Contacts sharing in Office 365

As already pointed out in our other article What can be synced in Office 365, in today’s world sharing is literally everything.

We have also learned how to use Office 365 to share personal calendars as well as create a common shared calendar (via shared mailbox). What about contacts then?

How to share contacts with others in Office 365?

It is possible to share contacts in Office 365, however available options are limited as compared to calendar sharing.

A major downside is that contacts folder sharing is not possible in OWA. To share your personal contacts you have to use MS Outlook. The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. In Outlook, select a contacts folder you would like to share and right-click it.
  2. In the context menu select Share then Share contacts.share11
  3. The sharing invitation pops up. In the To… field type in names or emails of users you would like to share your contacts folder with. You can also enable these users to edit contents of the shared folder – to do so simply mark the Recipient can add, edit, and delete items in this contacts folder option belowinv11
  4. Below you can enter a short message if you wish.
  5. Click Send.

All selected in the invitation recipients receive a new message with the Open this Contacts Folder button on top. Once they click it – new contacts folder appears in Shared Contacts section of the People pane. The folder is named after the user who shared it.shared-contacts-opened

Unfortunately, you can’t open such invitation on OWA – opening shared contacts folder is not supported.

Share contacts in Office 365 using shared mailbox

Sharing your personal contacts folder is not the only available method – you can also use a shared mailbox functionality. The process of creating shared mailbox in Office 365 is identical as creating a group calendar.

Make sure you have administrative privileges, as they are required to do this:

  1. Sign in with your Office 365 administrative credentials to EAC (Exchange Admin Center)
  2. Go to Recipients, and then Shared tab.shared mailbox1
  3. Click Add (little plus icon).
  4. Type the name of the mailbox (e.g. Company Share) in the Display name field. Copy that name to the email address name (you can use a different name if you wish).shared create1
  5. In the Send as list, you can add users with the permission to send emails from this shared mailbox.
  6. Click Save.
  7. Click twice on your shared mailbox to open its properties window. Click Mailbox delegation. Under Full Access, click the add button and select users who you want to grant full access rights to the shared mailbox.access rights1
  8. Once you select the users, click Save.

You have just created a shared mailbox. A good thing is that for users specified as having full access to it, Outlook automatically displays shared folders of this mailbox. If the user opens the People pane in Outlook, there should be a contacts folder visible with greyish name of the shared mailbox next to it.

shared-contacts-fol1

Again, the problem arises if you want to use OWA. It simply does not support opening contacts folder from shared mailbox. Outlook is the only option.

External sharing with another Office 365 organization.

Sadly contacts are also more limited than calendar folders in this scenario. Sharing externally is available only when two organizations are federated.

Otherwise it is only possible to work around this limitation using 3rd party tools. For instance, CodeTwo Public Folders lets you bridge separate Office 365 organizations by creating a virtual network of Microsft Outlook instances accross multiple sites or domains (the only requirement is Internet access). With the program installed all users are able to share personal Outlook contacts with each other or access contacts in public folders.

Summary

It is somewhat surprising that calendar sharing in Office 365 is treated better than contacts sharing. You can open a shared calendar in a web browser, use OWA to access or share it. You can even open a shared mailbox’s calendar in OWA. Contact folders lack all of these features.

In the mobile age, BYOD world, and cloud era sharing is not just a buzz-word. It is a must. Contacts sharing is almost as important as email communication and as pointed out above, not so well implemented in Office 365. Let’s hope that this will change soon.

Want to unify email signatures in your Office 365 organization?

CodeTwo Email Signatures: Central email signature management in Office 365

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30 thoughts on “Contacts sharing in Office 365


  1. I have a 7000 people contact list and we are working with office 365. I need to share this list with others but others only view and no editing. I have two problems, one is that the list is too large and the skype service get’s stuck due to this and the other is where to save it, thus if I want to send an email I could pick the address to my email recipient “to” field. Any recommendation? add on?

  2. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your great information on this page. Sorry if this is a silly question, but when I go to contacts in Outlook I do not see my fellow Office 365 domain/account users – I do not want to add my own colleagues (that is user@mydomain.com) one by one. Is there something I need to do?

    Thanks, Peter

    • Hi Peter,

      If you want to add users from your Office 365 domain to your Contacts folder in Outlook, follow these steps:

      1. While in the Contacts folder in Outlook, press CTRL+SHIFT+B or click the Addres Book button on the ribbon (should be on the far right)
      2. Highlight all contacts and groups you want to add to the folder (hold SHIFT to highlight multiple items)
      3. Right-click on the selection and click Add to Contacts

      See this article for more: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Add-a-contact-from-the-Global-Address-List-0b165964-76ae-4db7-ad2e-20b06c781096

      As to sharing a folder with multiple users – the only alternative to adding them one by one, is to share the folder with a group that includes them. This can be a group that you created locally in Outlook or a server-level group.

      Let me know if this helps,
      Adam

  3. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for confirming that. It surely seems a strange omission on Microsoft’s part to leave out what would seem to be basic functionality. But maybe I’m jaded by using Groupwise for so long.

    And thanks for the workarounds. I’ll check into those.

