Collaborate on Excel workbooks at the same time with co-authoring

You and your colleagues can open and work on the same Excel workbook. This is called co-authoring. Co-authoring in workbooks allow you to see each other’s changes quickly — in a matter of seconds. And with certain versions of Excel, you’ll see other people’s selections in different colors. If you’re using a version of Excel that supports co-authoring, you select Share in the upper-right corner, type email addresses, and then choose a cloud location. But if you need more details, like which versions are supported and where the file can be stored, this article will walk you through the process.

Applies to: Excel for Office 365 & Mac, for the Web, for iPad, for iPhone, for Android tablets, for Android phones, for Windows Phone 10 & Excel Mobile.

Windows:

Try Office 365 or the latest version of Excel

Note: This feature is only available if you have an Office 365 subscription. If you are an Office 365 subscriber, make sure you have the latest version of Office.

To co-author in Excel for Windows desktops, you need to make sure certain things are set up before you start. After that, it just takes about four steps to co-author with other people.

What you need to co-author

Step 1: Upload the workbook

Using a web browser, upload or create a new workbook on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or a SharePoint Online library. Please note that SharePoint On-Premises sites (sites that are not hosted by Microsoft), do not support co-authoring. If you are not sure which one you are using, ask the person in charge of your site, or your IT department.

Step 2: Share it

  1. If you uploaded the file, click the filename to open it. The workbook will open in a new tab in your web browser.
  2. Click the Open in Desktop App button.
  3. When the file opens in the Excel desktop app, you may see a yellow bar which says the file is in Protected View. Click the Enable Editing button if that’s the case.
  4. Click Share in the upper-right corner.
  5. By default, all recipients will be able to edit the workbook, however, you can change the settings by clicking on the can edit option.
  6. Type email addresses in the address box, and separate each with a semicolon. 
  7. Add a message for your recipients. This step is optional.
  8. Press Send.

Note: If you want to send the link yourself, don’t click the Send button. Instead, click Copy link at the bottom of the pane.

Step 3: Other people can open it

If you clicked the Share button, people will receive an email message inviting them to open the file. They can click the link to open the workbook. A web browser will open, and the workbook will open in Excel for the web. If they want to use the Excel desktop app to co-author, they can click Edit in Desktop App. However, they’ll need a version of the Excel app that supports co-authoring. Excel for Android, iOS & Mobile, and Excel for Office 365 subscribers are the versions that currently support co-authoring. If they don’t have a supported version, they can edit in the browser.

Note: If they’re using the latest version of Excel, PowerPoint, or Word there’s an easier way: They can click File > Open and select Shared with Me.

Step 4: Co-author with others

With the file still open in Excel, make sure that AutoSave is on in the upper-left corner. When others eventually open the file , you’ll be co-authoring together. You know you’re co-authoring if you see pictures of people in the upper-right of the Excel window. (You may also see their initials, or a “G” which stands for guest.)

People icons, When others are co-authoring, they'll show up here

Co-authoring tips:

  • You might see other people’s selections in different colors. This happens if they are using Excel for Office 365 subscribers, Excel for the web, for Android, Mobile, or for iOS. If they’re using another version you won’t see their selections, but their changes will appear as they are working.
  • If you see other people’s selections in different colors, they’ll show up as blue, purple and so on. However, your selection will always be green. And on other people’s screens, their own selections will be green as well. If you lose track of who’s who, rest your cursor over the selection, and the person’s name will be revealed. If you want to jump to where someone is working, click their picture or initials, and then click the Go to option.

Frequently asked questions

What is AutoSave?

In Excel for Office 365 subscribers, you might notice AutoSave in the upper-left corner. AutoSave is enabled when a file is stored on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. It automatically saves your changes to the cloud as you are working. And, if other people are working on the same file, AutoSave lets them see your changes in just a matter of seconds. For more information on AutoSave, including reasons why it may be available or unavailable, see What is AutoSave?

Why am I getting the “File is locked” error?

