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SharePoint: Accessing Files

Suppose you’ve now set up all of your files for your organization in the ideal way, with some in individual user OneDrives and others in group SharePoint sites. The natural follow-up question is: now how do I access those files within my workflow?

There are a lot of options. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but in this post I’ll quickly mention several different ways to access your files that are housed in Microsoft 365 (OneDrive for Business and SharePoint). If you know of more that I missed, leave a comment.

Directly in your browser

You can access in your web browser directly looking at the location of the file, either on the SharePoint site or the OneDrive site. Browsing on the site has some advantages like seeing all the columns (metadata) about the files and views for easy filtering and sorting.

This is something that is more worthwhile if you’re going to use other features of SharePoint, particularly if you’ve built navigation between the different sites. If you don’t have an intuitive navigation between the sites, it still creates the problem of having to find the file. It depends on your environment and your workflow, but for the most part, this is more of a fallback plan and not how you are likely to most often access your regular files.


If Teams is your primary work dashboard, this is the best solution all around. In this scenario, you create a Team and the channels within the Team. Each channel will automatically create a folder in the document library of the corresponding SharePoint site, named to match that of the channel. This folder is automatically added to the channel as a tab at the top called “Files.”

This creates a great intuitive interface where you can do almost everything in Teams. As of this writing there are few exceptions for features available in the SharePoint bar that isn’t on the Teams bar, features which are more for power users:

  • Edit in Grid View
  • Add to OneDrive
  • PowerApps
  • Automate
  • Alert Me
  • Manage My Alerts

There is, however, a button to open the document library in SharePoint in your browser. The average user doesn’t need to do any of those functions very often if ever and would be perfectly happy doing all their file access in Teams, but if you do start out in Teams and realize you need more, there’s a quick link to do it.

OneDrive sync client

If Teams is the most modern way to work, using the OneDrive sync client is the most traditional and the most comfortable for a lot of people. In this way, you access files housed in the cloud just as easily as you’re already used to accessing files on your computer.

In another post, I broke down two different approaches to syncing your files from OneDrive and SharePoint together to your computer with the OneDrive sync client.

Desktop and mobile apps

Know that you’re looking for a Word document, particularly one that you’ve accessed recently? A quick solution to open it again is to open the Word app. The launch page will show your recent documents, your pinned documents, and documents shared with you. You can also fully browse your SharePoint structure to find the file, although that might not be the most intuitive for many people.

This is also true for mobile. There are mobile apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Office (one app with lightweight versions of the core apps), OneNote, OneDrive, and SharePoint. These all work for finding your recent files of that type and with some degree of ability to browse.

On a related note: Windows Search will turn up results on all recent documents you’ve opened on that computer, not just files that are synced and located on that computer. If you’ve opened it once from Teams and closed it, you can get back quickly using the search bar built into Windows.

Office.com (and similar)

There are multiple places that give you more or less the same interface that helps surface your recent documents, pinned documents, documents recommended for you, files shared with you. These include:

  • The Office.com launching page or the Office app in Windows
  • The New Tab page in Microsoft Edge when you’ve set that up and you’re logged in to sync with a Microsoft 365 business account
  • The homepage in Delve

The exact details vary, but they share in common a similar idea of trying to help you get back to your most important files quickly. You won’t necessarily find everything this way, but a lot of the time you just want to find that file again that you were using yesterday, and this will help a lot in those scenarios.

I’ve written another post already about my appreciation for Microsoft Search as perhaps the most underrated tool in Microsoft 365.

Android launcher

If you’re using Android for your mobile device, you can use the Microsoft Launcher. This is a nice Android launcher in a few ways, but among its features are some quick widgets for accessing things like your calendar and yes, your recent documents. If you find yourself in scenarios like working on a file on your computer and then wanting to continue on your mobile during your bus ride home, this is a helpful way to immediately do that.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.