External Sharing in Microsoft 365

Episodes in the Microsoft 365 External Sharing Series

  1. External Sharing in Microsoft 365
  2. External Sharing in SharePoint Online
  3. External Sharing in Microsoft Teams
  4. External Sharing in Microsoft 365: The Rest

Use Cases/Scenarios

There are a few common scenarios we see across external collaboration needs:

  • One-Way Sharing of Content - A document needs to be reviewed by someone, for example, a contract, which will be attached to an email or a document workspace.

  • Temporary Collaboration Needs - A short term need which can be composed of internal and external people. These may be project-based transient needs.

  • External Partnership Collaboration Needs - A long-term more permanent need, like client and vendor portals that are used for external partnership. For example, this may be two companies partnering on research and development.

  • Blended Project Teams of Employees & Consultants - A long-term more permanent need, this includes document sharing, presence and the ability to one-click message desktop shares.

External Collaboration Methods

We polled the community to identify the most common ways people externally collaborate. It was an even spread across email attachments, individual file links, OneDrive folders, SharePoint sites, and Team Sites. Very often the option we choose will depend on the audience who is receiving the content and what they will be doing with the file. For example, if you are sending a tax document to an accountant, a file attachment may make the most sense.

External Collaboration Maturity

If you are thinking about your organization becoming more mature in an intelligent and consistent way, you may find yourself moving from ad hoc to holistic sharing methods.

Ad Hoc

Email attachments, document links, folder links - solves an immediate problem, but then again, what is the relationship with the person being interacted with and how can this relationship improve through collaboration via a shared site? You may shift out of these ad hoc methods into something more holistic for long-term collaboration needs.


Document libraries, shared sites, shared teams - a more productive and united front for collaboration.

The Maturity Model does not dictate which level is best and instead provides a framework to measure your collaboration. This can be a helpful tool for an organization to measure themselves against focusing on aligning the impacts with their company culture, goals, and size.

Things to Consider Before You Share

Know Your Use Case

Always start with asking yourself who you are sharing with and why? Is this a short-term need or a long-term need? Are they providing content back or is this one-way sharing? Often these questions will quickly narrow down which external sharing method will be most effective.

Change Management for Sharing

To fully embrace using Microsoft 365 to the best of its abilities, there needs to be a focus on internal change management for the way people are working now. Educating the business on use cases, the reasons why they should pick different external sharing methods, and their benefits will help raise the technical literacy and productivity of the organization.

Defining Types of External Access

It is important to have a full understanding of your external sharing options and types of guests. This can be challenging as it has been 10 years of evolution so it was not something designed at one moment in time. Begin with reviewing the options for collaborating with people outside your organization.

It’s really easy to share on Microsoft 365, whether it’s a site or document, but how do you find out where this information has been shared? There is auditing built into the platform which can be accessed from site usage, and also third-party tools that will generate a report for you. For example, ShareGate and Syskit have tools to generate what has been shared, and where.

Types of access

  • Create an account for someone in your tenant. This can be challenging when this external party also has another Microsoft 365 tenant and they need to switch between profiles continually to collaborate with you. This can also limit your usage of groups like “Everyone except external users” as you are now bringing external members into your tenant who likely should not have access to things like your company intranet.

  • Federation to invite them in. Depending on the product you are using and what level of sharing you select this can be a little clumsy. Microsoft has made everyone in Microsoft 365 federate with each other so one Microsoft 365 client can directly chat another. There are some additional steps to take to add someone from their domain into a Team or SharePoint site.

  • Team Members vs Guest: This Microsoft overview does an excellent job of explaining the guest versus the team member experience in Teams.

  • Tenant-Level External Collaboration Settings The permissions and settings start from the top down. Users can understand how to configure in SharePoint and Teams, but it’s important to know that permissions have to be allowed in the tenant, then product, and then site. Sharing can be set to share with anyone, or anyone besides those on the “blocked” list. These settings need to be in order on the tenant side.

External Sharing Planning

  • Scope of sharing (documents, sites, teams, other): Begin with figuring out what the use case is and what level of sharing is needed.

  • Governance and Information Architecture Considerations: Knowing your use case and length of collaboration will help inform what level of sharing (team, site, folder or document) is needed. For example, tracking document-level sharing can be really challenging for a long-term project so you may choose to instead collaborate with a SharePoint site.

  • User experience for external party: Consider what the experience will be like for the person receiving your content and how easy it will be for them to manage. For example, emailing attachments over a long-term product will likely open up content and version management issues.

How are you externally sharing content? Continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #AskSympraxis and mention @SympraxisC.