RIP guest access, long live shared channels!

While many yearn to return to pre-pandemic days, some aspects of our new normal are welcome. Most notable is the flexibility of hybrid working, with a great majority of employers reporting they will embrace greater flexibility post-pandemic, by deploying a hybrid onsite / remote work model.

shared channels

As organizations work to solidify plans for how communication and collaboration will work for their hybrid workforce, many are choosing newer, more secure and user-friendly collaborative modalities over pre-pandemic solutions:

  • Guest access: This is the current, most frequently used approach, but many are starting to recognize the security vulnerabilities and drawbacks of this model
  • Shared channels: This emerging model from Microsoft Teams and Slack is the proverbial nail in the coffin for guest access – with shared channels poised to rise from their ashes

The lines in the sand are drawn: Slack vs. Teams

Slack’s version of shared channels, Slack Connect, launched in June 2020, opening the shared channel floodgates, and allowing for easy external communication. While both account administrators are required to approve any shared channel additions, adding new contacts to an existing Slack workspace is quick and simple.

Microsoft too announced the launch of its own shared channels, Microsoft Teams Connect, at its March 2021 Ignite Conference. Scheduled to be fully released sometime in Q4 2021, this new capability will revolutionize collaboration in Teams, simplifying several complex communication scenarios and streamlining workflows.

For Teams users, the biggest and most important difference between shared channels and guest access is that no switching between tenants is needed. Tenant switching in Teams is one of the biggest complaints from a usability perspective – users might need to comment in one channel conversation, make a change in a document, respond to a chat, or mark a task as complete, then switch to another tenant and do it all over again. This is not only redundant, but also a waste of time. Shared channels, on the other hand, live alongside teams and channels from a user’s home tenant, enabling simpler and more natural collaboration – no log out / log in required.

Slack simplifies governance issues…

Slack’s shared channel model has one major benefit over other options: it is fully self-contained. Slack is simply Slack, while Microsoft and Teams aren’t as clear cut – especially when it comes to guest access.

A Microsoft Teams guest isn’t just a Teams guest – they’re first and foremost a Microsoft 365 guest, leveraging Azure B2B Collaboration. Extending guest access credentials within Teams goes far beyond the sole platform for which it was intended and opens complex governance issues. For Microsoft, this is both a blessing (more complete security options) and curse (a complex maze of multiple admin consoles and policy areas to learn and navigate). Slack, conversely, simplifies this governance complexity for IT departments, both across shared channels and guest access credentials.

…While Microsoft’s collaboration integration model shines

In June, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams would be directly integrated into the upcoming Windows 11 update, making joining Teams meetings both easier and quicker. Teams will also receive prominent placement on the Windows 11 Start menu, with other features – like muting from the task bar – woven into the user experience for ease of use.

This strengthened, multifaceted experience, coupled with deep integrations across Windows, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Office can’t be beat from an accessibility standpoint. But there’s a rub: the extreme simplicity of access can also be an extreme exposure standpoint for security issues – if the right governance model isn’t in place.

Third parties can help bridge the gap

Some organizations may regret losing control over individual guest identities, but the functional clarity and ease of use for shared channels will eventually win out. Embracing shared channels is the next frontier in collaboration, and incorporating these features now rather than later will help avoid imminent challenges around shadow IT and a lack of consulting support.

While both IT and users will like shared channels more, there will likely be data gaps – specifically around workplace analytics – in the short term. For Microsoft specifically, these shared channels are built off the same architecture as private channels, which have historically lagged in data discovery and reporting.

Guest access channels are also plagued with large reporting gaps around the number of guests per channel and team. Third party solutions can bridge this gap and ensure appropriate security measures are undertaken, while providing insight into everything from usage, access, and number of channels.

Guest access isn’t going anywhere immediately, but we expect to see a slow and steady preference for shared channels as more and more organizations nail down their hybrid work approach. Rest in peace, guest access – to know you was… to be demoralized by tenant switching. Welcome, shared channels.

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