The other day, our Support team deployed a new Skype for Business Server for one of our mid-market customers. Initial setup went smoothly…they had an existing Office 365 account, which they wanted to integrate. We set them up on a Hybrid configuration. It went well. Very well.

Now, if you’ve worked in IT for longer than 2 hours, you know what’s coming next. Something has to go wrong.

Fortunately, the ‘something wrong’ wasn’t catastrophic. We had no server crash, no hardware failure, no huge configuration snarl. No, we got the “small but annoying” issue. The digital equivalent of a fly buzzing around our heads.

We had a problem with each user account’s Skype avatar photos.

The avatar photo has a few different names: profile photo, skype avatar, O365 avatar, contact photo, and so on. It’s the photo people see when they message you on Skype4B or Teams. The photo itself lives in your Active Directory, whether local or on Azure, assigned to the user account.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues with avatar photos. See my post on making contacts photos display back in 2017. The issue before us was different from that problem. (We tried those steps just in case; no luck.)

Issue: Avatar Photos for User Accounts Disappear Following Logout

Here’s what happened: A photo upload would go through successfully. We’d log the user out and back in, to test the configuration. Most of the configuration stayed in place, as it should. However, the avatar photo then disappeared from the Skype4B client.

We didn’t find any error logged for the photo upload or the configuration changes. The avatar photo just up & vanished. So we continued testing, with standard user accounts, admin accounts, and test/dummy accounts.

Sometimes the avatar photos would stay in place every time. Other times they would disappear right away. Still other times, they would stay put for a few logins, and then vanish. The account’s permissions made no difference.

Skype4B Missing Avatars

Not wanting to bang our heads on this for endless hours, we contacted Microsoft Support. Their team reported back that the avatar photo “disappearing act” is a known and ongoing issue.

Lucky us, we found a bug. (Yes, it buzzed around our heads for a few hours!)

Since this was ongoing at the time (more on that later), the Microsoft engineers didn’t have a permanent fix. Instead, they suggested a workaround: Use the Azure AD portal to upload the photo.

How to Resolve the “Disappearing ThumbnailPhoto” Problem in Azure AD

Normally, you would add a photo in Azure AD like this:

  1. Sign in to the Azure portal at: Use an account with administrative permissions.
  2. Select Azure Active Directory in the left column.
  3. Select Users. Locate & click the user you want.
  4. On the user’s Profile, click the Edit button.
  5. Locate the file selector field below the thumbnail. Click to select & upload a new photo.

Azure AD User Profile

(Full reference page for Azure AD profile updates, just in case: Add or update a user’s profile information using Azure Active Directory – MS Docs)

However, this method didn’t quite work for us. Why? When accessing user accounts in Azure AD, we had no option to select an image file. The option’s grayed out.

Turns out if you sync your local AD to Azure, the Azure-level profile photo option shuts off. You have to update the photo from local AD, and then sync it up to Azure.

Here’s how that works. We’re going into PowerShell folks!

  • Open a PowerShell window on the server in play. Make sure you’ve logged in using an account with administrative permissions.
  • Next, clear any existing photo attribute for the user from Exchange Online. Do this even if you failed to upload any photo.
    • Get-UserPhoto “User” | Remove-UserPhoto
  • Then update the ThumbnailPhoto attribute for the user from local AD.
    • Import-Module ActiveDirectory $photo = [byte[]](Get-Content C:\Users\Administrator\SkypePhotos\RandomUser.jpg -Encoding byte)Set-ADUser “User” -Replace @{thumbnailPhoto=$photo}
  • Finally, run delta sync to force the changes to sync up with Azure AD.
    • Start-ADSyncSyncCycle -PolicyType Delta

Result: It worked! The thumbnail photos showed up and stayed up.

Case Closed – Avatar Display Issue Auto-Resolved (Somehow)

In the course of writing this post, my co-worker Larry told me that the ThumbnailPhoto issue had resolved itself. According to him, it “just started working” sometime in April 2020. He was right; the same customer where we discovered the issue now had users’ avatar photo appearing without any extra work.

I looked in the release notes for Office 365 and Azure, but I didn’t find any reference to the issue. Here’s the Office 365 Monthly Updates list, in case it does appear. If you see it, please let me know!

After hearing this, I decided to go ahead with the post anyway. The ‘normal’ process of uploading an avatar mentioned above should work for you. If it doesn’t though, the workaround at least gives you an alternate resolution.

How has your team’s remote adaptation gone? Please comment. I’d love to hear how things are going.

Skype for Business Avatars Disappearing on You? Here’s How to Fix

One thought on “Skype for Business Avatars Disappearing on You? Here’s How to Fix

  • March 16, 2021 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for this, i’ve been fiddling around all morning trying to fix this.


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