Tom Talks Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 news and opinions

Microsoft Teams Etiquette: Private Chat Out of Hours?


Matt’ Velloso’s recent tweet sparked quite a lively twitter thread. This is a really interesting modern work etiquette topic. Microsoft Teams and other workplace collaboration tools like Slack have “private chat” or “direct messages”, but when should they be used?

Are Private Messages like email or are they like Instant Messaging?

In the “olden days” etiquette was fairly simple. If you had email (everyone) and Skype for Business:

  • Email was for longer form, asynchronous, messages that don’t need an instant response. Often more formal. Generally speaking, it was culturally acceptable to send an email at any time. The receiver controlled when they checked email. I work non-traditional hours, I wouldn’t think twice about replying to or sending an email out traditional working hours
  • Skype for Business Instant Messaging was for real-time *instant* messages where you generally expected an instant response. It was transient. You could see peoples presence and make a choice to message them or not. If you knew how you could even find out their local time zone and local time. I would not Instant Message someone if I was conscious it was out of their working hours.

Now Microsoft Teams combines Team Collab Workspaces (chat, files, apps) and Unified Communications (Messaging, Phone, Meetings). The initial comparison is Skype for Business Instant Messaging is the same as Microsoft Teams Private Messages but is that the case?

  • Microsoft Teams Private Messaging is persistent and can be considered asynchronous
  • While Skype for Business has a mobile client, users are much more likely to be running Microsoft Teams on their mobile phone

In Microsoft Teams, if you are encouraging users to collaborate in team collaboration workspaces, you are encouraging them to have all their chat/messaging/communications related to a project in the Team (so reducing email). The benefit here is all communications are in the same place. A general premise of Teams is to reduce email overload.

It is OK to send Private Messages “out of hours”?

With culture and etiquette, there is rarely a simple answer, I think the key here is how the receiver perceives messages and notifications.

So let’s look at both sides:


  • You the sender should be conscious of the receivers time, time zone and attention and only use private chat when you really need a response
  • If you think it is out of hours for the remote party, you should use email
  • In this mindset, I believe you are thinking of private messaging as Instant Messaging, you are thinking the remote person should be giving an instant response


  • Private Messages do not demand an instant response, they can be thought of as asynchronous. If I need an instant response I can voice call the receiver or in some cases use Urgent Messages
  • I can’t always really know the receivers time zone or working hours, what if they are travelling
  • The receiver has control over their presence status and extensive control over their notifications with quiet hours/days
  • If we want to keep all project communications in the team in Teams (best practice), can I not @ mention my collages at a global company out of their hours for fear it will notify them? How can that work at a global company?
  • If I use email for out of hours and teams in hours, the communications with my people are split
  • Can I not like a tweet or send a Twitter or LinkedIn Direct Message “our of hours” for fear of the remote person having mobile notifications turned on and disturbing them?

2019-10-09 09.13.54

Quiet hours settings in Teams mobile that prevent notifications

Each company is going to have to agree on its own etiquette/best practice. Maybe your communication modality of choice varies depending on your working groups culture of the people you are talking to.

I think most importantly talk about and train users on time management, managing notifications, managing attention and best practices.

To my mind, if your company is adopting Microsoft Teams, you should think about private chat as less instant messaging and more asynchronous (like most consumer messaging platforms). Sure, try private chat for an “instant response” but phone/voice is the real I want to talk to you right now.

Interested to hear your opinion on this.

About the author

Tom Arbuthnot

A Microsoft MVP and Microsoft Certified Master, Tom Arbuthnot is Principal Solutions Architect at Microsoft Collaboration specialists Modality Systems.

Tom stays up to date with industry developments and shares news and his opinions on his blog, Microsoft Teams Podcast and email list. He is a regular speaker at events around the world.


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Tom Talks Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 news and opinions