Microsoft Teams Chat vs. Channels

October 12, 2020

If you are new to Microsoft Teams, you may have noticed that your messaging experience is different depending on how you started the message. This can be a bit confusing at first, but with a bit of background these differences will make sense and you will likely find yourself changing how you communicate going forward.

Chat 

Within Microsoft Teams, direct chats are intended to allow users to talk to one or more people in a direct, and unorganized way. You can think of this in the same way you might group chat or direct messaging a user. There is no context for the chat other than the specific users who are included in the chat. This can be emphasized by understanding a few different quirks about how Chats function. 

Naming a Direct Chat 

When you are using chat, there is not a way to create threaded discussions within the same chat. The chat is simply a stream of messages from everyone. If you want more organization, you must consciously create a new chat with the same people before you start chatting. You can then help to organize those discussions by naming each of the chats. 

Chat Attachments 

When you attach a file to a chat, you are uploading that file to your OneDrive and then sharing that file with the other people in the chat. This can create unexpected side-effects if you don’t understand how this works: 

  • When the person who uploaded the file deletes it from their OneDrive or changes the permission those impact the other people in the chat. 
  • When a person edits the file, they are editing it in the other person’s OneDrive and everyone else will get the updated file. 
  • If the person who uploaded the file leaves, their OneDrive will eventually be removed, and those files will be lost. 

Calling and Sharing

It is easy to initiate a call or screen sharing session with people in a chat. Doing this will immediately start a session with all people in the chat. Sometimes you might prefer to start a session with only some of the people in the chat but leave it open to others in the chat to join if they have time. This is not possible in the chat interface. 

Adding or Removing People 

Once someone is part of a chat, there isn’t a way to remove their access to the chat history they were part of. When you remove someone it just means your future chats would not go to that person. Similarly, when you add a new person to a chat you choose what history to include for the new person. 

Channels 

Channels are a feature of a Team within the Microsoft Teams application. A Team has many features and must be created before users could start to utilize it. One of the primary features of a team is Channels. Channels are a way to organize content within a Team. The default content within a channel is Chat (aka Posts) and Files. One user can be a member of multiple Teams that have multiple channels. This is all meant to organize content and access. Below are some features unique to channels. 

Adding or Removing People 

The basic channel within a team inherits access from the Team. This means when you add a new member or owner to the team, you have also given them access to all the other resources of the team including Channel Chats. If you have created any private channels, those have unique access settings and would need to be updated as well. But the key here is that when you grant someone access they get access to all the other resources (SharePoint Site, Stream Channels, Power BI Workspace, etc.). 

Threaded Conversations 

Channel chats are threaded by default. You are either choosing to create a new conversation or you are replying to an existing one. 

Channel Meetings 

Within a channel, you can create meetings that are owned by the group instead of your user. This creates a bunch of interesting options for creating and managing meetings. All the content related to that meeting is stored in the Team so anyone can look at meeting chat, notes, etc. From any previous meeting. 

Attachments 

Attachments included in channel messages are stored in the SharePoint site associated with the Team. This means everyone has access and the data will live as long as the Team is around. 

Formatting 

Channel messages can have advanced formatting and you can do things like: 

  • Lockdown who can reply 
  • Make it an announcement instead of a conversation 
  • Post the same message to multiple channels 
  • Have a subject as well as content 

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