connect is using so-called shared channels. Shared channels appear in our home tenant like any other standard channel.
How to create a shared channel
Creating a shared channel is easy.
By clicking on the ellipsis icon next to the name of the Team you want this channel to live in, select Add a channel.
Now add a name, and under Privacy, select shared channel.
Add people inside or outside of your organization. You can start collaborating now.
This will improve user experience as users don’t need to switch tenants anymore.
They can stay inside the context they usually work in.
Shared channels appear in their usual work environment making collaboration easy and seamless.
What is the difference between a shared channel and a private channel?
Microsoft introduced private channels at Ignite 2019. In private channels, only a subset of the owners, members, and guests of a team can access information.
If someone is not already in the team, you can not add them to a private channel.
A private channel is like a safe inside of a room.
You need to be already in the room and have the key to that safe to be able to open it.
Files shared in private channels will not show up in the team’s SharePoint site. Files are saved in a different SharePoint site that doesn’t belong to the Microsoft 365 group.
External members of a shared channel are not guests of the team. Their display names in Teams don’t get a (Guest) suffix, but an (External) suffix.
Shared channels get a special icon. This way, everyone is aware that these channels are shared with different people.
How will this change the way we work in Teams?
Adding shared channels to a team ensures that we can keep the existing structure.
We can expand our internal collaboration experience to our external partners.
This also eases our teams’ architecture.
We will create less teams and less private channels.
People will spend less time being torn between channels and tenants, and collaboration becomes collaboration again (rather than administration).
How to get Teams Connect
Currently, this feature is in private preview and will roll out later in 2021.
Microsoft invites certain Microsoft tenants and users to partake in private previews. As such, there is no waitlist to join.
Teams Connect and shared channels will be a game changer for businesses who frequently collaborate with users outside of their own organization.
Before Teams Connect, people needed to find different workarounds. They restructured teams, rolled back on email, or tried to collaborate in chats.
With shared channels, people can stay in the flow of their work.
If you’re reading this and wondering if there’s a way to extend Teams Connect or shared channel functionality to other platforms, you’re in luck.