Microsoft Welcomes Outsiders to Office 365 Groups

Not a company insider? No problem. Microsoft is making room in Office 365's group collaboration feature for colleagues from outside organizations.


Microsoft Office 365 Groups, the workplace collaboration feature inspired by Yammer Groups, is now more welcoming of colleagues who don't draw a paycheck from the same employer.

The company announced Sept. 8 that it is beginning to roll out a new guest access feature that will enable users to invite outside consultants, partners and other people who are sometimes called upon to work closely with an organization on projects. Microsoft launched a similar functionality for its Yammer Groups feature in April. (Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion.)

To start, Microsoft is enabling the feature on Outlook on the Web, the browser-based version of the email client, allowing group owners to add guests and issue invitations.

"Once added, guests receive a welcome email, are granted access to group files in SharePoint Online, begin receiving email messages and calendar invites sent to the group, and can access the group in Office on the web and the Outlook Groups mobile application," explained Christophe Fiessinger, a senior program manager in the Microsoft Office 365 Groups unit, in a Sept. 8 blog post. "They also have automatic access to cloud-based file attachments."

Guests are conspicuously labeled as such, helping group members easily discern their status. They can also leave a group on their own accord at any time.

The feature supports emails from any corporate domain or consumer email service like Gmail, but invited guests will need a Microsoft account to use the service.

If the recipient of an Office 365 Groups guest invitation has an email address that is already linked to a Microsoft account (a single identity used to log into Office 365, Skype and other Microsoft services), the user will be presented with a sign-in page, said Fiessinger. If the email isn't associated with an existing Microsoft account, the user will be prompted to sign up.

Office 365 Groups guest access is the latest in Microsoft's efforts to expand on the cloud-enabled productivity software suite's collaboration capabilities.

Last week, Microsoft introduced a new integration that automatically spawns SharePoint team sites when users create a new group, and vice versa. Team sites, an evolution of intranet sites, serves as a web-based repository of files, media and other content that help users organize and share information with coworkers.

"The integration of groups and SharePoint team sites means that any time a new team site is created, a new group membership will be created as well. You can easily see the members of the site, if the site is listed as public or private within your organization and how it has been classified," stated Mark Kashman, a senior product manager at Microsoft SharePoint.

Microsoft is also reportedly preparing a challenger to Slack, the team messaging and collaboration pioneer. The company is said to be working on a new product, called Skype Teams, that offers a Slack-like experience with a few twists, including threaded conversations, Skype calling and scheduling capabilities, and, of course, Office 365 integration.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...