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Join the Party: Letting Guests into your Office 365 Group

Much like pot luck dinners, collaboration in Office 365 is best when the right people are in the room and sharing in the fun.

You’re a good chef. Cooking food is a favorite pastime, and you are constantly making delicious meals and treats. You’ll often host dinner parties for friends and family, and they come with their own concoctions and unique dishes. Everyone shares in the feast, and your inner circle are professionals at hosting a damn good pot luck!

But you want to share the delicious food with the neighborhood; after all, you have leftovers and you don’t mind new guests joining the party. So when the new family that moved in next door is mulling about on their front lawn, you open your window, invite them over to chat and give them samples of your food. They give the samples a thumbs up, chat with you about their favorite dishes, and even share with you a can’t-miss family recipe. In turn, you give them access to add the recipe to a new online cookbook you’re putting together that will be shared among your pot luck peeps – including your now freshly minted next-door friends.

What just happened here? Well, besides food bringing the neighbors together, this is analogous to providing Guests access to your Office 365 Group. Guests can be invited to join your Group conversations, consume team files, and even join team events.

Often times I have clients that ask about external access for vendors and the plausibility of having people outside the organization participating in the day-to-day activities. And it ranges from just having people “aware” of the conversations happening among the client team all the way to workflow-based document collaboration.

Every group of clients are different for a variety of reasons, but external sharing is a growing request as people become more comfortable with the cloud and managing online content collaboratively. However, sometimes the idea of setting up extranet capabilities can seem daunting. And no one wants to spin up a random cloud space just to share files; there has to be an easier way.

Here’s the cool thing about Guests in Office 365 – Guests do not require an Office 365 license to participate if you have Business Premium or Enterprise subscriptions. This is not a scenario where you have to set up an extranet environment just to get your Guests collaborating in Office 365.

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Adding Guests is pretty easy. You add a new Member to a Group like normal, but just put in their email address of choice. Office 365 will do the rest for you. And the new Guest will get an email shortly afterwards confirming their Guest status with access links.

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And much like a pot luck, there are some house rules and standards for being a Guest:

  • The first time a Guest accesses the Group site, they will be prompted with an Office 365 message about first-time logging in. However, there is no password to set up – Guests can get straight to the content areas.
  • Group members can only access certain parts of the Group site such as the team Home Page, Notebook, Documents, Pages, and Site Contents. This includes uploading and interacting with files.
  • Guests cannot access the Conversations from the Group Site. This can only be done through email conversations (you have to email the Group email address). If you try and click on the Conversations tab, you will get a friendly error message (and this makes sense, because there is no record for a Guest as a fully-licensed user of Exchange).
  • Regular people in your organization are already Members in Office 365. They don’t need to be invited as Guests. But they will need to be added as Group Members to get them into the Group activities.
  • If you feel like adding a Profile photo or changing the Display Name for a Guest, you’ll have to do it in Azure Active Directory.

The cool thing with Guests is that the functionality allows for a decent amount of collaboration; it does not simply pay lip service to being collaborative and then having a very restricting Guest experience. The Guest can get the full GUI and most functionality much like a normal user.

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With the speed, scope, and continual growth of the Office 365 platform, Guest access may tend to get lost as a handy little feature to start collaborating with the right people, right now. But make sure to get organizational buy-in before you start; for as cool as the Guest functionality is, you certain want to align with your organization’s collaboration strategy as well as your I.T. policies and rules.

Hey, maybe a food truck is in your future because of your chef and people skills (and how cool would that be?) But for now, adding Guests is an easy and neighborly way to get more friends in the door having fun at the party.

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