Co-authoring in Office 365, what’s the productivity value?

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One of the greatest features available in Office 365 is co-authoring. With the current available tools in Office 365 collaboration can really take a productivity flight! There are several features available that allow people to co-create content together. Often clients wonder what tools they should be using. When do we use document libraries, or should we use a wiki or a blog? What can we do with a wiki? When is real-time collaboration online in the browser interesting? I tell them, it all depends on the business goals the organization has, or what collaboration needs their employees have to get their work done faster, more efficient and more effective. We tend to work in productivity scenarios to answer the question when to use what in Office 365 and one of them is co-authoring documents.


Co-creation is the self-guiding creative collaboration between parties involved in a complex challenge. Typical for co-creation is that the parties reach a consensus through authentic and respectful interactions, on constructing a desired state and undertake actions to achieve that desired state.

What are the productivity gains of new ways of collaborating with Office 365 Document libraries, wikis, or Office online versus old ways  such as file hares and email attachments?

This article will provide a better understanding of the benefits of co-creating content.

Co-authoring is about efficiency

Imagine you are collaborating on a piece of information with 3 others and you need to review each other’s work before you can finalize it. What are the differences in using the different tools from a productivity perspective?

I will compare 4 ways of collaboration:

  1. Collaborating on a file sent as email attachment
  2. Collaborating on a file using SharePoint / Office 365 Document Libraries
  3. Collaborating on content using a SharePoint / Office 365 Wiki
  4. Collaborating on a file using Office Online = true co-authoring!


You could look at efficiency in the collaboration process for each scenario in several ways:

• Total time spent: how much effort and time does it take to work together.
• Total turnaround time: the time spent for a whole process of collaboration.
• Findability: how easy is it to find the latest version?

I will conclude with a way of calculating value both in ways of quantity and quality!

Collaborating on a file sent as email attachment

Let’s do a quick test:

How many files (copies) will you get when collaborating through email with 3 others and 2 revision rounds?

  1. 4
  2. 10
  3. 12
  4. 42

Tip: remember you need to save, send and receive copies every time a review is done.

Before you take a peek at the correct answer below, let me elaborate:

Collaborating on a file requires creating it, saving it to a folder, and sending it as an attachment in an email. Then the receivers get an email with the attachment, which they most likely save in a folder, then start editing the file, and save it again (either as a new version copy, or overwrite the old one), then send it back through their email. The original creator gets 3 emails with attachments, and saves these to a folder, then needs to merge them into one new copy manually skipping through the contents. And for the second review round we repeat the whole process again!

Now for the answer: it’s 42 !

And this is why:

Tipping Point for co-authoring files

Tipping Point for co-authoring files

Try it for yourself by writing down each and every step. Count all the copies for all the steps in the process of working on a file and sending it through email: remember there is a file saved in a folder, a file sent in an email, and a file received in an email – in every step by every person!

It becomes apparent that collaborating together on information through email attachments is not very efficient. There are many copies of the file in different locations, each displaying different versions. Nobody knows where to access the latest version anymore: email chaos! In fact you could say the tipping point for effective email collaboration is with 2 people and only one revision round.

Collaborating using SharePoint / Office 365 Document Libraries

With Document Libraries there are the following productivity gains:

  • Collaborating in one central place, with only one version and everyone can work with the latest version.
  • To prevent making changes at the same time people can lock the file before they edit it, and then unlock it for the next person to start their editing.
  • Every reviewer can see the work done by the previous one, so there are no duplicate efforts, and no merging is necessary.
  • Apart from collaboration in the file (edit it), people can also use comments. Comments can be questions, tips or remarks about the content, instead of changing the content. Sometimes you want to give advice but not change the file itself.
  • Every reviewer can see the comments made by others so there are no duplicate efforts.
  • The owner of the file can easily take the comments and make changes to the file accordingly.
  • It’s easy to see all the different versions, and the owner can revert to an older version or even restore it.

All this together makes the total time spent on the file by the 4 people a lot less, and because there is no need to await emails with the changes the turnover is also much less. Findability is a good. There is only one file in the library, containing all the versions by other editors.

Collaborating using a SharePoint / Office 365 Wiki

When working in a wiki you are not working in a file created by another application that needs to be opened, but directly in the browser, in a web page. A wiki is a collection of pages that you can link to each other. A wiki therefore, is ideal for creating and publishing structured information such as manuals. The beauty of a wiki is that different people can ach create their own pages. So they can work simultaneously, rather than sequential as is the case when collaborating through files sent as email attachment. This saves significant turnover time! After each editor is done with their pages, the pages can be linked together. Pages can be edited, and the system automatically creates new versions, which can be compared with each other, or can be deleted.

If we would use a wiki in a site to do the same collaboration, there would even be more productivity gain, especially in turnover time.
Next to the automatic versioning, and comparing of versions (like track-changes functionality in Word) wikis allow people to work on their own piece of the puzzle, simultaneously, because each can work on their own pages, and afterwards a structure for the whole can be formed through wiki links.

Another great thing about using a wiki for documentation that is continuously updated, is that in order to change parts of the information only that particular page needs to be updated, and not the whole document (as with a file). And it is immediately clear to readers which page was updated.

Collaborating using Office Online

Using Office Online for true co-authoring of a file will result in the following productivity gains, on top of those with using Office 365 Document Libraries: almost no turnover time!
True co-authoring can occur, because all reviewers can work in the same file at the same time – in the browser, or in their Office application – resulting in almost no turnover time. It’s like sitting in the same room all writing on the whiteboard at the same time. There is no waiting on each other’s work, and on top of that the reviewers can communicate about their work using Skype Chat, or comments.

Collaborate in Word Online in the content or through comments

Collaborate in Word Online in the content or through comments


Collaboration is like making music together

Compare collaborating on a file in a sequential way – as with Email attachments – with collaborating on a file simultaneously – as with Office Online – with the following analogy:
Musicians that each play an instrument in a song each record their part separately and sequential in a studio and finally it is all merged into a song. But suppose they would all play their instrument together. I mean, not as a band live show, but REALLY together:


Calculating co-authoring value

Let’s now put all collaboration methods in a simple overview to calculate the win in cost-reduction due to better efficiency based on total time working on content, and turnover time to create content in a co-authoring process.

Calculating productivity value compared to email collaboration

Calculating productivity value through email collaboration

Calculating productivity value in a Document Library in Office 365 through versioning

Calculating productivity value in a Document Library in Office 365 through versioning

Calculating productivity value in a Document Library in Office 365 through versioning and co-authoring

Calculating productivity value in a Document Library in Office 365 through versioning and co-authoring

We can now compare the above results and get the following efficiency wins, Collaborate on a file in a …

  • library vs in email 40%
  • wiki vs in email 56%
  • wiki vs in library 26%


Co-authoring impact

Co-authoring is a creative process and has impact on both the quantity and the quality of the contributions. If you want to calculate the value of co-authoring, you could look at gain in time (cost reduction), and the gain in result (quantity and quality of the content).
Working together has a positive impact on the co-creation. Through social interaction colleagues learn and build on each other’s knowledge. Pleasant cooperation results in a state of pleasure. People will always pursue this feeling, so will continue to do this. Resulting in an increase of the quantity of co-authoring content. Because these colleagues visit each other again and again, give each other feedback, vote and appreciate the quality of the content is also increasing. By the aggregation of information by groups working in co-creation, the results (decisions, proposals, contracts won) are much better than one could achieve as a single individual. Something known as ‘Wisdom of the crowds‘.



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