Three ways to prepare for a Microsoft 365 email outage

What can you do if there’s an outage or breakdown in Microsoft 365 email cloud services? If you’re prepared, you can continue working and communicating until Microsoft fixes the outage.

Microsoft 365 breaks down occasionally, so do other online services. These outages have and will happen to even the best of cloud services.

You can keep on working until Microsoft fixes the problem, if you’re prepared.

Most of these suggestions are things you should do, even if you have 100% confidence in Microsoft’s cloud management. The general advice applies to anyone with cloud based email storage, Microsoft 365, Exchange Server, Gmail or other.

Know your email options

Many outages are not a complete breakdown of email hosted on Microsoft 365.

You’ll see people complaining that their ’email has stopped’ and the media often echoes those reports.  But they’re usually not entirely true.

Often just one connection to your email store has broken but there are other ways to access the same Exchange Server mailbox.

The mailbox itself is usually running quite normally and even receiving new messages.  People think the entire email system is broken but it’s only the connection method they use.

These are the two most common ways to access a Microsoft 365 / Exchange Server mailbox – you’re probably using one or more right now:

  • Outlook desktop Windows or Mac via ActiveSync – this is the most common way Microsoft Office users get their email.
  • Outlook apps also work with ActiveSync but pass through another Microsoft server which saves your login details and passes your messages to/fro. That’s a difference not well understood and the reason we continue to NOT recommend the Outlook apps for Apple and Android.

There are other ways to reach your mailbox and it’s a good idea to be familiar with them before an emergency arises:

  • Outlook Web App/Access (OWA)– aka webmail. Open a browser window, go to the web link provided by your mail host and login.  There’s your mailbox with the ability to reply, forward etc.

Try OWA by getting the web link from your mail host settings and logging in.  Add the link to your browser favorites so you can quickly access your mailbox if Outlook/ActiveSync falls over.  The link is in Outlook at File | Info.

Or login to your  account then choose Outlook from the apps list on the left. Or just jump to

The great thing about OWA is it’ll work from any computer with a browser and net connection.  If your main computer ‘dies’ just go to another one (a colleague, your kids).

  • IMAP — IMAP is another way to synchronize Outlook (or other email program) with an online mailbox.  Standard ActiveSync is better but IMAP is usually available too, it depends on your mail host settings.  As a fallback, setup Outlook (using a different profile) with a working connection to your mailbox.
  • POP3/SMTP – the old-fashioned way to get mail. It doesn’t synchronize with the mailbox, isn’t recommended … but if you’re desperate, give it a try.

Note: either IMAP or POP3 connection might well be disabled by your network administrator.

Keep everything offline

Modern Outlook defaults to only keeping the most recent emails on your computer with older stuff kept in cloud storage only.  That’s only a good idea on computers or tablets with limited disk space.  It’s an example of a default setting which suits Microsoft’s broader corporate agenda but not necessarily their customer’s needs.

Anyone with a laptop or desktop computer will probably want to have a copy of their entire mailbox available on their device. That’s email, calendar, contacts, the lot.

Go to Account Setting | choose the mail account then Change.  Move the ‘Mail to keep offline’ slider to the far right “All”

Outlook can keep you working with the locally stored mailbox even if the connection with the cloud is broken.  You can read or search past messages.

New emails, replies and forwards can be made and sit in the Outbox waiting for the cloud connection to be restored.

Or write your message, reply using your alternative account, see below. always syncs their Exchange Server account fully to a laptop or desktop computer.  It lets us keep working when there’s no Internet connection (eg on a plane) or when the Internet access is slow, erratic or expensive.

Alternative email account

Setup an alternative email account with a totally different provider.  It the worst happens, you can use the second email service to keep in contact with the world.

If you have Microsoft 365 hosting, setup a Gmail or Yahoo Mail account.

If you’re using Google Gmail or G-suite, setup an account.

The alternate account can be used to send emails.  Outlook for Windows/Mac will have your old messages (see below).  Copy details from Outlook to make messages in the alternate account.

Sure, you could setup a second account if/when there’s a problem.  Better to have the alternate setup and ready when you need it.

Alternative email accounts can other uses like testing email accounts, workaround overzealous spam filters etc.

Warning!   A second email account is a good idea and we know many readers have one already.  The trap is getting confused about which email address or account used in a particular situation.  We get many complaints about ‘missing’ emails which were really sent to an alternate (but forgotten) email account.

Once you have a second mailbox setup there are various options available to use it regularly and in an emergency.

  • Webmail – Email via your browser is the most common way to send/receive messages when things go awry.
  • Outlook – Add a new account to Outlook for Windows/Mac which connects directly to the alternate mailbox. This lets you use the second account easily within Outlook.
  • Connected Accounts is an Office 365 and feature which lets you grab new mail from external mail accounts and put them into your Office 365 mailbox. Useful in normal life but a problem is Office 365 goes awry.