To say that remote collaboration tools took off last year would be an understatement. There’s no longer a home across the country that didn’t host at least one pub quiz via Zoom, and with 66% of employees working remotely, the vast majority of businesses also started using tools like Microsoft Teams to get work done. This has been invaluable for processes such as video calls, which have helped to close long-distance gaps and time zones.
But, as you may be learning the hard way, remote team collaboration isn’t solely about finding the tools to help your teams communicate. After all, business is not a closed book, and success isn’t possible without also letting vendors, partners, suppliers, and more enter your inner workings. This was once as easy as opening your office doors, but not every collaboration tool has considered this need.
Luckily, Microsoft Teams isn’t one of them. This leading platform, used by 60% of businesses, has made it possible to bring external users on board for meetings, data transfer, and so on. The question is, how can you pair Microsoft Teams and external users, and is doing so really worthwhile?
Microsoft Teams and External Users
The ability to add external users who aren’t even Microsoft account holders is undeniably useful. But, with countless users still adjusting to sudden implementation, it’s all too easy to get bogged down with the ‘hows’ that make this possible. In all honesty, adding external users within Teams itself isn’t as simple as it could be (as we’ll discuss later). But, if you’re looking to get the lowdown, then you needn’t look any further than this four-step process.
Step One: Enabling
For obvious security reasons, Teams isn’t automatically geared towards external access. As such, you first need to make sure guest accounts are enabled through a variety of channels depending on external access needs, including:
- Azure Active Directory (directory, tenant, and application level)
- Microsoft 365 groups
- OneDrive and SharePoint
To do this, you’ll need to sign in to the Microsoft Teams Admin Centre, where you can allow access to Teams, and thus open up different levels of file-sharing, meeting and calling.
Step Two: Licensing
The ability to add external users who don’t hold Microsoft accounts or licenses is a definite plus, but that doesn’t mean you can let licensing considerations slide altogether. While the standard Teams license doesn’t limit the number of external users you can invite, there is a cap of five per user for Azure Ad licenses. Equally, standard licensing doesn’t allow guests to complete actions such as creating meetings, teams, and even accessing certain functions. Research is therefore essential for ensuring you have the right license at all times.
Step Three: The Guests Themselves
Once you’ve taken care of permissions and enablement, adding your guest is relatively simple. Just select the ‘add member’ option in your Teams menu. Entering the email address of the external user and naming them within the platform should grant them access for video conferencing and more, depending on the authorisation granted.
Step Four: Taking Care of Security
So far so simple, but security is really where adding external users can become a problem. After all, it’s one thing opening your in-tool data to distributed teams, but sharing with external users poses obvious risks, especially regarding compliance and data protection. As such, you must take precautions such as:
- Multi-factor guest authentication
- Web-only access for unmanaged devices
- Sensitivity labels for content
- Automatic guest removal from sensitive data
Key takeaway: Collaboration tools have become increasingly important to the future of collaboration — accelerated by the context of remote working. The ability to add external users to tools is especially vital for continued operations. That said, complex licensing arrangements and potential data breaches need consideration at every level, and looking for ways to more simply communicate with external stakeholders deserves attention.
Do You Need to Add External Users at All?
While adding external users to Teams is a valuable option, it’s worth questioning why you need to add them in the first place. Adding external users certainly comes with downsides, including:
- Security vulnerabilities: You are providing external access to internal systems and will need to control and monitor that access.
- Administrative burdens: External users need to be added and removed, and managed within your system.
- Burdens for external users: External users need to download Teams and learn how to use the interface.
For long-term external collaboration, adding external users brings all of the benefits of Teams to that relationship. This includes easy chat, file sharing and video conferencing, etc. However, if you are adding external users for short-term communication, adding external calling capabilities to Teams can deliver a more flexible solution.
Teams offers a number of ways to add external calling capabilities — something that actually makes it stand out among business collaboration tools. Microsoft’s Phone System and Calling Plan can enable you to place standard PSTN calls (calls to and from a phone number) straight out of Teams. This brings a whole additional level of external and internal flexibility to how you can use Teams to unify communications.
Suggested reading: How to Make an External Call with Microsoft Teams
With that said, Microsoft’s in-house solution to calling with Teams leaves something to be desired. For example, you won’t get the same call queue management, call recording, or routing options available from a traditional business phone system. Third-party Direct Routing options bring more sophisticated calling capabilities to Teams — capabilities that might even allow you to replace your existing business phone system with Teams and create a truly unified communications platform. Direct Routing delivers:
- Complete PBX control, including reporting cost control and queue management tools
- Endpoint and handset flexibility to suit the remote landscape
- Unified communication with a single sign-in point for all communication, including external users
Suggested reading: Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams
Callroute Lets You Start Making Phone Calls with Teams in Minutes
Even if you don’t think that adding calling to Teams will remove the need to add external users, it’s still an upgrade worth considering. Without calling capabilities, Teams is just a business collaboration tool. With calling capabilities, it becomes a unified communications platform. The efficiency, simplification, and collaboration improvements delivered by unified communications should not be underestimated — particularly in the current remote working context.
The challenge that you will face in adding Direct Routing to Teams is the complexity of getting started. As a Direct Routing provider, this is something we know a lot about at Callroute. We’ve set out to simplify that process by combining the PSTN service and Direct Routing breakout into a single solution. This delivers far faster integration and improved quality controls because back-end integrations can be pre-configured and the entire process is controlled by a single provider.