    Dave

  4. Hi Adam,
    Regarding your response to Daniel and Rob about shared contacts not being usable when sending from a primary account – what are they used for then? If we can’t use addresses from a shared folder, what does Microsoft intend for us to use the shared contacts for? Why can’t Bob share a contact folder with Alice so she can send email to those people too? That really doesn’t work?

    Sorry to ask such a basic question, but this kind of thing is hard to get an answer from Google.

    We were a Groupwise shop until last year, and today is the first time I’ve had someone ask about sharing a contact folder (what Groupwise calls an “Address Book”) with someone else. I tested a few things, then started Googling when things weren’t working in an intuitive way. Your blog was one of the few that seemed to have a live person anywhere near it, so I thought I’d ask.

    Thanks,
    Dave

  5. I would like to capture names and email addresses from mail sent to shared mailbox to the Contact folder for that mailbox, but they go into my main Contacts folder instead. How do I get them to go to the shared folder? Thanks.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I’m not aware of a built-in solution for this – probably part of the trade-off for shared mailboxes not requiring a license.

      If you’re willing to settle for a workaround, check out CodeTwo FolderSync: http://www.codetwo.com/freeware/foldersync-addin/?sts=3853. This is a free Outlook addin we offer, which lets you sync pairs of folders in Outlook. In your scenario you could set it to mirror your personal Contacts folder and the Contacts folder in the shared mailbox.

      Best regards,
      Adam

  6. thank you for your response

    Any outlook will work?? like MS oulook, or we have to download & install the office 365 oulook??

    thank you
    regards
    erwin

  7. same question like Ms.Karen.

    i cannot share my contacts, share is not showing on my web office 365,
    please help,

    regards,
    Erwin

    • Hi Erwin,

      The ‘Share Contacts’ option I talk about in the article is available only in Outlook.

      Best regards,
      Adam

  8. I have the same problem as Daniel. I can’t seem to get Outlook to put the address in the to box. There are several contacts in the shared folder, but when I type a person’s first name, and click on “check name” nothing happens. Any ideas what I am doing wrong?

  9. This shared mailbox worked great for our needs. Not only are the contacts shared between the 2 people assigned to that mailbox but so are the tasks. However, is there a way for those shared tasks to show up on the to-do list of those computers?

    • Hi Karen,

      Yes, you can. Just right-click the contacts folder in Outlook, select Share, Share Contacts and choose the group instead of a single contact. This will result in the invitation being sent out to all members of the group. Each member will then have to open the contacts folder in their Outlook, the same way as they would open a folder shared directly to them.

      Hope this helps,
      Adam

  10. Hello.
    I have shared my contacts to a co-worker, if I will be adding a new contact it will automatically added or it can also be viewed by the person I have shared my contacts?
    Many thanks.

  11. We are using the OWA iPhone app to get around this. A new mailbox will be created and the users that want to see the shared contacts for this mailbox can use the OWA app to access it. The cool thing about the OWA app is that the search function supports finding contacts that have been categorized. We plan to categorize all the contacts and the search feature is excellent. I know this does not scale well, but it will work for us in this situation. The other option is to have the users create a new mail account on the phone and connect to this account. No category support this way however. I suspect we will have to dedicate a license to this account as I do not believe you can logon to a public mailbox.

  12. I have seen that basic EDU license of O365 has these limited sharing functionality. However, there is a premium level of service that is more feature rich with sharing of contacts. Have you had any feedback in this area?

  13. How about mobile devices such as iPad?
    I’ve tried a number of methods, including share point contacts, but I’m struggling to find a shared contacts solution that is easy to use in outlook and an iPad…

    • Hello Robert,
      As mentioned in the article – mobile devices are left behind in terms of access to public folders, shared mailboxes etc. They are simply not supported. We are currently working on a program that could allow such functionality, even without installation of client mobile apps – you can check it here: http://www.codetwo.com/sync-for-365/

  14. Hello Sebastien,
    Thanks for your feedback – glad you find the article useful!
    Regarding your questions – yes, you can edit contacts in the shared mailbox from Outlook, and yes, 2007 and 2010 versions are compatible. Just make sure you have them fully updated with latest service packs.

  15. Adam, does users given full access to the shared mailbox trough the office 365 portal can edit the contacts from the shared mailbox straigh from outlook?

    Do you think old version of outlook like 2007 and 2010 are compatible with this?

    Thank you for your awesome article the best out there.

  16. Hi Daniel,

    Contacts from a shared mailbox cannot be used to send emails from a primary mailbox, so the behavior you are noticing is correct.

    To be able to use the contacts when sending emails from your primary mailbox, you would have to either put them in a public folder (https://technet.microsoft.com/pl-pl/library/jj200758%28v=exchg.150%29.aspx) or sync the shared mailbox contacts to your primary contacts folder (e.g. using CodeTwo FolderSync Addin: http://www.codetwo.com/freeware/foldersync-addin/?sts=3853).

    Best regards,
    Adam

  17. Hi there,

    I also did this but I can’t see how to get these shared contacts in my “to-field” when writing an email.
    Did I miss something or is this just not supported?
    I have created a shared mailbox and have full access. I can add contacts but when I type in an addressee in the to-field, I don’t see the contacts from that shared mailbox.

    Thanks!

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