Co-authoring Project Documents With SharePoint Online and What You Need to Pay Attention To

Co-authoring Project Documents With SharePoint Online and What You Need to Pay Attention To - Project Management and Projects

Collaboration is a must in projects and not seldom several project team members need to work on the same document at the same time to finalize it as soon as possible, e.g., for a steering committee presentation. One of the great capabilities of Office 365 and SharePoint is the ability for multiple users to work on the same document at the same time (also known as co-authoring). This functionality enhances collaboration, improves user experience and adoption of SharePoint.

What is Co-authoring?

Co-authoring means that two or more people working on the same document at the same time. Co-authoring is not a new invention. Co-authoring in documents was first possible in Google Docs in 2010 but interestingly, with the introduction of Microsoft Office 2010 some months later it was also already possible to co-author Office documents. Did you know that? This surprised me to read, because I discovered this functionality much later in the context of SharePoint Online. I’m probably not the only one.
Co-authoring is an essential feature for information workers because the want to be able to work in the same document at the same time.

Co-authoring is possible with the following MS Office files or apllications:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • OneNote
  • Teams (within Chat)

Since spring 2022, co-authoring is also possible in Teams chats. Here you can insert the new Loop Components in the message field and work together on the fly on text and tables drafts during the chat. You can read more about this in this article: Discover How Microsoft Teams Is Closely Connected with SharePoint and How Loop Further Enhances Collaboration

How to Co-author Office 365 Documents with SharePoint

In SharePoint Online co-authoring with documents is only possible if check-out/check-in is deactivated in the document library. Otherwise only one team member is allowed to work on a document.

To co-author with others, you need:   

A shared storage area – OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server are shared storage areas which enable co-authoring.

Apps that support co-authoring – Word and PowerPoint on all devices and versions more recent than Office 2010 support co-authoring. The Excel mobile apps and the latest version of Excel for Microsoft 365 also supports co-authoring.

A co-authoring friendly document – Co-authoring is only supported on modern file formats including: .docx (Word), .pptx (PowerPoint), and .xlsx (Excel).

Edit permissions for co-authors – All co-authors must have permission to access and edit the documents.

Co-authoring works best with Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. It behaves a little bit differently in the Online vs. native Application. If anyone else is working on the document, you’ll see their presence and the changes as they happen live.

SharePoint co-authoring collaboration see the presence of your colleagues and the changes they're making
You’ll see the presence of your colleagues and the changes they’re making

When you open a shared document in a desktop or mobile app, it doesn’t matter if you’re connected or not, you can keep working. If there are others editing the same document, they won’t be able to see your changes while you’re offline. When you go back online, you’ll be notified of any changes that are available, and others will see that you have changes.

When you’re working in Word, the paragraph you’re working in is locked so that no one can overwrite what you’re working on. When you go offline with Word, it is possible to work on the same paragraph as someone else in your group. When you save your changes, you’ll get a pop-up message saying there is a conflict. You can then click through to where you’ll be able to sort it all out.

Important Planning Considerations for Co-authoring

There are several factors that administrators will want to consider when planning how to use co-authoring in their environment:

Permissions – For multiple users to be able to edit the same document, users need edit or contribute permissions for the document library where that document is stored.

Versioning – SharePoint Server versioning keeps track of changes to documents while they are being edited, and even stores earlier versions for reference. By default, this feature is turned off in SharePoint Server.

When check-out/check-in is not activated and one or more people are editing the same file at the same time, SharePoint saves the file regularly – every minute or so – and nobody knows for sure an exact formula. This creates dozens of versions in the version history.

Check out – When a user checks out a document for editing, the document is locked for editing by that user. This prevents co-authoring. Do not enable the Require documents to be checked out before they can be edited feature in document libraries in which co-authoring will be used. By default, Require Check Out is not enabled in SharePoint Server. Users should not check out documents manually when co-authoring is being used.

My Experience With Co-authoring

I deactivated check-out/check-in in some libraries in our program that users could easily collaborate in documents and did not have the hassle to check-out documents. But after some days I had not a good feeling and reactivated it. Why? There was a sense of “uncontrolled” changes. SharePoint also creates dozens of Versions of a document within hours when check-out is deactivated if one or more user works on the same document. The version history of a document isn’t really traceable. Maybe I am a “control freak”.

Imagine someone wants to quickly copy something from a document and instead of CTRL-C he or she uses CTRL-X and leaves the document again. SharePoint saves the change immediately when the document is exited. Now you have a problem that the document is not complete anymore and a new version has been generated. And this is not discovered for a certain time – until someone comes along and says: “Hey, my text that I wrote there a few days ago is missing”. This can have nasty consequences, especially if the text was important. Here you can only hope to find the text in the history version of the document.This would not have happened with checkin/out activated in the document library.

Here my tip: Deactivate the check-out feature only for libraries where co-authoring is most of the time necessary. For other libraries you can deactivate the check-out feature for a certain time, when the team needs co-authoring on a document. We do this e.g. for steering committee documents where every subproject manager contribute some content and need to work at the same slide-deck in the same time range for several days.

More information abut the check-out/check-in

Document collaboration and co-authoring (Source Microsoft)

Here You Can Find More Knowledge

This was an overview of how to co-author project documents with SharePoint Online . What is your experience with SharePoint and co-authoring in Projects? Do you agree with my statements or do you have a different opinion? Share your experience with the readers with a commentary so that we all get to know another view. Thank you!

Would you like to learn more about how to make your projects more successful with SharePoint? Save time and money and get firsthand experience with my book “SharePoint Online for Project Management“. It takes you an important step further!

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SharePoint Online for Project Management
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