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Excel is considered by many the best spreadsheet software out there, and yet it still lacks some collaboration features that open the door for mistakes and errors to occur quickly. While some mistakes can be easily fixed, others can be extremely dangerous and cost millions and billions of dollars.

That's why it has become more and more critical, especially for any company or team that works with spreadsheets, to implement systems that effectively manage your spreadsheets. That's where Layer comes in!

What is Layer?

Layer is an Excel version control system that works on top of Excel files. It helps you keep and manage your spreadsheets all in one place.

It allows you to:

  • Share different sheets or even cell ranges of your spreadsheet with various collaborators without worrying about breaking any references outside the selection.
  • Automate your communication flows and keep track of your data submissions, contributors, and deadlines.
  • Review every single change made to the Excel file and select which ones to merge with your spreadsheet or discard.
  • Eliminate errors caused by directly inputting data into your spreadsheet or manually copying and pasting it from other spreadsheets to your master file. Layer will automatically merge your files and handle all changes accordingly.

What About Excel's Collaboration Features?

Excel's Co-authoring feature allows you to share and work on Excel workbooks with your team members at the same time. All changes are synced instantly, and you can see them as they happen, as well as who is making them.

Unfortunately, Co-authoring doesn't offer version control features that allow you to track and review changes. Excel used to have the Shared Workbook feature, which allowed you to do so, but it was replaced with the release Co-authoring as it admittedly has many limitations.

While you can still use Excel's version control features, they can interfere with other features that you use, like Co-authoring or lack of support. It's also a complicated process that you have to repeat for each Excel workbook you want to share, and if you happen to turn off change tracking or stop sharing the workbook at any point, all change history is permanently deleted.

Layer helps you bypass all of that by doing all the heavy lifting for you so that you can focus on what matters. You just need to upload your spreadsheets and create your communication flows once, and it will automate everything else for you. No more sending manual file copies and breaking formulas when merging your workbooks.

How to Upload My Spreadsheets?

My spreadsheets list

To get started, first, you need to sign up and create a Layer account. You can get early access to Layer for free by scheduling a quick onboarding call when signing up.

  1. 1. To enable version control for an Excel spreadsheet, head to the "My Spreadsheets" tab.
  2. 2. Hit the "Upload" button in the upper right corner
  3. 3. Select your Excel spreadsheet to upload.

Now that you've uploaded your Excel file, version control is automatically enabled for it by Layer. Let's take a look at how you can start sharing it with your team.

How to Share the Excel Workbook With Your Team?

Spreadsheet flows

To share your Excel spreadsheet with others, head to the "My Spreadsheets" tab. Here, you'll find a list of all your uploaded spreadsheets.

By clicking on one of your spreadsheets, you will be taken to the spreadsheet dashboard, displaying a list of the spreadsheet's created flows.

Flows help you create and manage communication workflows with the people you share your Excel file with. You can define specific parts of the spreadsheet to share with different people, schedule them, set deadlines, and automate them to be sent on a regular basis.

To create a new flow, hit the "Share" button in the upper right corner. This will bring up the flow creation modal.

Create a flow 1
  • Title: The title of your flow (e.g., Monthly HR Report, Marketing Budget for 2021, etc.)
  • Recipient's email: The email addresses of one or more collaborators you're sharing the data with or requesting input from.
  • Message or instructions (optional): Notes to be included when shared with your collaborator.
Create a flow 2
  • Share data: By default, the flow is set to share the entire file. If you want to only share a part of the file, click on the "Change" button, and your spreadsheet will be displayed. Here, you can select specific sheets or cell ranges to share.
  • Access and security settings: Select whether you want to share the spreadsheet as a downloadable Excel file or online on Google Sheets or Layer Sheets. You can also choose whether collaborators need to be signed in to Layer or not for security purposes.
Create a flow 3
  • Share: Select whether to share the spreadsheet right away or schedule it at a later date. If you're requesting input for your collaborators, toggle the "Request Input" switch and select a due date, if needed, so that the collaborators can receive reminders accordingly.
  • Repeat: In case you need to set up a recurring flow, you can select the desired automation frequency; daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Once you've submitted all of the required information, press the "Share" button to create the flow.

