Microsoft Teams Chat vs Channels

Microsoft Teams Chat vs Channels – the great debate.

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We help people to adopt Microsoft tools to communicate and work more effectively. Over two million people access a Microsoft solution that we built, configured and or launched across the globe. From our first-hand experience we have noticed some reoccurring trends that consistently plague organisations when launching Microsoft Teams.

After strong organic adoption of Microsoft Teams catalysed by the likes of the pandemic, bad practices can quickly set in and render the collaboration platform underutilised and misunderstood. The real power of Microsoft Teams is defined by its transparency, single point of access and ability to integrate tools and processes but an over reliance of private siloed communications spaces like chat can be devastating for teamwork and culture.

In this blog we’ll explore why people feel safe using private communication channels, why they are bad and why you should work more collaboratively with channels. We’ll also end on some top tips to share with your team so you can start working better, faster.   

Why people use Chat

It’s first important to understand why people use chat. This can help create empathy with our audience so we can start to define strategies to remedy poor behaviours.


  • Instant messaging has been around for a long time with the likes of communicator, Skype for business and consumer apps. People often understand what they are with little help and feel comfortable doing so. But familiarity breeds inertia which creates emotional attachments that can be very hard to break.


  • By their nature chats are private. They require explicit permission to be granted and therefore you can control the environment and any exposure to any content. This creates psychological safety, similar to emails. There is an inherent fear that people will be judged for things they write or share in open forums.


  • Digital workplaces and platforms, working out loud concepts and behaviours are still relatively new. In many cases people may not know there is a better way to work together or indeed what good looks like.

Why Chat is bad for work

On the face of it you may think that chatting to colleagues is harmless, it’s not hurting anyone so what’s the big deal?

Well chat is bad for work. We are defining ‘work’ here as deliverables or outcomes that you are responsible for in your role.


  • Firstly, chat is chaotic and disorderly. Your chat feed can fill up quickly with several competing messages and notifications. This can be terrible for prioritising and managing workloads. Information shared in this space can be hard to find again. There are also private chats, group chats, meetings chats – all of which can be very hard to track what was said and where.  


  • As we discussed previously, chats are private, meaning they are restricted. If you have project conversations in a chat with only a few team members you’re depriving others of information. Meaning you will have to duplicate conversations or worse leave team members out of the loop. This can foster exclusion and fragmented team culture which can have a negative effect in our current climate.


  • When information is stifled and suppressed it causes frustration. Not only with messages and information but also with documents. Sharing files in chats saves them to your OneDrive, your personal work cloud location. OneDrive requires explicit permission to access which is extremely prohibiting when working on things as a team. It also poses a project risk as documents in OneDrive aren’t owned by the team which can cause complications if someone leaves or is off unwell.

The power of channels

Don’t worry. There is a superpower that will solve all your problems. They are channels. But why use them and why are they so good?


  • Channels are essentially topics or work streams that easily categorise workloads quickly and logically. Channels provide a specific and tailored workspace with a dedicated file repository and tool set that can be customised precisely for your needs. Knowing exactly where something lives either a document, dashboard or project update removes frustration and improves connectedness


  • As you get added to more Teams and the noise and distractions increase it can be hard to maintain focus on what matters. Teams empowers you to take control of your workloads and prioritise the most important parts. By hiding, pinning, and leaving teams and channels as well as configuring notifications you can curate your optimal workspace for your needs.


  • With the advent of working from home and the expansion of co-located teams, asynchronous work styles have become crucial to many organisations. Working out loud in Teams channels facilitates a constant flow of work regardless of time or location helping to break down barriers to teamwork and collaboration.

Passive knowledge:

  • The benefit of working out loud is massive but might not always be obvious. Working in channels helps to facilitate passive knowledge transfer. This means acquiring information that you didn’t know you needed or maybe wouldn’t have immediately reached out for. This can improve team culture and connectedness but also improve decision making and problem solving.


  • And finally, context. Context is everything. But not only to current team members but future ones and sick ones or those lucky enough to be off holidaying. Teams’ channels provide an unbroken historical reference of all deliverables, approvals, issues and decisions of a project or functional team. It is invaluable information for team members to quickly upskill and to understand the nuances that might be missed in just documents or meetings alone. If this took place in a chat hidden away in a private space all of that context is lost and useless.

Working out load best practices

So how can you start championing channels and become digital workplace warriors? We’ve listed out some best practices and guiding principles that will help you on your work out loud journey.

  • Don’t over complicate your teams and channels. Allow them to grow naturally and organically overtime adding only when you need them.
  • Empower management to lead by example to work out loud and create phycological safety.  
  • Define how you will work together through house rules. It only works when everyone works together, creating trust. 
  • Nudge colleagues to open the conversation through encouragement and prompt messages – we all need a nudge sometimes, even Microsoft partners!
  • Follow up with a channel post after a meeting or long chat exchange. Don’t let information die!

Need some help? It can be daunting…

Engage Squared are a Microsoft Gold partner and Microsoft Australian Partner of the year 2021. We can help with your next digital transformation or revitalise you existing organisation. Email us to book in for a free discovery workshop to assess your current Microsoft Teams environment and we’ll provide recommendations and next steps to help you on your digital workplace journey.

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