As the use of collaboration platforms continues to grow, it is important to understand how they work and which platform is best for you and your team. Especially as remote work has become the norm in the past year, these collaboration platforms are trying to make sharing and productivity more efficient for each of their users. This is exemplified by the launch of Microsoft Teams Connect. Teams Connect was announced at Microsoft’s Ignite Conference 2021, providing Microsoft Teams users with the ability to collaborate with external partners in shared channels. In this blog post, we’ll look at what enterprises can learn about Microsoft Teams Connect from Slack Connect by exploring their features, the advantages each solution offers, how to work with external partners using these platforms, and how they’ve maintained collaboration security and governance.
How Microsoft Teams Connect Works
Teams Connect is currently available in private preview prior to the full roll-out later in 2021. Teams Connect shared channels will be made available in Teams next to regular channels. Once launched, these shared channels will be found under the team’s channel creation options, which also include private and standard channels. Just like regular channels, they will have the same chat, video, and file support. The main difference is that the very same channel will also be accessible within another tenant.
Teams Connect offers some advantages over guest access. These shared channels allow for the creation of one communal area where both organizations have access to all the necessary information. This feature prevents the need for tenant switching, which saves time for busy users who may be guests in many different tenants. Shared channels are unique from guest access as external users in a shared channel do not become team members or need guest accounts in the hosting tenant. Instead, Microsoft Teams connects tenants to allow sharing to occur.
Looking at the specifics, if a shared channel includes external members, they are given a suffix of “external” after their name, just like the “guest” suffix for guest members. Shared channels, just like private channels, come with a small icon next to the title indicating that they are shared with another tenant, which makes them easy to recognize.
This functionality is quite similar to Slack Connect, which leads us to our next point on the different features available on Slack Connect versus Teams Connect...
Differing Microsoft Teams Connect from Slack Connect
Teams Connect comes after Slack shared channels were introduced in 2017 at the Frontiers developer conference. Slack shared channels allowed two organizations to work under one channel, giving users the opportunity to send direct messages, upload files, use integrations, and even start calls.
As of recently, Slack has upgraded to Slack Connect, allowing them to support up to 20 organizations. This is a huge improvement from the two organizations they supported with Slack shared channels prior to this. On the plus side, Slack’s Connect feature is an easy-to-use tool — there are no new functions current users need to get used to since the shared channels look just like other channels that are already available on the platform. This feature is perfect for users to stay connected in one place without having to reconcile information from multiple areas. It makes teamwork more organized and efficient.
On the other hand, Microsoft Teams Connect has not yet expressed how many organizations their feature will support, though their goal is to be able to support as many as necessary. These details will be made available closer to the launch of this new feature.
The key to understanding how to use shared channels is to understand the differences in how guest access works on each platform. Guests have some important differences between Slack and Microsoft. For Slack, each guest user must be approved by an administrator of the channel, whereas for Microsoft Teams the default setting gives users the option to add any guest. Depending on what controls are in place, it may be simpler for an end user to add a guest to Microsoft Teams than to create a shared channel.
This may have a major impact on how willing end users are to use Teams Connect shared channels. While we don’t fully know what controls Microsoft will provide, we do know that end users will do what it takes to get the job done, even if it introduces a collaboration security blind spot.
When to Use Shared Channels Versus Guest Access
Despite these differences in guest access and shared channels between platforms, there is much we can learn about when to use Teams Connect shared channels versus guest access based on how organizations are using Slack today. Ideally, these options are used in different situations because they have different advantages.
Here are our recommendations on when to use each choice based on what we know on organizations using Slack and the information we currently know about Teams Connect:
Shared Channels: Shared channels are a better fit for established partners or long-term relationships, especially with external organizations. For instance, shared channels could be the perfect fit when working with external vendors that act as an ongoing extension of your team, like marketing or recruiting agencies. Plus, from an efficiency standpoint, shared channels make more sense because they make for a more fluid workflow, as end users don’t need to switch between tenants.
In terms of data access, each organization keeps a record of communication even after the channel no longer exists, therefore, both organizations maintain access to any content generated. Companies often see this as an advantage rather than having their users be guests in another tenant because they receive records of any data shared. In Slack shared channels, both you and the external contributors access the channel from your own Slack account all while using the collaborative features of the platform — this is also applicable in Teams.
Guests: Guest access is best for temporary relationships or for someone who needs limited access; therefore, this feature is perfect for short-term projects or when working with interns or contractors. When it comes to data access, only the host organization receives access to communication when the guest account expires, and the data stored in the team is no longer reachable by the guest once their account is revoked. For IT teams looking to ensure proper data security, this limited content access is a valuable feature rather than a limitation.
While these recommendations represent the ideal way to use shared channels versus guest access, it’s important to note that real world scenarios are far messier. If end users are left to their own devices, they will often choose the easiest option, not what makes most sense from an IT and security perspective.
Connecting Cross-Platform Chats
Teams Connect and Slack Connect still do not have the functionality for cross-platform and cross-domain chat connections. This means that teams and external contacts who want to communicate across platforms must switch from one app to another, causing a huge loss in productivity. This concerns many companies as 91% of businesses use a minimum of two messaging apps and 66% of those companies use Slack and Microsoft Teams, according to Mio.
Solutions for cross-platform federation exist from companies like Mio and Nextplane. These software vendors focus on communication between platforms and have built solutions to allow for connecting chat conversations between Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Cisco Webex Teams. Some companies have also used these services to create shared channels for Teams prior to the announcement of Teams Connect. Their software creates a “connect” function, keeping all forms of communication in one place for convenience and productivity.
Managing Collaboration Security and Governance for Microsoft Teams Connect
Microsoft claims that Microsoft Teams admins will have granular control over what information is accessible to external users. This means that they can create policies allowing certain users to create shared channels and which internal users can be added to a shared channel by another organization. Admins will also have the power to block or allow sharing for the entire organization. Microsoft Teams will add a setting that enables any user from one of the federated tenants to be added easily once a channel has been established.
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As noted above, the Slack Connect feature is already in market, and Slack is able to maintain strict control over what data is shared externally. One of the ways they do this is by sending an invitation link to the external partner in order to share the channel they are joining. Admins must approve the creation of the channel, and they have the power to disconnect it at any point.
On the other hand, when it comes to managing collaboration security and governance, there are some challenges with Slack Connect. First, there is a lack of control over managing the people who are added to the shared channel. This is because once the channel is established, it is quite easy for anyone in the other organization to be added. This is yet another feature to manage and track that is high-risk because of its involvement of external users.
Additionally, Slack Connect has recently run into a bit of a controversy related to both security and privacy. This is due to the functionality allowing users to private message anyone across workplaces. Many users have told Slack that this could potentially increase workplace harassment and decrease user productivity. This opinion does not mean that the feature is not appropriate. It does, however, call attention to the complexities of how collaboration security and governance must continue to evolve. Slack’s “learnings” may cause Microsoft to make adjustments before the release of Teams Connect.
The complexity of managing collaboration features like Microsoft Teams Connect is where third-party security and governance tools come in, such as PowerSuite. Unify Square’s industry leading PowerSuite Software gives IT and InfoSec teams complete blind spot visibility and ensures consistent collaboration security and governance. By taking advantage of tools like PowerSuite’s Security Analytics, IT can discover important security issues, like improper usage of shared channels.