Microsoft 365 adds new feature so remote staff with no internet don't lose access to apps

Microsoft offers "extended offline access" to Office customers in industries with workers who spend months offline.

Microsoft has added a new feature to its 365 Apps which should make it easier to keep staff working even if they can't connect to the internet, plus another option for shared devices.  

Microsoft's apps generally require customers' devices to connect to the internet at least once every 30 days to sign in to stay up to date. If the device does not connect to the internet in that time, the device's licensing token is not renewed and Microsoft's apps go in to 'reduced functionality mode' for that device.

While that's not a problem for many organizations with devices always connected to the internet, some industries have devices in the field or out at sea that might not connect for longer periods. 

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It's easy to imagine technicians, engineers, scientists and others who spend months in remote areas where there is poor or no internet connectivity. Microsoft's new "extended offline access" exception is for organizations supporting these workers. 

"We're aware that in industries, including government, oil and gas, manufacturing, agriculture, and scientific research, some people work in secure or remote environments where they have limited or no internet connectivity for longer periods of time," Microsoft notes in a blogpost

Microsoft isn't getting rid of its 30-day login rule, but to remedy the situation for these specific sectors, it is introducing an exception that allows Microsoft 365 Apps to remain activated without the device connecting to the internet for up to 180 days.    

"Workers in secure or remote environments who are offline for long periods of time can continue using Microsoft 365 Apps to stay productive on-the-job without worrying about being cut off from the tools they need most after 30 days," Microsoft says. 

This extended timeframe won't be available to all organizations. Microsoft explains in a footnote that "eligible customers should contact their Microsoft account representative to determine if extended offline access for Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise is the right solution for them".

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Via group policy, IT admins can enable extended offline access when the user installs Microsoft 365 Apps on a device.   

For industries where shared devices are more common, such as healthcare, retail and in hospitality, Microsoft is also enabling device-based subscriptions for shared devices. 

"Because the license is assigned to the device, workers aren't required to have their own Azure Active Directory identity. Workers can sign into the device as many times as needed and access all Microsoft 365 Apps, including Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Word," Microsoft explains. 

Customers need to purchase "the required number of Microsoft 365 licenses and assign a license to a device group in the Microsoft 365 admin center."