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In this article

  • Default Microsoft 365 retention
  • Retention policy
  • Legal holds
  • Restrict accidental data deletion
  • Limitations of native retention options
  • Third - party cloud backup solutions
  • What happens when Teams data is deleted
  • SysCloud backup for Microsoft Teams

A Complete Guide to Microsoft Teams Data Retention

26 Oct 2021
20 min read

Microsoft Teams is a collaborative workspace within Microsoft 365 that serves as a central hub for workplace conversations, teamwork, video chats, and document sharing. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant widespread adoption of a work from home model, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Teams users, rising to 145 million users in April 2021, making Teams the fastest growing business app in Microsoft’s history.  Widespread adoption of Teams by businesses also means there is an increase in risk of data loss due to a wide variety of reasons. Given the fact that Microsoft is not responsible for backing up your data, retaining Teams data is the responsibility of IT administrators so that business data is available at all times. This will come handy in the event of data loss and will also ensure legal compliance. 

This article explores the different ways in which admins can retain Microsoft Teams data. 

Teams retention flowchart

To understand how retention works with Microsoft Teams, it is important to know where Microsoft Teams data is stored. Since Teams is a productivity hub that utilizes many applications and services across Microsoft 365, it stores data across multiple locations. To learn where the different types of data created or shared via Teams get stored, read our article A Guide to Teams Data Storage Location.

1. Default Microsoft 365 retention

The default Microsoft 365 retention helps recover the portion of Teams data stored on SharePoint (Wiki, chat and channel files, and OneNote) and Exchange (emails sent to Teams mailbox and Teams calendar).

1.1. Default Exchange retention

Items deleted from Exchange Online are moved to the Deleted Items folder where they remain for thirty days or until a user/admin empties it. When data is deleted from the Deleted Items folder, it is moved to the Recoverable Items folder where it is kept for 14 days (the period can be extended to 30 days via power shell) during which a user or an admin can restore it.

1.2. Default SharePoint retention

Deleted SharePoint data go to the first-stage Recycle Bin (site Recycle Bin) where it stays for 93 days, before it is permanently deleted. If an admin or a user deletes the data from the Recycle Bin before the 93-day retention period, then the data goes to the second-stage Recycle Bin (site collection Recycle Bin) where it stays for the remainder of the 93 days. Microsoft provides an additional backup of 14 days (after deletion from the second-stage Recycle Bin) during which an admin can contact Microsoft support for site-level recovery, but restore is not always guaranteed.

protipPro tip

The data retained by default Microsoft retention is counted towards your Microsoft 365 storage quota, and you will need to purchase additional storage if you exceed the limit. Try SysCloud backup for Microsoft 365 to save on additional storage costs.

1.3. Limitations of default Microsoft 365 retention

  • The data retained using the default retention is counted towards your Microsoft 365 storage quota, and you will need to purchase additional storage if you exceed the limit. 

  • Chat/channel messages aren't protected by standard Microsoft retention. 

  • Data is permanently deleted once the default retention period expires. 

2. How can you retain Microsoft Teams data?

Below are the four ways in which an administrator can retain Microsoft Teams data:
1) Retain Teams data using retention policies
2) Retain Teams data using legal holds
3) Restrict accidental deletion of Teams data by users
4) Retain Teams data using third-party backup solutions

2.1. Retain Teams data using retention policy

2.1.1. Introduction to Teams retention policy

Microsoft 365 retention policies help you to effectively manage your organizational data. Retention settings can be configured to retain data that is required to comply with your organization's internal policies, industry regulations, or legal requirements. It can also be used to delete data that you're no longer required to keep, or that has no legal or business value. 
Teams supports retention policies for chat and channel messages. If you have teams that were created from a Microsoft 365 group, you should additionally configure a retention policy that includes that Microsoft 365 group, by using the Microsoft 365 Groups location. This retention policy applies to content in the group's mailbox, site, and files.  Learn how to create a Groups retention policy
If you have team sites that aren't connected to a Microsoft 365 group, you need a retention policy that includes the SharePoint sites or OneDrive account locations to retain files in Teams.  Learn how to create a retention policy for SharePoint or OneDrive

2.1.2 Licensing requirements:

  • Microsoft 365 E5/G5/A5/E3/G3/A3

  • Office 365 E5/G5/A5/E3/G3/A3/F3/E1/G1

2.1.3. Retention policy for Teams chat and channel messages

You can set up separate retention policies for chats as well as channel messages. You can also configure unique policies which apply to specific users or teams - for Teams chats, you can select which users the policy applies to, and for channel messages, you can select which teams the policy applies to.

How to create a retention policy for Teams chat and channel messages 

Note: To create and configure retention policies, one needs to be a global admin or a compliance admin. 

