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When your business relies heavily on constant communication with contractors, suppliers, vendors and clients, sharing documents externally is inevitable. For digital workplaces of all sizes, it's no longer practical to work with digital documents without having to share them with guests or external users. Besides, optimal collaboration depends on the seamless and secure cross-company exchange of information.

By enabling external sharing, you'll help your colleagues use Office 365 effectively to benefit from valuable input from people outside of your company.

It's easy to master the steps to give external users access to applicable groups, sites, pages, folders, libraries and documents. Take a little time to understand the external sharing functionalities and select options that liberate external collaboration while ensuring data security. User adoption and productivity will improve as a result.

Open the Way to Collaboration Opportunities

Many companies disable external sharing entirely based on known and anticipated risks. This isn't good: the resulting limitations tend to bring even more problems.

When the option to collaborate externally is disabled, people will turn to third-party tools like Dropbox or Google Drive when the need to collaborate with an external user arises, making it impossible for administrators to know which documents have been shared externally. Add to this, the use of third-party tools is always detrimental to Office 365 user adoption.

Unfortunately, among organizations that enable the option, many make no substantial efforts to ensure end users master the steps for secure external sharing. An effective training program is essential here.

With the right settings, optimal governance policies, and proper training, you can help people in your company exploit these essential Office 365 capabilities and remove barriers to collaboration with the outside world.

Related Article: How Executives Can Lead the Way in SharePoint and Office 365 Adoption Efforts

Enable, Configure, Govern and Train

By taking a few simple steps, you can ensure external sharing is used as intended. Start by choosing the right settings and communicating governance policies.

Are there certain types of documents that should never be shared externally? Should internal users share documents with authenticated external users or anonymous users? Which types of documents should be shared as "View Only" and which ones should be shared as "Editable"? What should be the right expiration date for every document shared? These are just a few of the questions you'll need to answer when deciding on configuration options and governance policies.

It is not enough to have the right governance policies in place — the rules have to be enforced.

Sometimes, even after running an extensive awareness campaign to communicate and enforce governance policies effectively and in the long-term, you may need to embed the dialogue boxes into the pages from which applicable documents are shared. An always-visible reminder such as this makes it much easier for everyone to understand configuration choices and remember governance policies.

Configure the sharing options in SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Yammer, Teams and Office 365 Groups to liberate the exchange of information in a way that protects sensitive data.

The following critical steps should be part of your checklist:

  • Given that end users may also share your fears about data security, it may be helpful to not only explain the security of the exchange, but also highlight how Office 365 external sharing features could potentially solve their daily communication and collaboration problems with guests and external users.
  • Demonstrate the Office 365 external sharing capabilities. Take time to use case studies and success stories to show the features in action.
  • Provide step-by-step training on completing the tasks. Roll out a comprehensive training program that not only gives guidance on completing external sharing tasks but also focuses on the best practices.

Related Article: How to Collaborate With External Stakeholders While Remaining Compliant

Drive Secure Usage of Office 365 External Sharing Features

Disabling the external sharing functionality in Office 365 is detrimental to collaboration, productivity and user adoption. If getting input from external users is helpful to your digital workplace, take steps to make it not only functional but also secure.

  • Configure external sharing to manage data security risks.
  • Impose smart governance policies to enforce best practices.
  • Help end users understand the configurations and master the best practices.
  • Monitor security reports on a daily basis.

Over time, collaboration opportunities will multiply, productivity potential will develop, and Office 365 will be used to the extent that return on investment is attainable.

Related Article: Collaborating Externally With Office 365