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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sena

15 Things to avoid in Collaborative Spreadsheet Work

While the rise of digital tools has made it easier than ever to work collaboratively on projects, this can still pose a challenge for remote teams. One common obstacle is the need to work on spreadsheets together.

With the rise of remote work, many companies adopted shared document services like Google Sheets, which allows multiple users to edit a spreadsheet simultaneously. While cloud-based documents provide a level of control and editing permissions, specific actions can cause significant disruptions and confusion.

To avoid frustration and wasted time, there are many things you should avoid doing when working on collaborative spreadsheets. That’s why we asked 15 team leaders this question: your shared spreadsheet hygiene can be squeaky clean, and team productivity stays high.

When working collaboratively in a shared spreadsheet, it's best to remember that you can never…

Start Without a Set of Instructions

For anyone who has worked in the business world, they know how damaging miscommunication can be, and this is why it’s critical never to start working collaboratively on a spreadsheet without dispensing a set of instructions first. Simply communicating verbally or through segmented emails and texts can lead to confusion that will inevitably create a spreadsheet that’s inaccurate and potentially damaging to your project.

Dispensing a spreadsheet that includes a project overview, explicit instructions on how to handle data, notification procedures, and the utilization of tabs will set the rules at the very beginning to keep everyone on the same page. In providing instructions at the onset of every project that requires spreadsheet collaboration, you’ll ensure that all vital data is accurate and that decisions are made with the proper information.

Greg Gillman, Chief Revenue Officer, MuteSix

Delete Whole Rows and Columns

Deleting whole rows and columns while working collaboratively on a spreadsheet might damage the entire sheet and hinder your collaborators from doing their work. When two or more people are working on a spreadsheet at the same time, you should be careful not to make any drastic or large changes that might interfere with your teammates’ work.

Use Fixed Numbers in Formulas

One should always avoid fixed numbers in Excel formulas when working collaboratively on a spreadsheet. If one of the values changes, it would then need to be changed for every instance. Trying to communicate this alteration between an entire team eats away at your valuable time and still may not prevent someone from creating a fatal error anyway. Always use a separate input cell for fixed values with references to use for the calculations instead.

Kevin Callahan, Co-Founder & CEO, Flatline Van Co.

Take Work Elsewhere

The purpose of a collaborative spreadsheet is to work together. The data and progress on the spreadsheet should be able to be looked over in real-time and viewable by anyone on the team at any time. It’s not a good practice to cut data away from a collaborative spreadsheet and paste it into another spreadsheet which can’t be viewed by the rest of those involved in the project.

Doing so breaks the workflow of the project, causes confusion for the rest of the team, and can lead to misunderstandings, duplicate work, or missing data. Always keep in mind that when collaborating with others, it’s best to share any changes done to the collaborative spreadsheet and if you’re unavailable to respond to questions regarding changes, allow others to at least view the course of these changes plainly.

Torrey Hogan, Executive Assistant and Proofreader, Find My Profession

Go Comment Crazy

It's important to provide constructive feedback in your collaborative spreadsheets via comments—but if you disagree on the larger picture, sometimes it's better to have a quick conversation over the phone or virtually. For example, it takes more time and effort to leave comments through the majority of a document than it is to discuss the overarching concept from person to person. Further, it can frustrate the individual you're collaborating with when they log into a sea of comments.

Patricio Paucar, Co-Founder + Chief Customer Officer, Navi

Prioritize Tasks

One thing you can't do when working collaboratively on a spreadsheet is to prioritize tasks. There's no way to indicate that one task is more important than another, nor can you assign tasks to different people based on their level of importance and urgency. You can, however, utilize color coding and comments to help visualize the relative importance of tasks, but this doesn't really solve the problem.

Even conditional formatting can be tricky to implement every time you want to assign different importance levels to tasks, which makes it difficult for the team members to maintain a healthy workflow, as well as it being a big time sink for everyone involved.

Arkadiusz Terpilowski, Head of Growth & Co-founder, Primetric

Forget to Enable Sharing Access

Let’s be honest—although spreadsheets are often used among teams, collaborative work on them is not always simple nor smooth. The list of things you can do wrong seems to be endless. First things first, if you create a spreadsheet, be sure to enable sharing access. You have to take action to provide your collaborators with edit/view access immediately. As simple as it may sound, forgetting about such a seemingly obvious step can lead to delays in a workflow, stress, and serious inconvenience for the whole team.

