Microsoft Teams external user vs. guest user

Microsoft Teams external user vs. guest user

Every business works with outside firms and freelancers at some point to complete a wide range of projects. The problem is that communicating with parties outside the company can be difficult. Oftentimes, businesses fall back on old-fashioned emails, which is far from efficient.

Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based collaboration platform that plays an integral role in the workspace. It has intuitive video conferencing, instant messaging, and file-sharing features that enable teams to work as a cohesive unit. Yet, its benefits don’t end there. When you want to bring outsiders in on your conversations, Microsoft Teams provides two options: external and guest access users.

Both options allow you to communicate with external users, but there are some stark differences between the two access privileges.

External access user

External access grants access privileges to Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business subscribers from a different domain. External users can call, video chat, and send instant messages with your internal team members. They can even access your business directory to search for specific staff members’ contact information. By default, external access is enabled in Teams, so your organisation can communicate with all external domains. Of course, it is possible to block and allow specific domains to limit the number of external users that can communicate with your team. 

However, it’s important to note that external users have limited access to your organisation’s teams and resources. They can’t share files, initiate group chats, or conduct video conferences with more than one person. This prevents unsavoury characters from spreading malware and infiltrating your business.

Guest access user

Guest access refers to when an individual — not a domain — is invited to an existing group in Microsoft Teams. Unlike external access users, guest users have access to almost all the functions available to native users. They get instant messaging, voice/video chat, and access to shared company files stored in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. These access privileges can also be customised based on company protocols. You can, for example, restrict certain file sharing and chat functions.

Guests essentially have an account registered to your company’s Active Directory and can participate in internal channels and groups. People with an Office 365 account can be onboarded as guests. Equally, anyone with an email account can gain guest access, even if they’re not subscribed to Outlook or Office 365. The total number of guests you can invite is determined by how many users your Office 365 license permits.

Keep in mind that there are limitations for guests. For one, they can’t create teams, edit calendar items and schedules, and upload files to individual conversations.

They also can’t access your OneDrive for Business library nor can they search the business directory for staff. Instead, guests must be invited to a channel or conversation to join it. This gives your teams control over corporate data and who guests interact with — reducing the risk of information leaks.

Functions comparison

For a more detailed breakdown, here’s a list of the features available to an external and guest user in Microsoft Teams: 

FeaturesExternal access userGuest access user
Instant messaging
Voice and video calls
Private calls
Presence status (online, away, do not disturb mode, etc.)
Business directory access and search
Accept meeting invites
IP video
Edit and delete sent messages
Screen sharing 
@Mentions support
GIFs, memes, and stickers in conversation
Block individual user
Access to Microsoft Teams resources
Group chat
Create meetings
Out-of-office notifications

When to use external or guest access

There are several scenarios when you’ll need to grant external access. First of all, if you’re collaborating with users who have a different domain, granting external access is vital. For instance, your domain may end in “@acme.com,” while the person you’re working with may have an “@xyz.com” domain. Another reason to use external access is if you need to contact specific Skype for Business users outside your business. Finally, external access is a great way for other companies that use Teams to be able to discover and communicate with you.

Meanwhile, guest access is ideal if you’re working with external users who require access to teams and channels. Temporary staff and consultants are often perfect candidates to be guest users because they need to collaborate on files and attend group meetings. If a project requires more in-depth collaboration tools, enabling guest access is the way to go. Additionally, you can grant guest access to users one at a time, so it’s much easier to control the flow of information.

If you’re still not sure what access permissions to apply for different users, however, Empower IT is here to help. Our managed IT services team is well-versed in Office 365 and can help you find the most optimal settings for your business. For any inquiries, contact us today