Teams Conversations Don’t Fork Until Now
One of the advantages professed for messaging applications like Teams and Slack is that, unlike email, conversations don’t fork. In other words, you don’t have a situation where someone starts a conversation and different threads develop as participants respond to the original topic or a reply, add new recipients, and so on. In a nutshell, everything is good because the complete conversation is available to all.
Well, life has a habit of throwing up complications and the introduction of multi-channel posts (Office 365 notification MC194015 and roadmap item 52393; now rolling out across Office 365) brings the no-forking argument for Teams to a crashing halt. A pessimist might say that Teams is adopting more a bad habit from email, while those of a more optimistic persuasion will point to the advantages of being able to spread good news to multiple channels with a single post. I guess it all depends on how you think about these things.
The Mechanics of Cross-Channel Posting
The idea behind multi-channel posts is that you can share information with multiple teams simultaneously. The implementation makes posting easy to do. Create a new conversation and select the compose box icon to reveal the post options, select Post in multiple channels and then choose the target channels (Figure 1). Send the message and Teams acts like a hyperactive multi-headed hydra and posts the item to all the chosen channels.
The important thing here is that although the same message is posted in all the target channels (including any subsequent edits), each message has a separate identity and is dealt with by Teams as a unique object. Any replies posted to the message stay within the channel and are not replicated to the other channels where the original message was posted. Ergo, we have forking.
Selecting Target Channels
Multi-channel posts can be sent to any channel in any team the user belongs to. Selecting the target channels for posting is straightforward as Teams presents a dialog to scroll through available channels (Figure 2). However, notice that the Partners channel in the Contract Working Group team is greyed out. This is because this channel is moderated, and only defined moderators can post to the channel.
Microsoft wisely limits the number of target channels to 50. Although 50 is more than adequate in most circumstances, if you need to post to more, you’ll have to send multiple copies of the same message.
Tracking Multi-Channel Posts
Users can see that a topic has been posted in multiple channels by the icon shown in Figure 3. However, the icon is mute and doesn’t tell you anything about the other channels where the topic was posted. You therefore don’t know what people might be saying about the topic in the other channels.
Personal chats provide a workaround. Start a chat with the person who posted the multi-channel topic and click the Activity tab. If the topic was posted within the last two weeks, you’ll be able to see the channels to which it is posted (Figure 4), if you have access to those channels. You can then click on the channel name to see if any interesting replies exist (or even uninteresting replies).
Unless you cut and paste replies from the different channels into a single place, there’s no way to knit topics from different channels together to form one view of what people think of a topic. Perhaps Microsoft will deliver a feature to allow users to merge replies to multi-channel posts in the future.
Generating a Teams Reply-All Storm
Multi-channel posting is a good feature to have, providing it’s used intelligently and not to spam 50 channels in the largest teams across the organization (cue the Teams equivalent of a reply-all storm as people respond in all the channels).
One way to handle the fragmentation of replies is to restrict the original post so that it can only be replied to by you and channel moderators. This would be a good way to handle a company-wide announcement that you want to post to multiple channels. But as you still want to encourage commentary and debate, you can include a link to a topic (perhaps in an org-wide team) where people can go to post their responses. Figure 5 shows how a link appears in a post.
The Need for User Education
Like many other features, user education is critical to help people understand when they should post to multiple channels. The cynic in me says that people will be left to their own devices to figure out how to use multi-channel posting. I hope I am wrong.
Need to know more about Teams? You could do far worse than subscribe to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. We keep the text updated with information about topics as they appear, like cross-channel posting. You stay informed because we do the heavy lifting. It’s a win-win.