Microsoft 365 collaboration tools: How to manage, share and secure files in OneDrive

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Collaboration plays a big part in our lives, both in and outside of work. We collaborate with our colleagues across teams and departments on all sorts of projects. What does all this collaboration have in common? Content.

We collaborate on content constantly. Heck, I’m collaborating with my ShareGate friends right now working on this article!

Content collaboration has become so important that it’s spawned a whole category of apps and services—Box and Dropbox, anyone? Microsoft, of course, came out with its own solution: Microsoft 365.

Microsoft 365 enables teamwork and content collaboration through a variety of products. This series of articles will focus on the ins and outs of three services that make up the backbone of content collaboration in the modern workplace:

In part 1, we’ll be taking a look at document sharing and collaboration with OneDrive.

OneDrive collaboration features

Let’s say you’re a member of the Contoso Electronics marketing team. You and your colleagues use Microsoft Teams as a shared collaboration space. Alexis, your manager, has asked you to deliver a presentation at the upcoming team meeting. The content stored in Microsoft Teams can be accessed by all of your marketing colleagues, and you don’t feel comfortable creating a new presentation directly in your shared collaboration space.

That’s where OneDrive comes in. This one-stop-shop for storing all your personal files:

  • Allows easy sharing of files inside or outside Contoso Electronics
  • Is integrated with Windows File Explorer for immediate and offline access
  • Enables access to your files from all your mobile devices

You start working on the presentation from your OneDrive. Like all of the content you store in your OneDrive, your new presentation will be private by default—you decide if and when it’s time to share.

When that time comes, you’ll have to ask yourself who you want to share the content with. If the answer is “all my colleagues,” then that file doesn’t belong in OneDrive anymore—it should be moved to Teams.

P.S. read this if you’re wondering: What is one drive exactly? What’s the difference between Onedrive and Onedrive for business?

Sharing a document with OneDrive

You’re now ready to share the presentation so that your colleague Aldo can provide feedback. Sharing the presentation with Aldo from your OneDrive is incredibly easy. Just select the file and click Share:

OneDrive link settings

OneDrive will then ask you who you would like the link to work for. It’s a simple question, but there are several possible answers. Let’s go over your options:

  • Anyone. This option is only available if your Office 365 or OneDrive administrator decided to turn on anonymous sharing. More on this later.
  • People in Contoso. This will allow everyone within the company to access the link. If this is applicable to your situation, you should consider moving the file to a shared collaboration space. Remember: OneDrive is your personal storage location.
  • People with existing access. This option can only be selected once you’ve already shared the file with the desired recipients.
  • Specific people. The link will only work for the people you specify. This is the most used sharing option within OneDrive.

Explaining these four options to business users poses a bit of a challenge for the adoption process. That’s why I prefer setting a default sharing link type. You can do this via the OneDrive Administration Center. There are three types of default OneDrive sharing links to choose from:

  • Shareable: Anyone with the link can share
  • Internal: Only people within your organization can share
  • Direct: Only specific people can share

One option is missing: People with existing access. This would be my preferred default option because people are inclined to resend previously shared links to colleagues. In the absence of that option, I recommend using Internal.

I advise against using the Shareable option, as I can’t think of a single scenario in which you would want to let your employees share anonymous links with unknown external users. To prevent anonymous link sharing, disable the option within the Office 365 Administration Center:

OneDrive external sharing options

You’ve finished the first draft of your presentation and it’s time to gather some feedback from your colleagues. You decide to ask Aldo for input:

Sharing a file from OneDrive

A link to the presentation will be delivered to Aldo’s inbox. As soon as he clicks it, you’ll be notified via email:

OneDrive file shared email notification

I personally find this email notification unnecessary, but there are plenty of people who’d disagree. Be warned: I clicked on the unsubscribe link without realizing that there isn’t an option to subscribe again. Oops!

You’ve now shared your presentation in confidence with Aldo. Should he decide to re-share the file (how rude!), both of you will receive a notification. First Aldo:

Shared OneDrive file was reshared email notification

Shortly after, you’ll receive an email:

Shared OneDrive file was reshared email notification

You can change this setting by clicking Allow members to share with others without requiring owner approval within the email. I would advise against doing so, however, as it’s nice to maintain a sense of control over your files.

Managing your shared OneDrive content

The Shared section of your OneDrive lists all of the content you’re currently sharing as well as content shared with you by others. Don’t need to share that presentation anymore? Make it private again with a few clicks:

Managing access to OneDrive files

The Manage Access menu opens:

Setting access to a file to Edit or View only

You can now change the sharing link from Edit to View only (or vice versa) or stop sharing it entirely.

I used the Share button to share the presentation, but you may have noticed that there’s also a Copy link button. The main difference between the two is that no notification email will be sent if you choose Copy link. Use this option to generate a sharing link that you can manually paste into an email or a chat. You can manage the link within the Manage access window:

Generating a sharing link for OneDrive files

Windows File Explorer: a crucial OneDrive adoption driver

Although the browser experience offers many advantages, File Explorer is crucial for successful OneDrive adoption. For many years, business users worked with their content within File Explorer.

