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How to Quickly Collaborate on Edits in Google Sheets (Online)

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called How to Use Google Sheets (Essential Tutorial Guide).
How to Link Spreadsheets & Share Data in Google Sheets
How to Print Areas, Ranges or Full Google Spreadsheets

I've always used spreadsheets to keep my life organized and running smoothly. From my earliest days of using Excel on the library computers, I always liked the structure and simplicity of logging my data in rows and columns.

So, when Google launched a browser-based version of a spreadsheet app called Sheets, I started using it right away. The ability to invite collaborators to the spreadsheet and work on projects together was easy to get started with and a breeze to use.

Having a cloud-connected spreadsheet brings many benefits with it, but one of my favorites is the collaboration aspect. Anyone with a Google account can join with you to edit your spreadsheet in real-time.

This tutorial will teach you how to collaborate in Google Sheets. You'll learn to invite collaborators and work with them seamlessly to make data easy.

Collaborate on Google Sheets

When To Use Collaboration

Before we dive into the technical details of setting up collaboration features, let's brainstorm some ideas for using Sheets' collaboration features to its full potential.

Have you ever been working on a group project where multiple people were trying to make edits to the same file? In my experience, this often turns into multiple people editing multiple versions of the file that are soon out of sync. You wind up spending time with all of these files open, reconciling the differences and cobbling together a finished version.

There's a better way. All of Google's cloud-based apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides make it easy to collaborate with others. Here are some ideas for times when using a collaborative spreadsheet can really make your work easier:

  • Sheets works great for school projects, where you can invite all of your classmates to edit the same single spreadsheet and keep a project organized.
  • Another idea is to set up a shared Sheet when you're preparing a forecast or budget to allow everyone to offer input for a more accurate forecast.
  • Use a shared Sheet to request feedback from your colleagues on

Any of these are a great reason to give collaboration in Sheets a try. Now, let's learn how easy it is to set it up. Here are some instructions for collaborating in Google Docs that you may also find useful:

How to Share Spreadsheets in Google Drive

To get started, we're going to invite collaborators to work with us on the Sheet. Google makes it easy to customize not only the users who've got access, but also the level of access that they have to view or edit the spreadsheet.

It's worth noting that by default, your Google Sheets are visible and open to edits only by you. You can add other users to work with the spreadsheet using the Share feature.

Let's dive into sharing the Sheet by clicking on the big blue Share button in the upper right corner of the Sheets app. This opens a window that makes it easy to invite collaborators to the sheet.

Share Button Google Sheets
Hover over the Share button in Google Sheets to see the current sharing status and click on it to add collaborators to the file.

The simplest way to get started is to enter email addresses in the box. Add as many users as you want to collaborate with using this dialogue.

As you add collaborators to this list, you can precisely control what each user can do inside of the Sheet that you're sharing. Here are the key options you can set for each user:

  • Can edit. With this setting, collaborators can make adjustments to the spreadsheet, modifying cells and the formulas inside of them.
  • Can comment. This allows a collaborator to leave text comments in the spreadsheet for you to review later on.
  • Can view. This is the safest way to grant access as it only allows the user to open and view the spreadsheet (but not make any edits).
Add Shares from this window
Clicking Share opens a window where you can add collaborators and set their levels of permission easily.

You can also add a message to this window to notify the new collaborators that they now have access to the spreadsheet.

Don't miss out on the critical Owner Settings section as well, at the bottom of the Share window:

  • With the top option, you can Prevent editors from changing access, meaning that you can control whether other editors can add or edit users who have access to the spreadsheet.
  • The bottom option, "Disable options to download, print, copy..." will make it more difficult for users to take the spreadsheet to work with it on their own.
Owner Settings Google Sheets
The Owner Settings menu allows you to toggle how editors control the permissions for the Sheet and adjust the download and printing options.

That's it! You've added those collaborators to your spreadsheet, and they can work with your data in the Sheet.

