Microsoft Office files opened in Google Docs, Sheets or Slides now automatically sync for offline use

In June 2022, Google announced a seemingly small update to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. Now, on a computer, if you have enabled offline access for files stored on Google Drive, the system will automatically sync for offline use any Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint file you have opened with the Docs, Sheets or Slides apps in Chrome. Google Workspace enthusiasts who work with Office files often will no doubt welcome this change, as it eliminates the need to manually make Office files available for offline use.

However, the change challenges a few misconceptions people still sometimes have about Google Docs, Sheets and Slides capabilities: That these apps only work in Chrome online, and that they are incompatible with Microsoft Office files. While these statements were accurate a long time ago, things have changed. Now, you may:

  • Use either Chrome or Microsoft Edge as your desktop browser
  • Create, open and edit Google Docs, Sheets or Slides offline
  • Edit Microsoft Word (.docx), Excel (.xlsx) and PowerPoint (.pptx) files directly with the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps, with no need to convert files

The June update encapsulates all of the above existing features and extends it to allow automatic offline access for any Microsoft Office format file you’ve recently opened in Google Docs, Sheets or Slides. For example, if you received a Word document as an attachment in Gmail and you opened it with the Google Docs editor, the Word document would then automatically be set to sync so you could access it again when you’re offline. However, for this to function as described, the following things need to be configured:

You must sign in with a Google account

You need to be signed in to a Google account in either Chrome or Microsoft Edge on a computer to make offline syncing possible. Any standard Gmail or Google account will work. Similarly, your Google Workspace account also will likely allow sync.

If you use a Workspace account, be aware that your Google Workspace administrator may choose to prevent access to Workspace data offline in order to protect your organization’s data. Go to Google Drive in your browser, then select Sign In in the upper right, if your Google Drive files don’t display.

You’ll have to install an extension for Chrome or Microsoft Edge

You’ll need to install the Google Docs Offline extension. As you might expect, you can install this extension for Chrome. You also may install the extension in Microsoft Edge, since Microsoft’s modern browser is built on the same core as Chrome. If you use Edge, you may need to select an option to allow installation of extensions from third-party sources.

You do need to enable offline access

In either Chrome or Microsoft Edge, go to the Drive settings and check the Offline setting to Create, Open And Edit Your Recent Google Docs, Sheets, And Slides Files On This Device While Offline. Wait while the system completes the initial file sync and displays a prompt that indicates offline setup is complete. After the initial data sync, files will sync automatically in the background when connected.

Opened a Google or Microsoft file to edit? It’ll be available offline.

Once configured, you may use Google Drive, Docs, Sheets or Slides to open and work with any file synced for offline use. You also may create new files when offline with a click of the + button icon in the lower right corner. Shortcuts, such as do not yet work when offline.

When you work on a file offline, the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides editors still auto-save your work. The system displays “Saving…” to the right of the file name as you edit, and shows a “Saved to this device” message when the file is successfully stored on your system. When you reconnect to the internet, your changes sync to Google Drive, as usual.

What’s your experience with Google Workspace apps offline?

It’s nice to be able to edit when you’re offline either by choice or circumstance. I sometimes turn off WiFi on a laptop in order to be able to focus and work without interruptions. And before I travel, I make sure my files are synced so I can work offline. When editing offline, I tend to use the Insert | Comment feature to add a comment to remind myself to either look up information or add a link at a later time, when reconnected to the internet.

How do you work with Google Docs, Sheets or Slides offline? Do you use Chrome or Microsoft Edge for offline editing? Do you find the ability of the system to auto-sync Office files you’ve recently opened with the Google editors helpful?

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