Those were the days when your content was stored in My Documents or a local file share. You would use File Explorer on a daily basis to work with your files.

For some users, being forced to work from the browser is a step too far. I encountered this issue in multiple adoption workshops and training sessions. I highly recommend implementing OneDrive Files On-Demand, a powerful feature that’s great for increasing OneDrive adoption.

Let’s take a look:

OneDrive files on-demand

You only have to explain the three icons:

  • Cloud. Files marked with the cloud icon don’t take up space on your computer. Every online-only file in File Explorer will be marked with this icon and won’t be downloaded to your device until it’s opened. Online-only files can only be accessed from a device that’s connected to the internet.
  • White circle with a green checkmark. When you open an online-only file, it downloads to your device and becomes locally available. You can open a locally available file anytime, even without internet access. If you need more space, you can change the file back to online only. Just right-click the file and select Free up space.
  • Green circle with a white checkmark. Only files that you mark as Always keep on this device will be assigned this icon. These always-available files download to your device and take up space, but they’re always there for you even when you’re offline.

The business user decides which files he or she wants to have accessible with just one click:

Making a OneDrive file available offline

Looking back at our marketing scenario, you can share a file within File Explorer:

The sharing experience is exactly the same as within the browser. Awesome! However, you won’t find the following features when working within Windows File Explorer:

  • Recent files: Overview of recently used files within OneDrive
  • Shared: Overview of your shared files and files shared with you
  • Discover: Discover files that are relevant to you from SharePoint Sites, powered by Microsoft Graph
  • Recycle Bin: Restore your deleted files within 90 days
  • SharePoint team sites: Work with files from your SharePoint team sites from within OneDrive
  • OneDrive Restore: Hit by ransomware? This option gives you 30 days to restore your OneDrive content

Apart from the Recycle Bin and Shared views, you aren’t really missing anything by working from File Explorer. How can you combine the File Explorer and OneDrive Browser? I start with teaching business users the basics in File Explorer—things like:

  • File sharing
  • File management (creating, modifying, moving, copying and deleting)
  • Co-authoring files

Once users have mastered these starter skills, I move on to the browser. Baby steps. Be sure to have a look at the official OneDrive adoption resources from Microsoft.

OneDrive external sharing

We can keep this section short because there isn’t much of a difference between internal and external sharing from an end-user standpoint. However, the recipient’s experience will be slightly different depending on whether the file was shared internally or externally. External recipients will receive an email containing a link to the shared content. Clicking the link will prompt the following dialogue:

Authentication for access to shared OneDrive content

Once the recipient enters their email address, they’ll see the following:

2-factor authentification for shared OneDrive content

This is an additional security step used to verify the identity of the external recipient.

Keeping your OneDrive secure

Content stored in OneDrive has fewer options for oversight compared to content stored on a SharePoint team site. That’s because there isn’t any social control.

People working on a project can tell other collaborators not to store a certain file, but there’s no way to make sure that file doesn’t end up in someone’s personal OneDrive anyway. Your users are allowed to share content internally and externally, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that—provided you have the proper safeguards in place to secure the content and prevent critical data breaches.

The following features are essential for OneDrive security:

  • Azure Information Protection (AIP)
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM)

Here’s an overview of these tools; I’ll discuss them in more detail in a future post.

Azure Information Protection

When employees start sharing files with internal and external people, there’s no guarantee by default that a shared file won’t be accessed by an unwanted party. That’s where Azure Information Protection steps in. AIP enables content labeling to allow additional security measures to be put in place. For example, printing, editing and offline access could be disabled for all content labeled “highly confidential”.

Learn more about Azure Information Protection labels here.

Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Management

Working from mobile devices is an essential part of the modern workplace. The OneDrive app is quite excellent and offers many advantages for your employees, allowing them to access their work, personal and SharePoint files on the go.

That said, there is always a risk of employees losing their mobile devices, which would leave potentially sensitive content exposed. Enabling Mobile Device Management in your Office 365 lets you wipe compromised company devices remotely.

Does your company have a bring-your-own-device policy? In this case, I highly recommend enabling Mobile Application Management with Intune. This allows your employees to work with company content in a secure manner. If a user loses their personal device, MAM ensures that only the OneDrive app will be deleted, leaving personal content, such as images, untouched.

OneDrive: now a viable collaboration tool

OneDrive has come from a dark place. I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that there was a time when I advised clients against using OneDrive. Those days are finally behind us.

OneDrive is an excellent content collaboration service within Microsoft 365. It allows users to store files, share content when needed, and collaborate on documents with colleagues or external users.

In the next part of the series, we’ll take a look at how Microsoft Teams fits into your content collaboration workflow. Check it out now!

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