1. Link Sharing

What if you want to share your Sheet with anyone that you give the URL to? You can easily do that in Google Sheets. 

Jump back into the same Share window and click the Get Shareable Link in the upper right corner.

Get Shareable Link
On the Share window, click on the Get shareable link in the upper right corner to set up a URL that anyone can access with the link.

This window has the same options for setting how collaborators can work with the spreadsheet. You can choose edit, comment, or view for anyone who has the link address.

URL for spreadsheet in the link
The URL in the screenshot can be given to anyone to access the spreadsheet.

You can also add higher levels of security for specific collaborators. For example, make the Sheet public with the view security, but then add specific collaborators who can make edits to the spreadsheet.

2. Modify Collaborators

Later on, you may want to adjust who has access to the spreadsheet. When you need to adjust who has access, make sure to click on Share again to reopen the settings to adjust who can access the Sheet.

Click on the "Shared with..." text to reopen the list of who has access to the Sheet. From that menu, just click on the icons to either change the security level of an existing collaborator or remove them from the Sheet altogether.

Updating permissions dialogue
You can always return to the Share menu later on to adjust the permissions or users who've got access to your Sheet.

How to Collaborate in Google Sheets

Now that we've invited collaborators to our spreadsheet, let's take a look at what's possible when we're working together.

Based on the permissions that you set up for your Sheet, the users who you invited can get started working in the Sheet immediately. Whether you've given them edit, read, or view options, they can start working within the Sheet.

But there's plenty more power for collaborating within the spreadsheet. Let's look at some of the Sheets collaboration features:

1. See Who's Working

One of my favorite collaboration features is a simple one. You can easily see when others are working inside of the spreadsheet using Sheets. In the upper right corner, you'll see circular icons for the avatar of anyone working inside the spreadsheet.

Share Indicator Example
In the upper right corner of the active Sheet, you can see the avatar for the active users working inside of the spreadsheet at a given point of time.

Beyond seeing the collaborators actively working inside the spreadsheet, you can also quickly open up an ad-hoc chat window to quickly communicate with collaborators. This is a great way to drop a quick note instead of picking up the phone or ending a separate email, and the best part is that it lives right inside of Sheets.

Chat Windows Sheet Example
The chat window opens on the right side and can be used for quick exchanges with collaborators.

To open up a chat, click on the chat icon to the left of Share as you can see in the screenshot below. A message panel will pop open, and any message that you leave will be seen by anyone working inside the spreadsheet at the time.

One of my favorite collaborative features is the ability to see what individuals are doing in a spreadsheet at a given moment. In the screenshot below, you can see that there are colorful boxes around the cells that are actively selected by collaborators. Anything they add, change, or update can be seen in real-time. 

Editor Boxes
Cells light up with bold border colors when they're being worked on by collaborators.

2. Review Comments

If you're using Sheets to collaborate, you might find comments in your spreadsheet with useful feedback from your colleagues. This is a great way to leave helpful feedback for others, even if you aren't working inside the spreadsheet at the same time.

I like to use comments in Sheets as a two-way communication. While Chat can be used for general discussions, comments are perfect for discussing specific cells with collaborators. 

The example below is an ideal use-case for a comment. I've left a comment for a collaborator to confirm a key input, then responded with a separate comment to reply back.

Sheets Comments example
Use comments in sheets to trade specific thoughts on cells and data in a spreadsheet.

Recap & Keep Learning

In this tutorial, we covered the best way to collaborate in Google Sheets. It's actually really easy to include other users in your spreadsheet and work together on data. Just invite a few other users and start working on spreadsheets in tandem!

Sheets has plenty of power for handling data even though it lives right inside of your web browser. Here are other tutorials that can get your creative juices flowing with ideas for getting the most from Google Sheets:

How are you using collaboration features in Sheets to work with others in real time? Let me know in the comments below this article and share a favorite Sheets feature with your fellow Tuts+ readers.

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