Stop sending attachments with Office 365

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


Once 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 control

You 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 storage

Although 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 limits

Attachments 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 Sharing

At 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 Business Sharing

OneDrive for Business

This 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.


SharePoint 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 Groups

Outlook 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 Excel

If 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   Share-document-from-Word   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: Share document email 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. Edit shared document   edit document menu  

Creating a share link

An 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. Get a sharing link   From here, you can quickly create a link that you can copy an paste into an email. Create a sharing link 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.
This makes this method of sharing much more akin to sending an attachment: the file can be passed on to many people. However, unlike an attachment, you can cancel the sharing at any time. The file that I have been using in the above examples is stored on my OneDrive for Business. Looking at this folder you can see that this particular document has been shared. Shared document       Clicking the on ‘Shared’ brings a menu up, from where it is easy to stop sharing. Of course, if people have downloaded a copy of the document then they will still have this, but you will now know that no updates to the document will be distributed.

Sharing from within OneDrive for Business

Another 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. sharing from OneDrive for Business 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. OneDrive for Business share dialogue   From here, you can also adjust who can access the file, and what rights they have: Unshare a file

Share from within Office Web Apps

Office 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: Share from Office web apps   This opens a dialog with all of the normal sharing options: Office sharing options  

Using other Office Applications

Other Office Desktop and Web Apps work in very much the same way. Share from Excel: Share from Excel Share from PowerPoint: Share from PowerPoint   Click here to read more information on sharing an entire site.

Controlling Officce 365 Sharing

One 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. Tenant sharing settings   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.
By default, the first option is selected – Don’t allow sharing outside your organisation. It is important to note that if you turn off sharing, any shares that have previously been granted will be removed. Although this could be a problem it is a great feature as you can very quickly turn off external access for an entire site collection. Once you have set the rules for a site collection, you can then control sharing in an individual site. To do this, go to Site Settings > Permissions > Access Request Settings. From here you are given three options:
  • 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.
Although this does not explicitly allow you to turn external sharing on or off for the site, the third option will see all sharing requests sent to an administrator or site owner for approval, giving a good level of control. Access request settings For OneDrive for Business, it is possible to turn sharing on or off for individual users. Currently this can only be done using PowerShell, click here for more information.

Reporting and Management

It would be great if you could quickly see who has been given access to a particular site collection. This is now possible from the Office 365 Admin Center, and it is a fantastic governance tool. Go to Admin > Resources > Sites and click on the site collection that you want to see. This brings up a panel that shows you exactly who has been granted an external share on anything in the site collection, and from here you can quickly remove a person from this. This is a major benefit over sending attachments, as an administrator can quickly see what is happening in SharePoint. Sharing Report


Sharing is a great feature that becomes possible when you move to cloud services. Because it is an entirely new way of working, it is often resisted by users and viewed with suspicion by managers. However, with a good understanding of what sharing is, and a small amount of training for your users, it can make life quicker and easier, and give administrators much more visibility over what is happening in the organisation. It is also a good way to encourage people to use OneDrive for Business, Groups and SharePoint in a more structured way, helping to manage your organisations files better and share knowledge more.
  • Once someone has shared a file with me, or perhaps a OneNote notebook, how can I remove myself from the shared file? Say I no longer need access but I continue to get notices and it fill up my shared files folder on O365. I there a way I can remove myself or does the owner have to do it. That can be a problem if the owner leaves.

  • Hi – in the web interface of OneDrive for Business, you can right-click on the document and select ‘Remove from shared list’.

Comments are closed.