Proper access is especially important in remote work environments with flexible schedules. Some people will work at night, while others prefer to start doing their duties at 5 a.m. Since there are no hard work rules, you have to make sure everyone has access to the compatible versions of the file. This can also prevent issues with syncing or saving one’s work.

Agata Szczepanek, Community Manager, Resume Now

Question Someone in the Spreadsheet Itself

Never write something you don’t want everyone to see. While a collaborative spreadsheet is a great tool, it’s also available to everyone on your team and quite possibly management. Sometimes a personal email is warranted, even though it falls outside the collaborative process. Email is a place to question or ask questions, not on the spreadsheet where it may be embarrassing to the contributor. Questioning others on a collaborative spreadsheet is not a good move.

Raina Kumra, Founder & CEO, Spicewell

Delete Data

Collaborating in spreadsheets can be a powerful way to capture, access, and understand information. Everyone is working with the same information, and there is no need to pass things back and forth and wonder if you have the right version. However, when you are collaborating, it’s very important to remember never to delete data from any of the sheets. You may think a column or a whole table of information is necessary, but it might be invaluable to other users. If there’s something, you don’t want to see or don’t see any value in, hide it. Never delete it.

Eric Miller, Co-Owner & Principal, PADT, Inc

Communicate in Real Time

Working remotely means that communication is essential, especially when collaborating on a document. However, this can be challenging when it comes to spreadsheets. The comment fields are suited to brief, actionable contributions, but they can often escalate into an entire conversation. This is disruptive for colleagues and makes it hard to keep track of the relevant information.

As a result, colleagues often have to use several methods of contact, such as email and WhatsApp groups, to discuss their shared projects. It makes it difficult to communicate in real-time, and to accurately track what is being shared. This can also lead to people feeling excluded or left behind, as it’s difficult to keep up with discussions across multiple platforms. Spreadsheets are often not suited to mobile use, meaning that colleagues have to be able to access a laptop or computer in order to properly respond to questions. This can cause complications, especially if a rapid reply is required.

Mario Cacciottolo, PR & Branding Manager , SBO

Use Your Own Shorthand

When working collaboratively in a spreadsheet, don’t use your own shorthand. You may be more comfortable leaving yourself notes to go back to later, but usually, your coworkers won't understand what you’re saying. Unless you have a company-wide, consistent shorthand, you're just going to confuse your team. This wastes time by creating opportunities for errors to occur or forcing you to stop and explain the notes’ meaning. If you're working collaboratively on any document, leave the shorthand at home.

Vimla Black Gupta, Co-Founder & CEO, Ourself

Make Changes Without Letting Others Know

The one thing you should never do when working collaboratively on a spreadsheet is to make significant changes without the knowledge of the other users. This can lead to errors and problems within the spreadsheet. If you make changes without the knowledge of the other users, you can cause confusion and create issues with the spreadsheet. Therefore, make sure you inform other users if you make wholesale changes.

Avoid Resetting Your Filters

When working on a spreadsheet with other team members, you can run into confusion if you don't reset any filters you may use. If you're searching for a specific metric and set a filter to save time, it can interrupt work that another employee is performing. Plus, in the least, it can be seen as poor spreadsheet etiquette.

Victor Mathieux, Co-Founder & CEO, Miracle Brand

Save the Spreadsheet Locally

I believe it’s quite commonplace for Excel spreadsheets to not be kept in a single location, either because the spreadsheet owner isn't aware of best practices for data storage and backup or because they would rather have it saved on their personal desktop. Therefore, there would not be a guarantee of complete data recovery in the event of a serious technical problem, meaning all of your important data would be gone.

Nely Mihaylova, Content Executive, Scooter Guide

Be Dependent on One Person

According to my experience, Excel spreadsheets are prone to numerous inaccuracies, and the main cause of this is the fact that numerous people have access to it and update it based on their knowledge. The spreadsheet data may be updated by the person with the most recent information, but it's very possible that another employee who believes they know more will go back in and edit out that information. Now, the spreadsheet is not only wrong, but it can also have a negative impact on your business decisions and profitability because it’s not always possible to determine who made these adjustments.

Jay Soni, Marketing Director, Yorkshire Fabric Shop

The next time you work collaboratively on a document, keep these tips in mind. They will help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure your data is safe. Have you ever run into any of these problems when collaborating on a spreadsheet? Let us know in the comments.



1. Lack of awareness
2. Budgeting constraints
3. Status quo
4. Case study
5. Equilibrium
6. The remedy
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