How to use Microsoft Word for real-time document collaboration

Bringing it together

Why is understanding how to use Microsoft Word for real-time document collaboration important?

Well, in the days before cloud-based collaboration tools, working as part of a team on a Microsoft Word document was challenging. Everyone would create their content, make their changes, and then someone would be tasked with trying to manually keep track of all the edits.

It used to be if you had a four-person team — Alan, Brenda, Carol and David — all working on a report, the best-case process would have gone something like this:

  • Alan would write the initial draft (let’s call that version 1) and send it to his three colleagues.
  • Brenda makes her additions and corrections, and that becomes version 2. She sends version 2 off to the others.
  • Carol makes her own changes to Brenda’s version, and then creates version 3.
  • David makes changes to Carol’s (version 4), and that copy goes back to Alan for final edits and polishing.

But here’s what really happened.

Alan sent version 1 out to everyone via email. Brenda, Carol and David all made changes, and shared their updates with the rest of the group (version 2b, version 2c and version 2d).

Now, there were three version 2s, and all four team members updated each and every copy, sending out their own revisions to each revision and, after an inbox-filling email thread, they would reach the logical conclusion of version 2019JAN28, Mark VII/potato.

Efficient? No.

Related: Enrich brainstorming sessions with Office 365 collaboration tools

Document collaboration has gotten better since then

Things have changed. Now, everyone can work with each other in a single document, rather than checking out the previous copy or sitting down in a room or on a conference call and going through the document line by line.

With Microsoft Office 365, there is a solution for small businesses who want to collaborate on a Microsoft Word document with colleagues.

Also, if an organization needs extra security for things like HIPAA compliance for their emails or document archiving, it can cover those bases as well.

Now, instead of the old “send around the document” dance, there is a single live version of the document available to all team members.

Every time someone views the document, they get the latest version, and they don’t have to actually deal with any older versions.

If someone does want to review a previous version, the document revisions are stored online.

Whenever a team member logs on and looks at the document, they’re seeing the latest copy with all its revisions, updates and comments.

Efficient? Yes!

How To Use Microsoft Word Multiple Users One Computer

What you need for document collaboration with Microsoft Word

How To Use Microsoft Word Collaboration Example Online
Photo : Microsoft Office

If you want to use Microsoft Word to collaborate on a document, you’ll need a few things.

First, you’ll need a document that can actually be co-authored. Basically, if it ends in x, you can co-author it: .docx (Word), .xlsx (Excel), and .pptx (PowerPoint). We’re only talking about Microsoft Word for real-time document collaboration in this article. However, the principles are the same for the other programs.

1. Create a new Word document

First, create a new document in Microsoft Word.

2. Store your Word document in Microsoft OneDrive

Then, you’ll need a place to store your documents, like Microsoft OneDrive. You’ll store your files here whenever you share them.

Related: How to use Microsoft OneDrive for business

You’ll also need the OneDrive for Business app, which syncs files from OneDrive to your Mac or PC. OneDrive for Business comes with Office 2013, Office 2016 and the Office 365 subscription — which means Office 365 users can still collaborate with non-365 users.

3. Share your Word document

Next, you need to share your document with your collaborators. But it’s not enough to just share the document, you also need to grant Edit permissions for your co-authors. You can’t just email a link to your colleagues, they need to actually be made Editors.

By design, you won’t be able to overwrite each other’s work, because two things will happen.

First, a little colored flag will show the other authors’ names in the paragraph or sentence they’re working on — and you can see their changes happening in real time. Second, that paragraph will be uneditable to everyone else. So if you don’t like what they’re doing, you can’t make any changes until they move on to a new paragraph.

Additionally, if you want to see who has made additional changes to the document, that’s not a problem. Here are a few things you should know.

  • You won’t be able to see changes in Word Online, like you can with the regular Track Changes function. You’ll have to download the document and open it in Word.
  • You can’t turn Track Changes on or off in Word Online; you have to do that on your own computer. Download the document, turn it on or off, and make the changes. I recommend turning it ON when you upload it so you can all keep track of all the changes.
  • But you don’t need to re-upload the revised version of the document. When you’re done and you save the document, it will continue to be stored where you opened it in Word Online. Tracked changes will be preserved and — if you turned on Track Changes before you opened the document in Word Online — any changes you make in Word Online will also be tracked.
  • You can drop in comments by highlighting text and select Review –> New Comment, or just right-clicking and selecting New Comment from the menu. Collaborators can then respond to the comment in the Reply box.

All in all, it’s fairly easy.

If you can use Microsoft Word already, then you can easily use Microsoft Word for real-time document collaboration. It’s just a matter of following a few steps and remembering to Share the document with each new revision.

Most importantly, be sure to communicate clearly with your colleagues.

 

Let them know what they should change and what they shouldn’t.

Choose someone to serve as the coordinator and leader of the project. This person will get the final say on the edits and changes. Establish a process and an order to actually making changes, and set deadlines for when everything needs to be finished.

If you can follow these steps, this is going to be easy, and you’ll have an easier time working together for a group to create your different documents. Good luck!

Erik Deckers
Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself, and No Bullshit Social Media. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years. He has written several radio plays and stage plays, and numerous business articles. Erik was recently the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.