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Be Our Guest: The 2020 Guide to Managing External Users in Microsoft Teams

Published:

Sharing data with external guests

It’s been clear for a long time that the future of work is online.

With the rise of cloud services and collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, both productivity and flexibility of work have improved massively – at least internally.

But while your organisation might be all set up for remote working with each other, what happens when you want to bring in third parties like freelancers and contractors? If you’re already using Microsoft Teams, you’ve got everything you need – you just need to know how to use it.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to use External and Guest access in Microsoft Teams, address why you’d want to, and answer some of the most common questions.

So, what are we waiting for?

What is the difference between External and Guest access in Microsoft Teams?

Before we dig into the precise detail about what each of these options offers – and why you might want to use one or the other – let’s start with the absolute basics.

The different between each access type is as follows:

  • External access allows you to add a user from any external domain (i.e. an email address from outside of your organisation) to Microsoft Teams for communication only. This includes email services like Gmail or Outlook. This type of user will be able to communicate with a single member of your organisation via text chat, video, or voice call – and they’ll appear as a contact in their chat list. Beyond that single chat thread, they’ll have no access to your Teams organisation.
  • Guest access is a bit like fully opening the doors of Microsoft Teams to a user from an external domain. A Guest user will be able to do everything an External user can, but can also join group chats, share and collaborate on files within Teams, access your resources, and generally have more unrestricted access to your organisation. Of course, team admins can enable or disable the features they’d like Guest users to access.

A good analogy for the difference between these two access levels is to think of your Teams account like you would your office.

An External user is like working with a freelancer who is based remotely. You can chat to them via messaging services and video calls, but you can’t easily collaborate with them or share files.

A Guest user, on the other hand, is like having that same person sit in your office with you, able to sit and view documents together, chat with other members of the team, and generally be a bit more involved with the organisation – without having the keys to the kingdom.

External access vs. Guest access: Which should you choose (and why)?

While it’s true that Guest access offers a more full–featured experience, there are plenty of reasons why you might only want to grant External access instead.

External access can be useful if you have users in different domains who are working separately but still need to communicate.

This could be people like suppliers, contractors, consultants – the list goes on. You can add these companies as approved domains so that anyone in your organisation can contact them without leaving Teams. External access is also useful if you want to use Teams in parallel with your email client. So long as a person is also using Teams, they’ll be able to contact you as an External user (domain restrictions notwithstanding).

Guest access is a great option if you work closely with partners who sit outside of your domain.

A Guest user will appear as though they were a member of your organisation and enjoy many of the same benefits, including all of the collaboration features provided by Microsoft Teams.

That said, as the Teams admin, you have complete control of what they can – and what they can’t – do. By default, a Guest user will be able to join group chats, collaborate on files, and have access to any channels you grant for them. This is in addition to the same chat options that External users are granted. But you can also disable or enable each of these features on the fly – and grant them access to as many (or as few) channels as you’d like.

With Guest access, you’re always in control.

Frequently Asked Questions about Guest and External access

We understand that this topic can get a bit complicated a bit quickly, so we’ve put together the following short FAQ which should answer any questions you might have.

Is Guest access available in my subscription?

Guest access for Microsoft Teams is available out of the box at no extra charge for all Microsoft 365 Business Standard, Office 365 Enterprise, and Office 365 Education plans.

How do I enable External or Guest access in Microsoft Teams?

External access is enabled by default in Microsoft Teams. As an admin user, you can change this by navigating to the Microsoft Teams Admin Center (admin.microsoft.com), then clicking Org–wide settings > External access in Teams.

Guest access is not enabled by default and must first be turned on at the ‘tenant’ level. This simply refers to Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), which manages and controls your user access policy. Once enabled at the tenant level, team admins can enable Guest access in Teams by navigating to Org–wide settings > Guest access.

Who can add External users to Microsoft Teams?

As it’s enabled out of the box, any member of your organisation can add an External user to Microsoft Teams.

That said, Teams admins can restrict the domains for users added in this way. This can be done via Org–wide settings > External access.

There are three options:

  • Open federation: An unusual name, perhaps, but this option simply means that any of your Teams users can add an External user from any domain.
  • Allow specific domains: With this option, External users can only be added if they’re part of the domain you specify. For example, if you allowed “example.com”, all other domains would be restricted.
  • Block specific domains: This option means Teams users can add External users from any domain except those on this list. You could, for example, use this option to block Gmail email addresses.

Who can invite or add Guest users to Microsoft Teams?

Only team owners are able to add a new Guest user. Just navigate to Teams > More options (‘three dots’ icon) > Add member.

Teams admin users can also decide which domains are approved for Guest access. For example, you might choose to disable the ability to add Guests with a Gmail address.

How can I identify Guest users within a team?

All Guest users will have the word “Guest” after their name anywhere it appears in the app.

Which permissions do Guest users have within Teams?

When enabling Guest access, admin users of Microsoft Teams have various options which they can toggle on and off for Guest users. For example, an admin might want to disable (or enable) the ability to:

  • Make private calls within Teams
  • Make video calls
  • Edit or delete sent messages
  • Use .gifs and stickers in conversations
  • Start an instant meeting with MeetNow

While the changes above require Teams admin permissions, individuals team owners can also allow (or disallow) Guests to create, update, or delete channels within a team.

How secure is adding a user as an External or Guest user?

Because External users are restricted to communication with a single member of your organisation, no additional security is required to add them to Teams.

For Guest access, however, you’ve got a few more options. Naturally, because Guests have much deeper access to your Microsoft Teams setup, you’ll want to be sure they’re not a security risk. For this reason, anyone who is added as a Guest user in Microsoft Teams will be required to set up a free Microsoft account with their email address before being granted access.

On top of this, they’ll also need to abide by any multi–factor authentication protection you have enabled for your organisation at the tenant level (e.g. Azure AD).

It’s worth noting that permissions for Guests should be set carefully, as it's quite easy to accidentally grant access to files that should be internal-only.

Still need to get your business ramped up on Teams? We can help

Whether you’ve yet to begin moving your organisation to Microsoft Teams – or you’ve only just started out and need a few pointers – the Get Support team is here to help. With decades of experience across all Microsoft platforms, there’s not much we don’t know about Microsoft 365 and Teams.

Want to tap into that knowledge and get your business collaborating wherever they are? Drop us a line today on 01865 59 4000 and we’ll help you hit the ground running with Microsoft Teams.

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