conflicting documents

There’s a lot of hype these days around the potential of remote working and the virtual workforce. Never mind that much of this buzz comes from the marketing departments of technology companies, the possibilities that cloud technology opens up really are inspiring. However, if you’ve actually tried working remotely yourself using OneDrive for Business, you might just recognise a divergence between the ideal and what is, all too often, the reality.

The ideal from the ads goes like this: you’re looking extremely cool while working on a high-end tablet and finalising a couple of documents on the train en route to a client’s office. At the same time, your hip colleagues in Hong Kong and Atlanta are adding their final edits to your big proposal. You all save your changes in time for the presentation which goes down a storm.

The reality goes like this: you’re working at the kitchen table at 9.30pm and the kids are running around screaming. You have a few financial reports open for a deadline tomorrow and it seems your boss and another colleague, also working late, have independently made changes to a few of the documents at the same time as you. You now have a load of conflicted files in OneDrive for Business and you can’t work out which is the latest and which have even been changed.

Conflicting documents in OneDrive for Business can be a real nightmare, causing you and your colleagues unnecessary stress. So, is this just an occupational hazard of distance working? The yin to the yang of flexible, anytime, any device productivity? Or, is there an alternative way of working with OneDrive for Business, that avoids this kind of frustration?

Conflicting documents in OneDrive for Business: why do they happen?

Now, Microsoft have semi-helpfully (!) explained why documents can conflict when using Office 2016 to save files in OneDrive for Business like this:

“Life happens sometimes, though, and conflicts might arise when an Office program stops running unexpectedly or when two people edit something at the same time and something goes wrong”.

That’s it people, life just happens, get over it! For a bit more detail, let’s get into the mechanics of what can go wrong and cause conflicts. There’s a few key concepts to understand here, and it’s this complexity which goes a long way to explaining why conflicts seem to happen so much when using OneDrive for Business:

  • You can have conflicts with OneDrive for Business, the consumer OneDrive and OneDrive for Business NewGen. I’m going to focus on OneDrive for Business here, but you get an idea of the complexity right away.
  • Microsoft manages conflicts differently in Office 2016 and previous versions of the suite. In Office 2016, collaboration is managed in the document itself, with multiple users able to work on a file at the same time. This isn’t possible in earlier versions, so if you use Office 2016 collaborating with someone who’s accessing a Word file using an older version of the tool you’ll run into problems.
  • You can lose data (without conflict) in Office 2016. A colleague who’s also working on the document at the same time as you can immediately delete what you’ve just written. So that’s friendly…

These three factors result in a number of scenarios where conflicted documents arise. Now forgot a company with thousands of employees and many people inputting to a single report – let’s picture the process in its simplest form. Picture Sandy and Steve, colleagues who are working on a Word 2016 document at the same time from different locations. In theory, when Sandy finishes editing the document, she saves it and the updates are recorded by OneDrive for Business. Now, as long as Steve doesn’t edit the same parts of the document as Sandy, he then saves the file and both of their edits are saved in the updated version, syncing perfectly.

However, this is where the theory falls down. And can result in major issues.

  • Sandy is on a train, so has synched the document offline and is editing it on her iPad. Unbeknownst to her, Steve is using Office 365 to directly edit the document online. Once sandy has Internet connection again the document will synch up…but OneDrive for Business won’t tell her there is any conflict until she opens the document again.
  • In an alternate universe, Sandy has made changes to the document while offline on the train on her iPad. Once she arrives at her hotel, she gets out her laptop, where she had also synched that same document offline and carries on working on a different section. Once her files synch back up again, OneDrive for Business has created two separate documents holding different content. She then has to spend ages amalgamating the changes – hardly the ideal of seamless offline work.
  • Sandy, Steve and…Susan, are all working on a number of documents at the same time. At some points they’re working on the same section of their different documents, other times they’re working on different paragraphs. In theory, this is the ideal of collaboration. Once Sandy, Steve, Susan or someone else opens up these documents, they’ll be faced with a barrage of notifications showing where changes have been made and conflicts exist. They’ll then have to spend hours unpicking these and deciding which solution is best. Again, it’s hardly the dream of collaboration.

What do all these (and similar) scenarios mean? Basically, to resolve any conflicts you’re going to have to physically get together with your colleagues and resolve these issues one by one. So, that dream of free-flowing cloud collaboration goes right out the window.

Easier365 offers a better solution

There’s clearly a gap between the ideal of OneDrive for Business, and the reality that many business users experience. Perhaps the biggest issue is that OneDrive for Business simply doesn’t offer a simple interface for conflict handling.

By contrast, Easier365 is designed to make dealing with conflicts much easier. When conflicts do happen, the Easier 365 interface informs you that the file is conflicted and provides a series of measures you can use to manage them, including:

  • Restore an earlier version of the document
  • Remove/Remove All allows you to delete all your latest changes if, for instance, you decide minor formatting edits you made weren’t necessary
  • Merge, as the name suggests, merges the two conflicting documents – it obviously only works if changes haven’t been made to the same sections
  • Compare is useful when there have been changes made to the same sections of the file. The compare view allows you to work through the differences side by side and decide on which is the best option.


Try Easier365 free today, and end the frustration of conflicting documents once and for all!