How to Submit Excel Input?

Submit Excel input

Once you've shared a flow with a collaborator, they will receive an email on the previously defined date. The email will contain your email address, the flow title, the message (if included), and the shared spreadsheet. Now, they can submit their changes to the spreadsheet.

Depending on the format you choose to share the spreadsheet in, the collaborators will commit their changes using Excel, Google Sheets, or Layer Sheets.

Excel

When the file is shared as an Excel file, your email will contain a "Download Spreadsheet" button.

  1. 1. Click the "Download Spreadsheet" button and save it on your device.
  2. 2. Open the spreadsheet using Excel.
  3. 3. Browse the spreadsheet and submit any necessary input.
  4. 4. Save your Excel file.
  5. 5. Head back to the email received from Layer.
  6. 6. Attach the Excel file as a reply to the email.
  7. 7. Send the email.

Google Sheets

When the file is shared as a Google Sheets spreadsheet, your email will contain an "Open Layer" button.

  1. 1. Click the "Open Layer" button. This will display the shared flow.
  2. 2. Click the "Open As Google Sheet" button. This will display the shared data on Google Sheets.
  3. 3. Enter the requested data input.
  4. 4. Once you're done, head back to the Layer flow window.
  5. 5. You can submit an optional message if needed.
  6. 6. Toggle the "Attach data from Google Sheet" switch if you wish to submit your changes to the Excel file.
  7. 7. Press "Send".

Layer Sheets

Layer Sheets is Layer's very own built-in web interface. It is the easiest and fastest way to share data as it allows your team to edit and submit their changes directly within the browser. When the file is shared as a Layer Sheets spreadsheet, your email will contain an "Open Layer" button.

  1. 1. Click the "Open Layer" button. This will display the shared data with you in Layer Sheets.
  2. 2. You can now go through the data and start submitting any changes right away.
  3. 3. Once you're done, again, you can submit an optional message.
  4. 4. Press "Send" to commit your input.

How to Review the Excel Changes?

Once a collaborator has submitted input, you will receive an email from Layer informing you of that.

  1. 1. Press the "View Submitted Data" button to head back to the "My Spreadsheets" tab of your Layer dashboard.
  2. 2. You will notice a "Review Needed" label attached to the completed flow. Select the flow by clicking on it
  3. 3. Click the "Review" button.
  4. 4. The spreadsheet changes will be displayed in the preview window. The cells affected by changes will also be highlighted in the spreadsheet. Different colors indicate different types of changes; blue for explicit changes, light blue for implicit ones, and purple for formula changes.
  5. 5. If you wish to reject any of the inputs, select it in the preview window and press "Ignore". Alternatively, you can also select the spreadsheet cell affected by the change and press the plus "+" button in the preview window.
  6. 6. Once you're ready, press "Accept" to merge the accepted changes with the master spreadsheet.
  7. 7. You can also press the "Reject" button if you wish to reject all submitted changes at once. However, be careful as the changes would be discarded and can't be recovered.

How to Restore a Previous Excel Version?

Version History Edit

When data input is accepted and merged with the master file, a new version is created in the spreadsheet Version History. This allows you to keep track of all the changes over time and revert to an earlier version of the Excel file if needed.

  1. 1. Select your spreadsheet from the "My Spreadsheets" tab.
  2. 2. Click on the file under "My Spreadsheet" or click on "See all versions" to display the Version History.
  3. 3. Here, you can find a list of all the previous versions of the spreadsheet.
  4. 4. Click on the three dots next to an earlier Excel version.
  5. 5. Select "Restore" to restore the previous Excel version.
  6. 6. A prompt will ask you to confirm your choice as reverting to an earlier version can mean unexpected behavior to any currently shared or scheduled flows.
  7. 7. You can select "Download" if you wish to download that version without restoring it.

Get Early Access Now!

Sign up for early access and schedule an onboarding call to get started with Layer right now!

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady is the Content Marketing Lead at Layer. He has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has 7 years of experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Jun 16 2021, Updated Jul 13 2021