  • Step 1: Open the Compliance admin center and navigate to the Information governance section.

  • Step 2: Select Retention policy -> New retention policy. Name your retention policy

create new retention policy
  • Step 3: In the Locations page, select any or all of the locations for Teams:

-Teams channel message: Messages from standard channel chats and standard channel meetings, but not from private channels that have their own policy location

-Teams chats: Messages from private 1:1 chats, group chats, and meeting chats

-Teams private channel messages: Messages from private channel chats and private channel meetings

You also have the option to include/exclude specific teams or users.

Note: Teams private channel messages” location has to be selected separately and cannot be selected at the same time as the other two locations.

teams retention policy - chat and channel messages
  • Step 4: Configure the retention settings and click on the Next button.

You can choose to:
    - Retain the content for a specific period or forever
    - Retain for a specific period and then delete the content
    - Delete the content after a specific period

retain, delete, or both
  • Step 5: Review the settings and click Submit. Your new retention policy will be created.

How retention works with Teams chat and channel messages 

If you configure a Teams retention policy to retain chats or channel messages, users can still edit/delete messages within the Teams app. They can no longer see their pre-edited or deleted messages within the Teams app but a copy of these messages is retained in a secure location that's designed for eDiscovery searches by compliance administrators. (Learn more about the different locations in which Teams data get stored) Permanent deletion of chat/channel data doesn’t happen before the end of the configured retention period.  

If you configure a retention policy to delete chats or channel messages, these messages become eligible for automatic deletion. Teams uses an Azure-powered chat service as its primary storage for chats and channel messages, and a copy is retained in the Exchange Online for compliance purposes. When the retention period expires, they are permanently deleted from Exchange Online as well as from the primary storage used by the underlying Azure-powered chat service, and in effect, from the Teams app as well. Messages deleted by your organization’s retention policy cannot be recovered. 

For private chats or group chats : Messages older than the retention policy configuration are deleted and an automatically generated message stating "We've deleted older messages due to your org's retention policy" is shown on top of yet undeleted messages. 

how retention policy works for chats

For channel messages: Messages older than the retention policy configuration are deleted. If the deleted message was a parent message of a threaded conversation, a message stating “This message has been deleted because of a Retention Policy” will be displayed in place of the parent message. All replies in the thread which are still within the retention period will remain.

how retention policy works for channel messages

If the messages which were previously subjected to a retention policy (for deletion) are now deleted/edited by users within the app, these messages will be deleted from the secured location and no longer accessible via eDiscovery searches.   For more information on how retention works for Teams chat and channel messages, click here

2.1.4. Retention policy for files shared in Teams

Teams retention policy covers only chat and channel messages. To retain files shared on Teams, you need to create additional retention policies which include SharePoint sites (for files shared via Teams channels) and OneDrive accounts (for files shared via Teams chats).

protipPro tip

Retained files are stored in the Preservation Hold Library, and data in the Preservation Hold Library counts against your SharePoint storage quota. The total SharePoint storage limit per organization is set at 1TB plus 10GB x number of licensed Microsoft 365 users in your tenant. If you exceed the limit, you will have  to purchase additional storage priced at $200/month/TB. To save on storage costs, you can opt for a third-party backup solution, like SysCloud.

How to create a retention policy for Teams files

  • Step 1: Open the Compliance admin center and navigate to the Information governance section.

  • Step 2: Select Retention policy -> New retention policy. Name your retention policy.

create new retention policy
  • Step 3: In the Locations page, select the SharePoint site or OneDrive accounts corresponding to the channel or chat files you want to retain.

retention policy for SharePoint and OneDrive
  • Step 4: Configure the retention settings and click on the Next button.

retain, delete, or both
  • Step 5: Review the settings and click Submit. Your new retention policy will be created.

Note: If you have a retention policy that deletes a file shared in a Team chat or channel message before the message itself is deleted, then the file will still continue to show up in the Teams message. However, if you click on the file you’ll receive a “File not found” error. You could also receive this error if someone were to manually delete the file from SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business with no retention policy in place. 

To learn more on how retention policy works for SharePoint, read this article.

2.1.5. Retention policy for Teams data stored in Exchange Online

Except for Microsoft Teams chat and channel messages, Teams data which is stored in Exchange Online such as Calendar, group emails have to be retained using Exchange retention policy. (Since Teams retention policy only covers chat and channel messages) 

Click here to know more about retention for Exchange Online data.

2.1.6. Retention policy for Teams created from Microsoft Groups

As previously mentioned, if you have teams that were created from a Microsoft 365 group, you should configure a retention policy that includes the Microsoft 365 groups from which the teams were created (by using the Microsoft 365 Groups location). This retention policy applies to content in the group's mailbox, site, and files. 
Even though a Microsoft 365 group has an Exchange mailbox, a retention policy that includes the entire Exchange email location won't cover content in Microsoft 365 group mailboxes. Although the Exchange email location initially allows you to specify a group mailbox to be included or excluded, when you try to save the retention policy, you'll see an error saying "RemoteGroupMailbox" is not a valid selection for the Exchange location. 

