Sharing documents is one of the most promoted features of Office 365, but old habits die hard and sending links to files held internally is viewed with suspicion. So what are the options, what are the pro’s and con’s, and how do you actually go about sharing a document?
Problems with attachments
SecurityOnce an attachment is sent, you have lost control of the document. The file can be forwarded, printed, edited. People often feel uncomfortable about sharing a document with somebody outside the organisation as it feels insecure. However, unlike an attachment, you (or an administrator) can easily track who has access to the share, and you can unshare the document if you need to. Office 365 now has excellent reports on document shares and access.
Loss of controlYou also lose control of the version. When new updates are sent out, you can’t be sure which version people are looking at. When edits are sent back, you have to work through each copy and pull all of the edits back into a single document which you then distribute again. If you share a link to a document, everybody is looking at the latest version and edits can be made directly to this version. This vastly reduces the work that you have to do to produce the final version.
Inbox storageAlthough cloud storage now gives huge amounts of capacity, it is not good practice to use your inbox as a filing system. Sending attachments discourages people from looking for documents in their proper home, but instead people do a quick search of their inbox. This is fine to an extent, but you cannot be sure that the document will be the latest version, and people might miss seeing other relevant documents that are stored in the same place.
Spam and size limitsAttachments are viewed more suspiciously by spam filters and might not make it to your recipient. You can also fall foul of size limits. By sending a link, these problems disappear.
Types of SharingAt the end of the day, sending an attachment is easy and familiar. When you send an attachment, you know exactly what your colleague is going to see when the email arrives. Microsoft has worked hard to make it as easy as possible to share files, and it is now much easier to share a file than to attach it to an email. There are various ways to share documents in Office 365. The method you choose depends to some extent on how your company has asked you to store your documents, particularly on how OneDrive for Business and SharePoint are used.
OneDrive for BusinessThis is often used for storing personal, unstructured files that don’t need to be put on the company’s central shared storage. Documents or entire folders can be shared internally with either read-only or edit permissions. Individual files can be shared outside your organisation with either read-only or edit access, but folders cannot be shared externally unless the recipient has an Office 36 login. A nice feature is that a link can be created that can then be emailed to a number of people, giving them access to a file.
SharePointSharePoint is used for more structured storage of an organisation’s files, and typically is set up so that groups of people who need access to particular types of file can quickly find and work on these. Sharing works in a similar way to OneDrive for Business. Files or folders can be quickly shared internally, or to external people who have an Office 365 login. Individual files can be shared externally, and links can be created for sharing.
Outlook GroupsOutlook Groups give a half-way house between unmanaged OneDrive for Business storage and structured SharePoint sites. They are easy to set up by any user from Outlook Online or Outlook Desktop, and give the user a quick SharePoint site with a Calendar, Document Library, OneNote Notebook, Chat, Mailbox and a Planner. A group is actually a pre-built SharePoint site with an modern, easy to use interface. Files that are stored in the document library are shared just like SharePoint files. However, Group files can only be shared internally within your organisation.
How to Share a Document in Office 365
Share From Word or ExcelIf you are running Office 2016, you’ll find a Share button at the top of the page. Clicking this opens a share panel that connects you to Office 365. Assuming that you have saved the file in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint, the share button allows you to send the document to anybody who has a Microsoft login – either Office 365, Hotmail or live.com. From here, it’s simple to add names or email addresses, choose whether to allow people to edit the document or just view it, and click the Share button. The people you share this with get an email with the subject ‘[Your name] wants to share [filename]’ – in this case “Colin Thorpe wants to share recruitment-application-form”. The email will look like this: Clicking the link will open the file in your colleague’s browser. Once they log in, they can edit the document (if you have given them this option), print it or download it.
Creating a share linkAn alternative way to share the document from within Word or Excel is to use the ‘Get a sharing link’ option at the bottom of the share panel. From here, you can quickly create a link that you can copy an paste into an email. There are a couple of subtle but important differences when using sharing links:
- A single link can be used by many people to read or edit the document;
- There is no requirement for the user to log in to see the document.
Sharing from within OneDrive for BusinessAnother way to share a file is directly from within OneDrive for Business. Clicking the ellipses by the document name brings up the document menu, and from here you can select whether to share the file or create a link, exactly as you did in Word or Excel. If you share from the OneDrive for Business menu, you get slightly more control than when sharing from within an Office application. In particular, you are able to choose whether to allow the recipient to access the document without first logging in. From here, you can also adjust who can access the file, and what rights they have:
Share from within Office Web AppsOffice Web Apps are a great way to do quick edits to documents if you don’t need to do a lot of formatting. One of the best features is that changes are saved as you type – there’s no danger of forgetting to click the save button and losing work, because there is no save button to click! To share from here, click the Share button at the top of the page: This opens a dialog with all of the normal sharing options:
Using other Office ApplicationsOther Office Desktop and Web Apps work in very much the same way. Share from Excel: Share from PowerPoint: Click here to read more information on sharing an entire site.
Controlling Officce 365 SharingOne of the things that your organisation might want to do is to restrict sharing from OneDrive, SharePoint or particular SharePoint Sites. The main control for sharing is in the SharePoint section of the Office 365 Admin Centre. Sharing is managed at a tenant or global level, and then individually for each Site Collection. For full details, click here and here. To manage sharing for your tenant, go to Admin > Admin Centers > SharePoint > Sharing. From here there is a large number of options that gives you fine grained control over how people are allowed to share, and these setting will be respected throughout SharePoint, Groups and OneDrive for Business. When you select a Site Collection and click the Sharing button, you are given a number of options:
- Don’t allow sharing outside your organisation
- Allow sharing only with the external users that already exist in your organisation’s directory;
- Allow external users who accept sharing invitations and sign in as authenticated users;
- Allow sharing with all external users, and by using anonymous access links.
- Allow members to share the site and individual files and folders.
- Allow members to invite others to the site members group. This setting must be enabled to let members share the site.
- Allow access requests.