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Nowadays, the most common scenario for any business working with Excel is to have more than one user working on the same spreadsheet. This is essentially what we know as team collaboration.

As with other Microsoft tools, Excel offers various features that can adapt to our working style. If you need to work on large datasets with other users, the Excel Co-Authoring feature will be of great help, since it allows users to collaborate on the same Excel file simultaneously.

This complete guide will show you how to get the best results for your team with Excel Co-Authoring features. First, we’ll explain what it is and the system requirements. Then, we’ll explore how it contributes to team collaboration. Finally, you’ll learn step-by-step how to use the Co-Authoring feature, including working around its limitations.

What is Excel Co-Authoring?

Excel Co-Authoring is the most recent solution offered by Microsoft Excel for online collaboration. Until now, Excel users have been able to collaborate on shared workbooks, which was already a move forward in productivity and efficiency. However, Co-Authoring in Excel means that multiple users in your organization can now open an Excel workbook without finding it locked because someone else was using it.

To unlock the full potential of Excel Co-Authoring for team collaboration, we recommend also using the following tools or features when collaborating on spreadsheets:

  • OneDrive or SharePoint: Avoid having users access the spreadsheet from different storage systems. This can affect the proper functioning of the feature and cause the system to lock it.
  • AutoSave: Switch on “AutoSave” to make changes visible to everyone simultaneously.
  • @mentions: Use “@” mentions in comments to notify other users about important changes.

Note that Microsoft recommends using Excel Co-Authoring instead of Shared Workbooks, given that the latter presents many limitations. As we further explain in the section on Excel Co-Authoring limitations, Co-Authoring doesn't allow you to track changes. A way to work around this is to keep the file open so that everyone can see the edits in real-time.

Now, let’s explore the key system requirements for you to get the most out of Excel Co-Authoring.

What do you need for Co-Authoring in Excel?

Before explaining how Excel Co-Authoring works, let’s make sure that your system fulfills these technical requirements:

  • Microsoft Version: Office 365. To check that your Excel version supports Co-Authoring, open an Excel spreadsheet. A “Share” button should appear on the top right.
  • Cloud storage: OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online to store the Excel file you will co-author.
  • File format: Save Excel files as xlsx, .xlsm, or .xlsb.

Now that you know what Excel Co-Authoring is and what it can do for you, let’s see how it works.

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How does Co-Authoring in Excel Work?

For the Co-Authoring feature to work in your Excel spreadsheet, save it to OneDrive or SharePoint, as we previously mentioned. Let’s see how to share your workbook with other users in OneDrive.

How to share a workbook for Excel Co-Authoring in OneDrive?

Although you can use the Excel Co-Authoring without OneDrive, you will need to store the spreadsheet on a cloud supported by Microsoft; another option is OneDrive for Business or SharePoint.

  1. 1. Open an Excel workbook and click on the “Share” button to the far right of your screen.
Excel Co authoring collaboration Share button
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - Share button
  1. 2. To upload your workbook, select any of the available shared folders. You will usually have the standard OneDrive and OneDrive for Business. If you choose the OneDrive account you are logged into, Excel will directly prompt you to save it. Once you enter a name, click “OK”.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Save to One Drive
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - Save to OneDrive

Please note: Excel gives you the option of sending it as an attachment in Excel or PDF format.

  1. 3. Before entering the name/email of the user(s) you want to share the workbook with, check the access permissions. Excel will set it to “Anyone with the link can edit” by default.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Send link
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - Send link
  1. 4. If you saved successfully, you should now see the “AutoSave” button is activated, and the “Saved” status is at the top.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Auto Save Activated
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - AutoSave Activated

OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint are available to users who have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription. Although both can function as a cloud storage system, SharePoint offers other features for collaboration, including CMS (Content Management System) and dashboards.

How to open a workbook for Excel Co-Authoring in SharePoint?

As soon as you upload an Excel workbook to OneDrive, it will be accessible via Sharepoint. This is how you can open a file for Excel Co-Authoring in SharePoint.