How to create a Groups retention policy  

  • Step 1: Open the Compliance admin center and navigate to the Information governance section.

  • Step 2: Select Retention policy ->New retention policy. Name your retention policy.

create new retention policy
  • Step 3: In the Locations page, select the group from which the team was created.

Groups retention policy
  • Step 4: Configure the retention settings and click on the Next button.

retain, delete, or both
  • Step 5: Review the settings and click Submit. Your new retention policy will be created.

By default, a retention policy applied to a Microsoft 365 group includes the group mailbox and SharePoint team site. 

To change the default because you want the retention policy to apply to either just the Microsoft 365 mailboxes, or just the connected SharePoint teams sites, use the Set-RetentionCompliancePolicy PowerShell cmdlet with the Applications parameter having one of the following values: 

Group : Exchange for just Microsoft 365 mailboxes that are connected to the group. 

Group : SharePoint for just SharePoint sites that are connected to the group. 

To return to the default value of both the mailbox and SharePoint site for the selected Microsoft 365 groups, specify 

Group : Exchange, SharePoint.   (Reference :Microsoft documentation

Legal holds are useful to preserve information that might be required for litigation purposes. A Compliance admin or a global admin can apply legal holds to data in Microsoft Teams such as private chats, channel conversations, etc to prevent users from permanently deleting them. You can select specific users or even put an entire team on hold. When an entire team is put on hold, all the messages that were exchanged on that team, including private channels, can be discovered by the organization’s compliance managers or Teams admins.  

To learn more about legal holds and how to place Teams data on hold, read this article. 

2.3. Restricting accidental deletion by users

To prevent accidental deletion of Teams data, you can restrict users in your organization from deleting Teams conversations and files. You can also prevent users from deleting Teams channels.

2.3.1. How to restrict chat deletion from the Microsoft Teams Admin Center

  • Step 1: Go to the Teams admin center. Navigate to Messaging policies and click on the +Add button.

create messaging policy
  • Step 2: Disable the policies Owners can delete sent messages and Delete sent messages. You can also disable Edit sent messages policy if you don’t want users to edit sent messages. Click Save.

disable messaging policies

    Once the policy has been saved, users will no longer be able to delete Teams messages.

    2.3.2. How to restrict files deletion using SharePoint advanced settings

    • Step 1: Open the SharePoint document library for which you want to edit user permissions.

    • Step 2: Click the gear icon and select Library settings.

    library settings
    • Step 3: Under Permissions and Management, select Permissions for this document library.

    Permissions for this document library
    • Step 4: Select Stop Inheriting Permissions to prevent users from inheriting the permissions of the parent site.

    stop inheriting permissions
    • Step 5: Go to Edit User Permissions. To prevent users from deleting Teams files, change the permission to Read.

    edit user permissions

    change user permission to Read

    This will prevent deletion of all the files within the selected document library. 

    You can also edit the user permissions for the whole site instead of a document library. To do this, open the team site  -> click the gear icon -> Site permissions -> Advanced permission settings, and follow the rest of the steps as mentioned above.    

    Site permissions

    You can also edit the user permissions for specific files. To do this, right click the required file -> Manage access -> Advanced, and follow the rest of the steps as mentioned above.

    edit user permissions for specific files

    2.3.3. How to restrict channel deletion from the Teams application

    Note: You need to be a team owner to perform this.

    • Step 1: In the Teams application, click the three dotted lines next to the team name, then choose Manage team from the drop-down menu.

    • Step 2: Navigate to Settings. Under Member permissions, uncheck the option Allow members to delete and restore channels.

    restrict channel deletion

    2.4 Limitations of native Teams data retention options

    • Retained data counts towards your Microsoft 365 storage quota. Each user has a limited storage available. If you delete data to stay within the storage limit, the deleted data cannot be recovered. Because Microsoft keeps the full versions of all deleted and modified data (no incremental backup is provided), Microsoft  365 storage limits can be reached fast.

    • Unlike third-party backup tools, native retention methods lack automated recovery features. In the event of a data loss, retained data can only be exported offline and need to be restored manually. Restoring a large amount of data will require a lot of manual effort and time.

    • Data belonging to deleted user accounts are not retained, so if you need to retain data of employees who left the company, you must continue paying Microsoft for the user licenses.

    • Retention policies and legal holds are part of the Compliance Center which is only available in senior E3/E5 plans that are more expensive than Microsoft (Office) 365 Business plans.

