Have you received an email from Microsoft Online Services Team with the subject line “So-and-so wants to share such-and-such”? Is it branded with Office 365 all over the email? With a link to something in a really big font? That means someone’s sharing content with you from their SharePoint Online system. Below is a slick infographic that gives you the Cliff Notes version of accessing that content if you or your organization doesn’t already use Office 365. If you need further details, keep reading after that.
Accessing the SharePoint Online content
Need a bit more guidance? No problem! If you received that email I mentioned above, it means someone’s trying to give you access to a file, folder, or team site from their company’s SharePoint Online system. You should feel special! Well, I guess it depends on the workload implied by getting access to the stuff. But you know what I mean.
The most likely situation for this is you’re getting an invitation to content that’s owned by another company or organization. Maybe you’re their client, a vendor working toward making a sale with them, or a contractor working for them part-time. But you do not have a user name and password to log into their network; you’re considered an external user.
To access their content, you have to have an Office 365 or Microsoft account that’s based on the email address that received the invite. If your employer has Office 365, you can log in using the “Organizational account” option provided. But, if that’s not an option, you can’t use your work account’s user name and password to “just sign in”. You have to create a new account with Microsoft to access the content.
Unfortunately, the process to access the file, folder, site, what-have-you can be kind of confusing. When you click the link from the invite email, you’re brought to the login page below.
I know it’s tempting, but if you’re an external user to their SharePoint Online system, you can’t use the “Organizational account” link unless you’re already using Office 365. You can sign in with your regular user name and password if you already have an Office 365 account. If your employer doesn’t offer Office 365, you can’t use your regular work login and password.
Instead, you have to either:
- Use a Microsoft account that’s associated with your email address (the first link on that page); or
- Create a Microsoft account that’s associated with your email address (the text link under the “Organizational account” button).
Either way, you will have to create a Microsoft account. It just depends whether you’ve already done so in the past or if you’re doing it now. So you might as well do it because if you’re going to regularly receive sharing invitations from other companies and organizations, you’re going to need that account.
Things to remember about your Microsoft account
After you create your Microsoft account, you need to keep some things in mind:
- It’s your account: This is an account you created. It’s not associated with your employer… at all. Repeat that with me: “This is not an account that is controlled by my employer.” So, that has a few implications:
- You choose the password: It does not have to be the same as your work password and it won’t change automatically if your work password changes. I suggest you use your work password so you don’t forget it; and update it whenever your work password does.
- Your IT team doesn’t support it: If you have an issue with this account, it’s your account and your company’s IT team has no connection to it. If you have an issue, you need to raise it with Microsoft, not your IT team. They had nothing to do with you creating the account. They might be able to make suggestions here and there, but ultimately the account is your responsibility.
- It’s tied to only one email address: When accessing SharePoint Online content from someone else’s system, the Microsoft account you log in with has to be associated with the email account that received the invitation email. So if you received the invitation in your Gmail account, your Microsoft account has to be associated with that Gmail account. Likewise if the invitation was received in your work email account, your Microsoft account has to be associated with your work account. That means, yes, you could have multiple Microsoft accounts based on which email accounts receive sharing invitations. This isn’t a design flaw on Microsoft’s part; if you want to keep all of the shared files associated with just one Microsoft account, only tell others about your one email address.
- It’s under the sharer’s control: If you have issues accessing the content, your employer’s IT department can’t help. It’s not their system. So if you need technical support, the most your IT team can do is offer you guidance or suggestions. They have no admin access or god-like keys. You’ll have to report this issue to the person that’s sharing the content with you and ask them to reach out to their Office 365 administrator. That likely means they’ll have to submit a support ticket internally.
- You have multiple Office 365 accounts now: If you go to portal.office.com, which is the general login page for any SharePoint Online/Office 365 system, you’ll probably see multiple accounts to choose from. One will be based on the account you created based on reading this post. The other will be your actual company account through Office 365 (assuming your company uses Office 365). Any others will be separate Microsoft accounts that your browser remembers that you may have created based on other email addresses (a Gmail account as opposed to your work account, for example). So be sure to keep them straight. Each account only has access to certain content in the vast reaches of Office 365 and SharePoint Online.