Best Practices for External Collaboration in Microsoft 365

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External Sharing in M365 and Teams


Using Microsoft 365 for External Workflows

Are you searching for effective ways to collaborate or share documents with external parties like partners, clients, vendors, or subcontractors? While Microsoft 365 offers a powerful suite of tools for internal collaboration and productivity, navigating the best practices for extending these functionalities externally can be challenging. Understanding the nuances and limitations of each tool is essential for maximizing its potential. In this article, we’ll delve into three key Microsoft 365 tools for external sharing—SharePoint Online, Teams Shared Channels, and OneDrive. We’ll explore when to use each tool, how to configure them for optimal performance, and important considerations to keep in mind.


When to Use SharePoint for External Sharing

SharePoint is ideal for collaborative projects that involve structured content and document management. It excels in scenarios where multiple people need to access, edit, and collaborate on a wide range of documents, providing a robust platform for version control, metadata management, and advanced workflows. Typical use cases include:

  • Company intranets and extranets.
  • Project management sites.
  • Document libraries for team or departmental collaboration.
  • Knowledge management systems.

Best Practices:

  • Organize content logically using sites, libraries, and folders. Establish a clear taxonomy and naming conventions.
  • Use SharePoint's granular permissions settings to control access. Assign permissions at the site, library, or item level based on the needs of the project.
  • Enable versioning to track changes and maintain a history of document edits.
  • Utilize metadata and content types to categorize and tag documents for easier search and retrieval.
  • Configure external sharing settings to match the organization’s security policies, limiting access to specific users or groups.

Benefits:

  • Robust document management capabilities.
  • Advanced permissions and access controls.
  • Integration with Microsoft 365 apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).
  • Customizable workflows and automation.

Limitations:

  • Steeper learning curve for users unfamiliar with SharePoint.
  • Requires more initial setup and configuration.
  • Potentially complex permission's management.


When to Use Teams Shared Channels for External Collaboration

Teams Shared Channels are designed for seamless, real-time collaboration with external partners without the need for tenant switching. At Extranet User Manager, we use Shared Channels extensively for dynamic working sessions and convenient communications with our partners. We even have an entire article dedicated to how we use Shared Channels for this scenario. Other suitable scenarios include:

  • Cross-organization project teams.
  • Temporary collaboration with external stakeholders.
  • Ongoing partnerships with vendors, clients, or contractors.

Best Practices:

  • Clearly define the purpose and scope of the shared channel to ensure all participants understand its use.
  • Add external users carefully and manage their permissions to ensure they only have access to necessary resources.
  • Configure channel settings to allow or restrict features such as file sharing, message posting, and app usage based on collaboration needs.
  • Periodically review the membership and permissions of shared channels to maintain security and relevance.
  • Provide training for external users to help them navigate and utilize the shared channels effectively.

Benefits:

  • Real-time collaboration and communication.
  • No need for external users to switch tenants.
  • Integrated with Teams chat, video, and app functionalities.
  • Simplifies collaboration with external stakeholders.

Limitations:

  • Limited to users with Teams accounts.
  • Less structured document management compared to SharePoint.
  • Permissions are at the channel level, not as granular as SharePoint.


When to Use OneDrive for External Sharing

OneDrive is best suited for individual file sharing and collaboration. It is ideal for scenarios where single users need to share documents or files with external parties quickly and easily. Common use cases include:

  • Sharing personal work documents with external collaborators.
  • Temporary file sharing with clients or vendors.
  • Backing up and sharing personal work files across devices.

Best Practices:

  • Use OneDrive’s link settings to control access levels (view, edit) and set expiration dates for shared links.
  • Regularly review and manage sharing permissions to ensure files are only accessible to intended recipients.
  • Keep shared files organized in folders and use descriptive names for easy identification.
  • Use OneDrive’s activity feed to monitor access and changes to shared files.
  • Implement conditional access policies to enhance security, such as requiring MFA for access.

Benefits:

  • Simple and quick file sharing.
  • Easy to use with minimal setup.
  • Integrated with Microsoft 365 apps and services.
  • Allows setting of link expiration and password protection.

Limitations:

  • Less suitable for large-scale document management.
  • Limited collaborative features compared to SharePoint and Teams.
  • File sharing is more individual based, not ideal for team collaboration.


In Summary

Choosing between SharePoint, Teams Shared Channels, and OneDrive for external sharing depends on the specific needs and context of the collaboration:

  • SharePoint is best for structured, ongoing collaborations involving document management and complex workflows. It provides powerful tools for organizing, managing, and securing shared content.
  • Teams Shared Channels are optimal for real-time collaboration with external partners, offering a seamless and interactive environment without tenant switching.
  • OneDrive is perfect for quick, individual file sharing, providing a straightforward and efficient way to share documents with external parties.

That said, these methods do come with limitations. For certain collaboration needs, such as being able to scale to many external users or having highly customized permissions structures, these tools tend to fall flat. That's where Extranet User Manager comes in.


Simple, Centralized External Collaboration with Extranet User Manager

For organizations requiring consistent, scalable collaboration with external parties, certain limitations of traditional tools can become significant roadblocks to productivity. Managing complex permissions can be a substantial burden on IT, especially when collaborating with hundreds or thousands of external users. The fluctuating nature of these permissions increases the risk of human error, causing frustration for both administrators and end users as they struggle to access the resources they need.

Additionally, tools like OneDrive are better suited for one-to-one sharing rather than scalable collaboration. While Teams Shared Channels offer a better solution for real-time collaboration, the channel structure can be confusing for end users, and documents are often stored in ways that are neither intuitive nor flexible. Since permissions are managed at the channel level, sensitive documents that should only be accessible to a select few may end up being available to everyone in the channel.

This often leads organizations to use a combination of SharePoint, Teams, and OneDrive, resulting in information sprawl. This sprawl can cause poor resource discoverability, governance issues, and security concerns.

How do we combat these issues? Extranet User Manager (EUM) provides a robust platform for seamless external collaboration and sharing. Built on the Microsoft 365 suite, EUM offers a streamlined, intuitive portal solution with custom configurations for specific use cases and collaboration scenarios.

EUM Groups are easily set up to represent access to different resources or areas within Microsoft 365. This can range from an entire SharePoint site to a specific folder or Teams Shared Channel. EUM not only offers a highly flexible and user-friendly experience but also simplifies permissions management by introducing Membership Manager roles in the EUM Admin tool. These roles allow relationship owners to manage external user access directly, reducing IT involvement while maintaining security through Entra ID.

Moreover, the EUM Admin tool is built on top of Entra ID B2B, enabling users to log in using their preferred credentials. This eliminates the need for IT to handle forgotten password tickets or lost login information. The EUM Portal also provides a fully customizable and attractive login and registration portal for external users to access the content they've been granted access to.

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