    2.5 Retain Teams data using third - party backup solutions

    Third-party backup solutions like SysCloud can be used to effortlessly back up and restore your Microsoft Teams data. SysCloud Microsoft 365 backup allows admins to back up Teams channel conversations and files, and export or restore them whenever needed. Learn more about SysCloud Teams backup

    2.5.1. Why should you use third-party cloud backup tools to back up Microsoft Teams?

    The following are the advantages of using third-party cloud backup tools like SysCloud to backup your Teams data: 

    • Save Licensing Costs: Keep a safe copy of Teams data even after the user accounts are deleted. This happens mostly during employee exits, thus saving on license costs.

    • Access Data During Outages: Access your Teams data via SysCloud backup app even when Microsoft 365 suffers an outage, which is not very uncommon.

    • Added-Security:  Gain added data security with increased admin control and in-built protection for ransomware attacks.

    • Automatic/ Scheduled Backup: Schedule automated backups multiple times during the day. 

    • Regular activity reports: Get granular reports of all the activities in the backup account.

    3. What happens when Teams data is deleted

    3.1 If an entire team is deleted:

    When a team is deleted, it’s the Microsoft 365 group that gets deleted with all its associated content. Deleted groups are retained for 30 days, during which a Global or Groups administrator can restore them from the Microsoft 365 admin center/Azure AD admin center. Beyond the 30-day recovery period, the team is permanently deleted unless a backup solution is in place.

    An entire team is deleted

    3.2. If a Teams channel is deleted:

    Once a channel is deleted, it is moved to the “Deleted” section in the Channel tab (found under the "Manage team" setting for that particular team)Deleted channels are retained for 30 days, during which a channel member can restore them from Teams settings. During these 30 days, a deleted channel continues to be counted towards the 200 channel or 30 private channel per team limit. Beyond the default recovery period, the channel is permanently deleted unless a backup solution is in place.  

    An entire channel is deleted

    3.3 If Teams SharePoint files are deleted:

    Without retention: On deletion, Teams data stored in SharePoint moves to the first-stage Recycle Bin where it remains for 93 days unless someone deletes it from there. In that case, the data moves to the second-stage Recycle Bin where it stays for the remainder of the 93 days, before getting permanently deleted. The administrator can contact Microsoft support within 14 days of deletion (from the second-stage Recycle Bin) for a site-level recovery, but restore is not always guaranteed.  

     With retention: If a retention policy is in place, a copy of the original data will be created in the Preservation Hold Library, where it stays until the end of the retention period. Once the retention period expires, the data moves to the second-stage Recycle Bin, and is permanently deleted at the end of 93 days. Learn more

    Teams files retention

     3.4 If Teams channel messages are deleted:

    Without retention: When you delete channel messages, they are permanently deleted and cannot be recovered by anyone unless retention has been enabled for Teams channel messages. 

    With retention:  Channel messages are stored in a hidden folder in Exchange Online for compliance purposes. Deleted messages go to another hidden folder in Exchange, called the SubstrateHolds folder (part of the Recoverable Items folder), where they remain until the retention period expires. Once the retention period expires, these messages are permanently deleted. 

    To know how to recover deleted Teams data, read our article How to Recover Deleted Teams Data.

    Channel messages are deleted

    4. SysCloud backup for Microsoft Teams

    Using SysCloud, administrators can back up Teams channels as well as SharePoint sites associated with different teams. Both public and private teams can be backed up. Admins have the option to either back up specific teams whenever required or enable Auto Backup feature to automatically back up Teams data.

    SysCloud Teams backup

    4.1 Channel backup

    SysCloud backs up every conversation thread within a Teams channel as a separate entry. This includes all the URLs  and media files shared throughout the conversation. Admins can export an entire channel or specific conversation threads from the backup archives whenever needed. The exported data is available for download in the Reports page under SHAREPOINT AND TEAMS EXPORT.

    Teams channels backup

    4.2 Site content backup

    All the SharePoint site content associated with a team (Subsites, Site pages, OneNote, Lists, and Document library) can be backed up by SysCloud. Administrators can choose to restore or export an entire folder or individual files within each SharePoint folder. 

    Team site content backup

    4.3 SysCloud Teams backup vs. native retention settings

    FeaturesSysCloudNative Microsoft Retention Settings
    Backup Teams Channel conversations

    Backup Teams Site content: Subsites, Site pages, OneNote, Lists, Document library

    Export Teams posts at a channel level

    Show More

     

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    In this article

    • Default Microsoft 365 retention
    • Retention policy
    • Legal holds
    • Restrict accidental data deletion
    • Limitations of native retention options
    • Third - party cloud backup solutions
    • What happens when Teams data is deleted
    • SysCloud backup for Microsoft Teams
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