Your complete guide to External Sharing in Microsoft Office 365

Your team should be collaborating as a time-saving activity, and working off shared content rather than chasing down individually edited versions of the same document. For some teams, chasing down and collating all the different versions can be a job itself! Collaboration isn’t restricted to only people inside your organisation, and external sharing in Office 365 allows the team to invite people in to work in sites, documents and teams controlled by secured authentication.

Making sure your sharing policies are set up to support the business can ensure your users are participating in external collaboration appropriately, and complying with your internal policies. More importantly, it puts in controls around shared content when working with those outside the company.

What are the options?

External sharing can be set:

  • At the organization level (Microsoft Office 365)
  • At the site level (SharePoint & Teams)
  • At the user level (OneDrive)

This gives you some flexibility about how your users engage in virtual collaboration. You might set up a share site that does allow external file sharing to collaborate with clients or other authenticated guests. Similarly, you may only allow a user share from their OneDrive and not from sites.

What are the sharing settings?

Sharing capabilities can be set at the different levels, but within each level there are options. It’s important to review these options and consider which ones are the best for your organisation and which ones suit your information management and protection policy.

So, what do these mean for your organisation and your users?

External Sharing Sliders

If the settings are set to

  • Anyone: Files can be shared with anyone without authentication, and allows users to generate an anonymous link to send externally.
  • New and existing guests: Files can be shared with anyone who has a Microsoft account for school or work, or an email invitation can be sent to new guest users who will become authenticated guests once they sign in.
  • Existing guests: Files can only be shared with users inside your organisation or authenticated guests in your tenant.
  • Only people in your organisation: Files can only be shared within your organisation and turns off external sharing.

Consider further options for managing external in your environment, do you want to force external guests to sign in using the same email address the email invitation was sent to? How long do you want to give shared links before they expire?

With every rule there is an exception, and this is the same with sharing settings. Exceptions can be put in place to exclude particular domains (and stop your users from sharing with them).

External Sharing settings for sites

You can set your Global Office 365 sharing settings, but there is most likely a site or two that needs different sharing level. Maybe they’re collaboration portals with clients, projects involving external contractors, or internal sites that require stricter settings than other sites. You can set up customised sharing settings on individual sites in the SharePoint admin centre and manage those settings independently of the tenant.

External Sharing in Teams

Just as you are able to set tenant-wide restrictions on sharing, you are also able to set tenant-wide settings on sharing within Teams. There are two aspects to managing guests and external users in Teams. The first is whether your allow a Team to be shared with a guest user (external access settings). The second is what you allow them to do once they have access to the Team (Guest Access settings). Both of these and more can be updated via the Teams admin centre.

External Sharing settings for a user in OneDrive

As you’re updating the sharing settings in your environment, you may find a user account that needs to have sharing capabilities. Perhaps this user collaborates frequently with external experts or consultants. As with the SharePoint example, OneDrive can inherit settings from Office 365, but you can also change those settings for a particular user. The sharing permission for a user can be updated from the 365 admin centre

You can work through and set overall permissions for your entire tenant or an entire site, but updating the sharing settings can stop important or sensitive information from being shared with external guests or anonymous users.

External Sharing Cover

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