Co-authoring troubleshooting tips

Co-authoring is a feature that allows multiple people to work together in one document simultaneously without interruption. Most of the time it works smoothly but from time to time you may experience some issues. In this article I’ll share a few common reasons why co-authoring may not work and how you can resolve it.

AutoSave is off

AutoSave automatically saves your changes to the cloud as you are working and lets other people see your changes instantly so make sure it’s switched on. AutoSave can be enabled when a file is stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. For Office 365 subscribers the AutoSave feature is located in the upper-left corner in Excel, Word and PowerPoint.

Enable AutoSave to ensure you can co-author documents

Using different versions of an application

Another common reason for failed co-authoring is if someone has opened a document with a version 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 that does support co-authoring.

Co-authoring is supported for Word and PowerPoint on all devices and versions more recent than Office 2010. The Excel mobile app and the latest version of Excel for Office 365 also support co-authoring. Co-authoring in Excel requires the latest version of Excel installed, and you will need to sign-in to Office with an Office 365 subscription account. If you are still getting the ‘locked’ error, see Excel file is locked out for editing.

Using the wrong document format

There are only certain types of documents that support co-authoring. Make sure your file is saved in the right format:

  • for Excel spreadsheets use .xlsx, .xlsm or .xlsb
  • for Word documents use .docx, .doc or .docm
  • for PowerPoint presentations use .pptx, .ppt or .pps

The co-authoring experience may be slightly different for files in different formats but overall you will be able to collaborate if using one of the formats mentioned above.

Using features that are not co-authoring friendly

Co-authoring can be interrupted if someone uses a feature that is not fully supported in co-authoring. This can stop the co-authoring process temporarily.

One unsupported feature is change tracking. Co-authoring doesn’t provide the ability to track changes. Make sure you turn off the ‘Track Changes’ feature and don’t enable it during a co-authoring session.

Co-authoring can also be interrupted if an unsupported object is inserted into a document or spreadsheet, such as an ole object, SmartArt graphic, chart or ink object. These objects can be invisible and copied and pasted from other documents or web pages. To find objects go to Home > Select > Selection Panel.

Selection Panel in the ribbon of Office documents

Opening document from different applications

There are several scenarios where people can access the same file stored on a cloud. One user may open a document from SharePoint, another user may access the same document from Microsoft Teams and a third user may open it from One Drive Explorer. In such a scenario the co-authoring session will most likely crash the document at some point. It’s easy to prevent this issue; simply communicate with co-authoring participants to ensure everyone accesses the document from the same application.

Resolving saving issues

You may occasionally get a message ‘Refresh recommended’ or ‘Upload failed’. This can happen for a number of reasons but most important is to know how to resolve it without losing unsaved changes:

  • 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 to a different location (e.g. your desktop). Reopen the original file that’s on the cloud and copy your changes from the locally saved file into the original file.

‘Store random numbers’ is not enabled

Another reason why co-authoring may not be working is if a Word document does not have the ‘Store random numbers to improve Combine accuracy’ checkbox selected. Word adds random numbers to saved documents to track related versions.

To check this, click the File tab > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings > Privacy Options. Make sure the ‘Store random numbers to improve Combine accuracy’ checkbox is selected.

Select 'Store random numbers to improve Combine accuracy' to help troubleshoot co-authoring issues

I hope these tips will help you easily co-author with your team and stay out of trouble.