email attachments

Sending Links vs Email Attachments in Outlook

This post is part of our Mastering Microsoft 365 series

If you’re like most busy professionals, you send emails with attachments every day. That’s the way business has always been done. But now that online file storage has become commonplace, it may be time to consider sending links instead of email attachments – at least in some cases.

Let’s look at why many companies are switching to sending links instead of email attachments as well as some of the hidden challenges.

3 Reasons to send links instead of email attachments

1. Ease of Collaboration

You’ve probably had the experience of sending out a document for review and then having to chase down colleagues for feedback. Once you finally receive responses, you may spend hours trying to puzzle together the edits to create one cohesive piece, only to have to resend the document for round two…and three…and four…until you finally agree on the final version.

By instead sharing the link to a SharePoint or OneDrive file, all contributors are working from the same document stored in a central location. Microsoft 365 even allows for online editing of shared content without opening the desktop (Word or Excel) application.  When one person edits the file, everyone else can see those changes in real time, making collaboration significantly faster and easier.

2. Reduce mailbox / storage / download size

When you send an email attachment, everyone gets a copy. When large files are sent, storage space can be consumed quickly. Consider the file size times the number of recipients times the number of revisions. That’s usually not a problem at the organizational level, but may pose a bandwidth issue for mobile users or a storage issue for laptops. tablets and other small data storage devices.  

3. Revoke / limit access

Once you’ve sent an email attachment, it’s out of your control. The recipient can copy it, print it, forward it, etc. By sending a link, you can change permissions at any time and even revoke access automatically after a specified time period. The organization sets global permissions, which users can fine-tune for each item sent.

4 Hidden challenges of using links

While sending links has a lot of advantages, there are also some challenges to consider.

  1. When collaborators are outside of your organization, your IT administration team may not allow access to secure internal SharePoint / OneDrive file storage areas. Microsoft 365 has multiple layers of security, and all must be “allowed” for the file to be accessed.
  2. Links won’t work without internet access. If employees are used to working on planes or in facilities without internet, they won’t be able to access the files.
  3. If someone moves or deletes the file, everyone loses access.
  4. It may sound silly, but many users are accustomed to searching their Outlook inbox by attachments and forget the file came in as a link instead. Plan to spend some time resending emails or retraining users until they get the hang of looking for emails a different way.

How to send links in Outlook

You can change your default settings in Outlook to decide whether to send links, copies or to choose every time.

email attachments

If you want to choose every time, when you “add attachment” a box will pop up.

email attachments in outlook

If you then decide to “share link” you can further edit permissions of the link.

email attachment

Keep in mind that individual users are always constrained by organizational global settings. Has your company switched to sending links? What has been your experience? We’d love to hear!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to send attachments or links in emails?

It depends on your preference / what the purpose is. Sometimes it can be more beneficial to send a link and in some cases an attachment is better.

Can you send a link as an attachment?

Links and attachments are two different things. You can send a link to an online drive with files (SharePoint / OneDrive) or you can attach a document.

What are the benefits of sharing a link instead of an attachment?

Sharing a link to an online document is often easier and faster for collaboration. It removes the process of massive downloads to your computer every time. You’re also able to change access to the document at any point.

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