With the launch of Teams Connect at this week’s Ignite conference, Microsoft Teams users can now collaborate with external partners and clients in shared channels.
Available in private preview ahead of a full roll-out later this year, Teams Connect shared channels are accessible within the main Teams app view alongside regular channels. Users can continue to access Teams features such as text chat, video and voice within shared channels, as well as share content and co-author documents with external users in real-time.
When launched, Shared channels will appear as an option from the channel creation menu alongside standard and private channels. External Teams users can then be invited to join the shared space.
“[You’ll] have this ability to have a shared channel with customers and with partners outside your company, where you can meet, you can chat, you can collaborate, you can co-author documents,” Emma Williams, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office Modern Workplace Transformation, said during an Ignite session Thursday. “We think [the] new sharing channel experience will be incredibly powerful for our customers.”
Teams admins will be given “granular controls” over external user access to data and information. This includes the ability to create policies that specify which users can create a shared channel, as well as which internal users can be added to a shared channel created by another organization.
It will also be possible to allow or block sharing for an entire organization.
Microsoft did not immediately offer details on the number of organizations that can access a shared channel, though the plan is to enable collaboration across as many organizations as needed. The company said additional details would be provided closer to the full feature launch.
Shared channels is a long-awaited feature in Teams, said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC, and will help it compete with Slack and Google Chat in the team collaboration software market.
“The ability to easily collaborate between companies using Shared Channels was something that Microsoft Teams was sorely missing,” said Kurtzman. “Teams Connect helps solve that problem by extending Teams membership to partner companies.”
The announcement follows a similar move last year by Teams’ rival Slack. Slack Connect allows up to 20 organizations to collaborate in a single shared channel, an extension of the existing shared channel capability introduced by the vendor in 2017.
“Teams Connect, like Slack Connect, meets a growing market need for cross-company collaboration, in context, integrating messaging, meetings, apps, and data,” said Irwin Lazar president and principal analyst at Metrigy, in a blog post.
Lazar also pointed out that, as with Slack Connect, Teams Connect only supports “like-to-like federation” between Teams users.
“Those wishing to federate their Microsoft Teams instances with other team collaboration apps, such as Cisco Webex and Slack have other options,” he wrote. “They can use third-party federation services, including Mio and Sameroom. Or they can consider allowing guest access to team spaces in conjunction with deploying security solutions from Safeguard Cyber, Theta Lake, or Unify Square to minimize guest account risk.”