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Excel: Collaboration in an Excel Workbook

By Bill Jelen
November 1, 2019
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Collaborating with multiple users on the same Excel workbook is often frustrating. Only one person at a time can edit, with everyone else in read-only mode. Invariably, someone will leave the file open when called away from their desk, locking everyone else out. The new workbook-sharing experience for Office 365 will solve this problem.

 

The Excel team describes the new coauthoring experience as “Excel’s moon shot.” The team spent more than three years on the feature. It was clear that the old limitations of the legacy Shared Workbook experience weren’t practical in real life. You had to agree to avoid a long list of features that weren’t compatible with shared workbooks. While there might have been simple workbooks that could live within these limitations, the functionality was very limiting.

 

SHARING WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION

 

Shared workbooks work the best when everyone is using Office 365 within the same organization, known as a “tenant” to those who maintain the Office 365 environment. (If you have to share across organizations, read bit.ly/2MyKGc2 to learn about external sharing).

 

To share a workbook, you need to either save it to your OneDrive for Business folder or to a SharePoint Online folder. But saving to an on-premise SharePoint site isn’t enough—your IT department needs to set up a SharePoint Online service. And the workbook has to be saved as an .XLSX, .XLSM, or .XLSB file. You can’t share a workbook in the old .XLS or third-party .ODS formats.

 

Everyone who will be sharing the workbook needs to have an Office 365 subscription and the latest Office 365 version installed. I often meet people who work at a company that subscribes to Office 365, but they’ve never taken the time to let IT upgrade their Excel 2013 or Excel 2016 to the Office 365 version of Excel. To make sure you have the correct version, look in the top-left corner of your Excel window. There should be an AutoSave switch visible, and that switch should be enabled.

 

Sharing and collaboration work across multiple platforms. People can edit the same workbook at the same time while using Windows, Mac, Excel on the iPhone or Android, or even Excel online. Some features look slightly different on different platforms.

 

Everyone editing the workbook needs to have an active internet connection. If you lose your internet connection while working in the file, you might see a Refresh Recommended or Upload Failed message. If you continue to make changes past this point, your coworkers won’t see the changes until Excel reestablishes the connection.

 

With your workbook saved and AutoSave turned on, use the Share icon found in the top right of the Excel window. You can choose to share the link with people in your organization or with anyone—though, as I said, it works best when sharing within your organization. Invite others by name or email address and send the link.

 

 

The Share icon is in the top-right corner of Excel (#1). The name in the title bar of Excel tells you that you are currently signed in (#2). The initials in the next line belong to your coworkers who are currently editing the document (#3). You can click on any initials to see which cell that person is currently editing.

 

 

Though you share the link via email, you or your coworkers don’t need to have email open to know that someone shared a workbook, thanks to the new Home screen in Excel. If you select File, Home, the Recommended section of the screen will show any shared workbooks in which you were recently mentioned in a comment or that were recently shared with you. For a longer list of shared workbooks, Microsoft has added a Shared with Me tab next to Recent and Pinned.

 

 

WORKING TOGETHER

 

The cell pointer in Excel is the green box that surrounds whichever cell is currently active. In the figure below, the Name Box indicates that you have cell C2 as your active cell. You can see the green box around cell C2. There are two other boxes in the figure. The color of the boxes corresponds to the initials shown in Figure 1. ME is currently editing cell C4. ZJ has C6 as his active cell but isn’t editing the cell. Hover over any of the boxes to see the full name of the person editing that cell.

 

 

Everything will work fine if you stay away from editing the cell that another person is currently editing. If two people try to edit the same cell at the same time, the last one to press Enter will win.

 

LIMITATIONS

 

If you invite someone to edit the workbook who isn’t using Office 365, the workbook will lock as soon as that person opens the workbook in a version of Excel that doesn’t support collaboration. Everyone else editing the workbook will receive a “This File is Locked” message. This could be anyone using Excel 2013, Excel 2016, or even Excel 2019. The collaboration experience requires an Office 365 subscription.

Filtering currently isn’t working well. If several people open a workbook, it might be natural for someone to filter the data to only their records. Currently, if one person filters, everyone will see the results of the filter. Microsoft is trying to improve this feature.

 

Collaboration in Excel is a great improvement over the legacy Shared Workbook experience. It prevents the need for only one person to be editing the workbook at a time.

 

SF SAYS

 

As long as two people don’t try to edit the same cell simultaneously, collaboration works well.

 

Bill Jelen is the author of MrExcel XL: 40 Greatest Excel Tips. Send questions for future articles to IMA@MrExcel.com.
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