This blog is part of a series on Teams. For more articles, check back often

Written: 20/12/2020 | Updated: N/A

There are so many great conversations to be had about presence. Do we have the right to know that another person is available? Do others respect your availability when it explicitly shows as busy? If I am employed by an organisation who uses an application which utilises presence do I have the right to turn presence off during my working hours?

This blog will look at how presence can be hidden both inside and outside the organisation. I won’t go into the ethics or the idea of being a presence liar. However, when I encounter someone who wishes to hide presence I typically find they fall into one of three buckets. The first are those who have privacy concerns from a personal or compliance perspective. These typically want to restrict or turn off presence completely. Secondly, there are those whose work needs a lot of focus time and would rather be shown as being not around as opposed to being interrupted. Third, there are those who want to enhance presence and better articulate their working status and so want to turn it off until it has the functionality it needs.

Whatever the reason, turning presence off is something users want to do.

This blog will cover

  • How to hide presence inside and outside the organisation (user driven)
  • How to hide presence outside of the organisation: Method #1 (admin driven)
  • How to hide presence outside of the organisation: Method #2 (admin driven)
  • The Presence Gap

Pre-requisites

  • Teams Licence (In an Office/Microsoft 365 Subscription) for user driven method
  • Teams Service Admin or Global Admin permissions to access the Teams Admin Centre/Powershell for admin driven methods

HOW TO HIDE PRESENCE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE ORGANISATION (USER DRIVEN)

This is to hide presence from other users inside and outside the organisation and which is driven by the user

1.) In Teams select the Avatar to bring up the me menu

2.) Select the small drop down arrow next to the presence status

3.) Select Appear Offline

4.) Presence status is now not disclosed as marked by an X inside a white circle

5.) You can also set the duration of appearing offline. So if you only wanted to hide your status for hours or days this is possible. Simply select the avatar, select the small dropdown arrow next to the presence stats then select Duration

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6.) Set status as appear offline and then set duration. You can also choose a customised duration

There are many benefits of this method. It puts the ability to hide presence in the hands of users, it applies inside and outside the organisation and it is effective for scenarios such as working out of hours. However, this is a one-size-fits all approach which will not cover such scenarios such as hiding presence from external users whilst showing internal users or hiding presence from sets of internal users. In addition, there isn’t any admin controls in the Teams Admin Centre for configuration I.e. block presence for specific users (I.e. VIP’s) or only allow specific users to have an appear offline option

HOW TO HIDE PRESENCE OUTSIDE THE ORGANISATION: METHOD #1 (ADMIN DRIVEN)

Presence will not be disclosed to users outside your organisation if external access is turned off

1.) Log into https://login.microsoftonline.com and select admin

2.) Select show all in the left navigation and then select Teams

3.) Select Org Wide Settings and then External Access

4.) Turn external access off if you do not intend to work with other organisations and they will not be able to see your users presence status or be able to communicate with your users via Teams, Skype for Business or Skype Consumer. If you only intend to work with specific organisations add their domains to your allow list and only those specific organisations will see your users presence because only those organisations will be able to communicate with your users. All other external organisations will not be able to see your users presence or communicate with your users

The benefits of this method is that you can limit your presence to only a few organisations if needed, but of course the big downside here is that limiting external access also limits messaging, VoIP calling and any other functionality which is based on federation. Many organisations would still like to communicate with other organisations, just not disclose their presence

HOW TO HIDE PRESENCE OUTSIDE THE ORGANISATION: METHOD #2 (ADMIN DRIVEN)

If you simply want to hide presence for external organisations whilst still being able to communicate with them there is another way. For this you need to use Powershell and this applies to all users in the organisation

Here any external organisation can see my presence

1.) Search for Windows Powershell and Run as Administrator

2.) If you haven’t got Teams Powershell Module installed type

Install-Module MicrosoftTeams

If this is the first time you are installing the module you may be asked to validate it is a trusted repository

3.) Run the following command to log on to a session using administrator credentials

Connect-MicrosoftTeams -Credential $credential

4.) Run the following command to import Skype for Business cmdlets

$session = New-CsOnlineSession -Credential $credential
Import-PsSession $session

5.) Run the following command to block presence showing externally for users in the organisation

Set-CsPrivacyConfiguration -EnablePrivacyMode $true

6.) Wait a few hours for propagation and external users cannot see presence even though the user is logged in and available

This is a great way to block presence to external users whilst keeping it available for internal users. The issue with this one is that it is only scoped and supported org wide at the current time. Microsoft does not scope nor support it at the user level meaning all users in the organisation hide presence externally which may not be desirable.

THE PRESENCE GAP

There are three ways to hide presence which have been outlined: one driven by users and two driven by admins. One applies both internally and externally, and two externally only. As shown, all have benefits but all also have associated issues. None of these can ultimately turn it off for the whole organisation, and what’s more none of these methods provide external users with any indication that presence has been hidden or disabled – users ‘appear offline’ which may mis-set expectations that they will return in the future as opposed to simply not wanting to disclose their presence

There is a number of ways presence could be developed further

  • Centralised admin controls in the TAC to set presence on or off both internally and externally
  • These admin controls could be granular and be at the user and group scope as well as the org scope
  • The ability for a user to turn on and off externally, linked to TAC permissions, much like tagging or read receipts
  • Presence profiles based on role (I.e. from Azure AD)
  • Presence API write permissions (instead of just read permissions)
  • Disabled/Undisclosed status that presence has been turned off

Lets hope we see a few of these drop in 2021

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