Restricting Fundamental Teams Functionality
A question posed in a Facebook forum asked how to go about disabling the chat function for Teams users. I don’t think this is a great idea. In fact, I think it’s silly to consider using Teams after disabling such a fundamental piece of its functionality. At its heart, Teams is a chat application and it makes little sense to remove Chat.
However, if you really insist on taking an axe to Teams, two approaches exist to disabling chat for a user:
- Create a Teams app setup policy without the Chat app and assign it to users.
- Create a Teams messaging policy with Chat disabled and assign it to users.
As you’ll see, the second is the more effective option.
Teams App Setup Policy Approach
You can think of Teams as a framework built from apps. Chat is an app (at least, it’s considered an app in the apps analytics report available in the Teams admin center). It’s therefore logical to think that you can create an app setup report which doesn’t include Chat and assign the policy to the users for whom you want to block Chat.
It’s simple to create a new App Setup Policy and remove Chat from the list of pinned apps. Figure 1 shows what the policy looks like. All the other standard apps like the Calendar are present, but Chat is missing.
After assigning the app setup policy to users, the next time the user signs into Teams (or the client refreshes its cache), Chat will disappear, and they’ll see something like Figure 2. The other standard apps are pinned to the left-hand navigation bar, but Chat isn’t.
Chatting Not Blocked
The problem is that this approach only removes Chat from the list of pinned apps. Users can still chat. For instance, if someone starts a chat with a blocked user, the blocked user will see a notification and can respond in the notification, which brings them to the Chat screen (Figure 3).
Chats are also possible elsewhere in Teams, such as in a meeting (Figure 4).
Or through the chat option in the people card (Figure 5).
Teams Messaging Policy Approach
Removing the Chat app might be viable if Chat is blocked for everyone in the organization. However, out of sight, out of mind isn’t a great strategy and too many places exist in Teams where Chat bubbles to the surface.
The right approach is to create a Teams messaging policy with the Chat option disabled (Figure 6).
After assigning the new policy to users, they will lose access to Chat and won’t see the app in the navigation bar and the chat icon disappears from their people card.
But the real difference comes when someone attempts to contact one of the blocked users. At this point, Teams detects that the user can’t use Chat and signals that fact (Figure 7). You could argue about the informational text chosen by Microsoft (maybe “An organization policy blocks chat for this user” would be better), but the simple fact is that this is a more effective block.
Blocking Meeting Chat
So far we’ve covered how to block the Chat app to stop users participating in personal and group chats. Teams also supports meeting chats, which are effectively a form of group chat between meeting participants.
Because meeting chats are associated with online meetings rather than individual users, they are governed by Teams meeting policies. If you want to stop chat in meetings, you must update the Teams meeting policies assigned to participants to disable the Allow chat in meetings setting (Figure 8).
Stopping Chats is Possible – But Still Bad
Even though it’s possible to remove Chat, it’s still a bad idea (even in schools). You stop side conversations in meetings, which is a terribly useful way to ask and reply to questions and share information like URLs with participants. You stop group chats, which are a great way to resolve issues before bringing them to a wider audience (in a Teams channel, for instance). You stop federated communications with Skype consumer users and Teams users in other Office 365 tenants. None of this is good.
Cutting Chat out of Teams is a great way to force people to use apps like WhatsApp instead. That’s a great strategy to follow from a compliance viewpoint because no one will have any idea of the communications passing between employees. Do everyone a favor and leave well alone.
When someone comes to you with weird and wonderful ideas about Office 365 administration, consult the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook to see what we think. Sometimes we might even have an answer!