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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 20 Free Google Sheets Business Templates to Use in 2018Andrew Childress28 Feb 2018
- How to Use (Timesaving) Google Sheets Keyboard ShortcutsAndrew Childress07 Mar 2018
- How to Sort & Filter Spreadsheet Data in Google SheetsAndrew Childress22 Mar 2018
- Google Sheets to Excel: How to Move Back & Forth Between SpreadsheetsAndrew Childress16 Feb 2018
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.