  1. 1. Open Microsoft Office 365 application.
  2. 2. Select the “SharePoint” icon on the left side, where all Microsoft Office 365 apps are located.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Select Share Point icon
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - Select SharePoint icon
  1. 3. Click on “My files” - the last icon on the left menu.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Click on My files
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - Click on My files
  1. 4. Click any file that you would like to co-author. As you can see below, the file we uploaded to OneDrive for Business now appears in “Recent”.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Click on file
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - Click on file
  1. 5. Check how SharePoint appears in the file path in the browser.
Excel Co Authoring and Collaboration Auto Save Activated 2
Excel Co-Authoring and Collaboration - AutoSave Activated

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to make your Excel workbook available online for Co-Authoring, we’ll go over some of its limitations and offer solutions to work around them.

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Excel Co-Authoring limitations

If you use Excel Co-Authoring for its main purpose - multiple user editing - you will be happy with what it offers. However, if you use this feature as an alternative to a business automation tool, it will disappoint you. Here are the main Excel Co-Authoring limitations:

  • Unavailable change tracking: Excel Co-Authoring only allows you to track versions, so you won’t be able to go back to a specific edit.
  • Overlooked comments: Unless you provide clear instructions on how to add comments and notes in Excel, they can quickly become chats for your team. This can have a noticeable effect if you overlook an important comment related to missing data or errors.
  • Number of co-authors: Microsoft recommends keeping the number of co-authors to class-size or even lower to avoid any delays or malfunctions.
  • Broken cell references: Having several users working simultaneously can lead to accidental cell or formula changes.
  • Cloud-restricted: If you want to use the Excel Co-Authoring feature, you can only do so online. Unlike other Microsoft Office tools, this does not offer an offline version.
  • Filtering: Although filtering options, including sorting and viewing, are available, it will affect all users working on the file.

While Excel Co-Authoring is useful for teams that want to work on spreadsheets simultaneously, it is usually the case that online collaboration will require more advanced features to level up to their business workflow. Layer offers a space for collaboration and an excellent way for your team to manage data while still benefiting from the same Co-Authoring and collaboration features.

How to share Excel files with Layer?

Layer is a spreadsheet platform that works on top of Excel and Google Sheets. It allows you to easily manage and automate spreadsheet workflows. Using Layer, you can:

  • Upload or connect your existing Excel or Google Sheets-based budget.
  • Share different sheets or even cell ranges of your spreadsheet with various stakeholders or departments involved in the budgeting process.
  • Automate your communication flows and keep track of your data submissions, contributors, and deadlines.
  • Review every single change made and decide which ones to merge with your spreadsheet or discard.
  • Eliminate errors in your budget or manually copying and pasting data across files.

Sign up and schedule an onboarding call to get started with Layer right now.

Collaborating on Excel with Layer

There are many benefits to using Layer to help you work around Excel’s Co-authoring limitations:

  • Available change tracking: Easily track changes in Excel and select which ones to merge or discard.
  • Number of co-authors and secure references: Since you can share separate sheets or cell ranges without the need to share your whole spreadsheet, you have more control over your data and user permissions.
  • Avoid troubleshooting: Managing your own communication flows while keeping track of all changes helps you avoid encountering issues such as a locked spreadsheet you can no longer access.
  • No need for comments: Layer handles all changes and merging of data automatically, so there is no need to rely on comments from each user. You can also communicate with your collaborators and exchange feedback or context, all in one place.

Conclusion

Excel’s Co-Authoring feature has become a huge way for Excel users to collaborate effectively on their projects. However, it’s important to understand exactly how this feature works and its limitations to use it optimally when managing your spreadsheet data.

This complete guide has shown you how to achieve the full potential of Excel Co-Authoring as a tool for multiple editing. You should now know what Excel Co-Authoring is and whether it’s compatible with your system and business process or not. Overall, it can contribute to team collaboration, as long as we consider its limitations. Finally, you should know how to use the Co-Authoring feature and work around its limitations.

If you found this complete guide useful, you may also be interested in reading our blog article on how to share an Excel file.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Apr 12 2022, Updated Apr 11 2022