There are a handful of reasons why this error can occur. The most common one is because someone has opened the file with a version of Excel that doesn’t support co-authoring. If just one person does this, then everyone else will get the “locked” error — even if everyone else is using a version of Excel that does support co-authoring.

Versions of Excel that support co-authoring:

  • Excel for Office 365*
  • Office 365 for Mac*
  • Web
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Mobile

* Co-authoring in this version requires the latest version of Excel for Office 365 installed, and requires you to sign in to Office with an Office 365 subscription account. Please note that if you have a work or school account, you might not have a version of Office that supports co-authoring yet. This might be because your administrator hasn’t provided the latest version to install.

If you are still getting the “locked” error, see Excel file is locked out for editing for more solutions to this problem.

Why can’t I see other people’s selections?

You can see other people’s selections in different colors, but only if you and other people are using Excel for Office 365 subscribers, Excel for the web, Android, Mobile, or for iOS. In addition, if people are using Excel for Office 365 subscribers, then everyone needs to have AutoSave on to see colored selections.

If you are using Excel for Office 365 subscribers, Excel for the web, Excel for Android, or Excel for iOS and you don’t see other people’s selections, then wait a few seconds.

If you still don’t see someone’s selections, make sure they are using Excel for Office 365 subscribers, Excel for the web, Excel for Android, or Excel for iOS. If they are using another version, like Excel Mobile, then their selections will not appear to you.

However, any changes they make will show up almost instantly. In addition, if they are using an older version of Excel, like Excel 2013, then they won’t be able to edit the file at the same time as you, and therefore you won’t be able to see their selections.

Why can’t I see other people’s changes?

To co-author and see changes made by others, everyone needs to use a version of the Excel app that supports co-authoring. Excel for Android, iOS, Mobile, and Excel for Office 365 subscribers are the versions that currently support co-authoring. If they don’t have a supported version, they can always use Excel for the web in their web browser. If that doesn’t solve the problem, try one or more of the following:

  • Wait a minute or two. Sometimes it takes some time for Excel and the cloud to communicate with each other.
  • Tell everyone to click the Enable Editing button if it appears.
  • Make sure everyone who is working in Excel for Office 365 subscribers has AutoSave on in the upper-left corner of the Excel window.
  • If you are using OneDrive to sync files, make sure it is not paused, and make sure that Use Office applications to sync Office files… is turned on. Details on this setting can be found here.
  • Make sure those who are working in Excel for Android have AutoSave on. They can turn it on by tapping File > > AutoSave.
  • Make sure those who are working in Excel for iOS have AutoSave on. They can turn it on by tapping File > AutoSave.
  • Make sure the file is not read-only.
  • On a Windows PC, open the file and go to File > Info. Resolve any errors that may be shown there.

What can I do about “Refresh recommended” and “Upload failed” messages?

This may happen occasionally if someone uses an Excel feature that is not fully supported in Excel co-authoring yet. This can stop the co-authoring process temporarily. If you don’t have any unsaved changes, simply click Refresh. If you have unsaved changes that you don’t need to keep, you can click Discard changes. For stuff that you need to keep, click Save a Copy and save the file as a different name. Then, select and copy the changes you need to keep. Finally, one last step: Reopen the original file that’s on the cloud and paste your changes back in.

What happens when two people make a change to the same thing?

In general, the last change that is saved, either with the Save button or automatically with AutoSave, is the one that “wins.” There are some exceptions to this, but that’s generally how it works. If you don’t want to have conflicts with other people, assign areas or sheets to each person. You can explain these assignments when you send the link out, or you can make the assignments obvious in the workbook itself by putting people’s names in heading cells, or naming sheets with people’s names.

Keep in mind that if you are using OneDrive to sync files, changes you make while your computer is offline won’t get merged until your computer is online again. And once online, all your changes get merged at once.

Can I see previous versions of the file?

Yes. In Excel for Office 365, click File > Info > View and restore previous versions. Then find a past version in the list, and then click Open version. The past version will open. If you want to restore it to the current version, wait until everyone is no longer co-authoring, and then click Restore. For more information on versions, see View historical versions of Office files.

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