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How to sync OneDrive, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams files to computer or smart phone

OneDrive is more than just a place to store your files. It's a sync tool to let you store OneDrive, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams files locally on your computer and smartphone so you can access files when you have weak or no internet access. Here's how to manage it.
Published on
April 13, 2021

Offline access to my files you say?

Yes, indeed. OneDrive, that thing you likely know as a place to store a bunch of stuff, actually is a name for a few different experiences/tools, even if that makes the overall name a bad or confusing brand. And that's the basis of this post: how you can sync your OneDrive, SharePoint, and, yes, even Microsoft Teams files directly to your computer or smartphone for offline access using the OneDrive sync tool. If you prefer to read, continue on. Though the video below covers the same content plus live demos. Everyone loves live demos!


With sync, you’re able to access files stored in OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams through Windows Explorer and macOS Finder, which is especially useful if you love the days of shared drives and click click clicking through to get your files right through Explorer or Finder.

OneDrive also lets you choose which files you want to save on your device so you don’t overflow its storage with tons of folders and files you don’t actually care about. Open an Office file while connected to the internet and it’ll save all changes automatically just like if you opened it through OneDrive, SharePoint, or Teams directly. Open the file while offline and changes will be automatically uploaded the next time you get reconnected.

Syncing to a computer

Let’s run through some demo on how to do it on a PC. The PC and Mac experience are almost identical, so I’ll stick to just the one. First, make sure you either have the the OneDrive Sync Client—that’s the official name of the sync tool—or that you’ve downloaded and installed it. If you have Windows 10, you should already have it installed. Otherwise, you want to download it (WindowsmacOSiOS | Android). The same app is used for OneDrive personal, like a Live or Microsoft account, and OneDrive for Business for work and school accounts. You can find it through the Start menu and searching OneDrive. Once it’s open, you’ll see a little blue OneDrive logo in the system tray. Click that to log in and you should be set for syncing. You can log in with multiple accounts if you’d like.

For a full demo, check out the video below (start at 1:55 if it doesn't do so automatically). The general instructions from Microsoft are helpful too: sync OneDrive files and sync SharePoint/Teams files.


Syncing to a smartphone

Now let’s run through some demo on how to do this on a smartphone. First, make sure you’ve installed the OneDrive app from the respective app store. Log in with your work or school account and you should be set for syncing. Like the desktop app, you can log in with multiple accounts if you’d like.

For a full demo, check out the video below (start at 11:33 if it doesn't do so automatically). The general instructions from Microsoft are helpful too: sync OneDrive files.

Tips, tricks, and best practices

Now let’s cover some tips and best practices on this.

Use sync to upload large files

First, SharePoint and OneDrive can hold files up to 250 gigabytes in size. That’s huge. If you’re uploading large files, don’t drag and drop them into Teams, OneDrive, or SharePoint directly. Instead, drag them into a folder in Explorer or Finder and let the sync tool do the work. If you disconnect or turn off your computer, it can resume the upload, whereas if you’re depending on a browser to upload stuff, it will just fail in that situation.

Only sync what you need

Second, keep an eye on those blue and green icons and if you’re starting to run out of space on your computer, you want to set some of those bigger files and folders that you might not use all that often to be cloud-only. Use only what you need at a given time rather than trying to hoard everything on your device. The more space you use on your device, the slower it may run. For a quicker experience, save only the really important stuff. Quick tip: when you stop storing a file locally, it goes to the trash. Empty the trash to get the space back.

Stop syncing Teams and sites you leave

Third, stop syncing individualTeams and SharePoint sites when you’re not using them anymore. Theoretically, when you’re removed from a Team or Site, you lose access, so you shouldn’t see those files anyway, but if you’re just hanging around for random input here and there, you don’t need a 100 gigabyte site full of stuff bloating up your hard drive.

Sync things before you need them

Fourth, download things before you need them. If you’re going to a customer site for a big meeting where you’re presenting, you want to make sure you have all the necessary files on your device before you leave your home base. That way, if you have trouble getting on their wifi or they have bad cell reception and you can’t hot spot it, you still have the files available and can follow the agenda or share your slides. Same goes for the phone, really. Being able to pull up the agenda once in a while on your phone even in an area with no cell service and a hard-to-join wifi network is incredibly helpful.

Don't discount the mobile app

Fifth, get to know the OneDrive mobile app. Did you know you can scan documents and whiteboards and create pdfs using the app? Pretty slick. For the next level up, download the Office mobile app. You can scan documents and tables and automatically create Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. The tech is pretty cool.

Make use of 'Add shortcut to OneDrive'

Sixth, the Add shortcut to OneDrive feature can be really handy if you like having your files listed in one central place. Grabbing one library or folder at a time and seeing it directly in your OneDrive can be a major win. Don’t forget about that.

Keep an eye out on syncing for errors

Seventh, keep an eye on thatOneDrive icon in Windows and macOS. If there are syncing problems, it has an easy-to-miss X symbol which means your files aren’t actually pushing to the cloud, which can lead to issues ranging from minor to massive. So always always be aware of the status of the app. Never take it for granted. Because sometimes it just craps out.

Which tool when?

Last, know when to use which tool. OneDrive is great for your personal files, SharePoint Team sites and Microsoft Teams are great for collaboration, and SharePoint Communication Sites are perfect for sharing information to a broad audience. Check out my which tool when overview in this video.


Wrap up

And I think that’s it for now.There’s a lot to know about syncing, as you can see, but once you have some expertise, it becomes second nature and really helps make life easier in so many ways. Thanks so much for watching. I hope you found this useful.Please leave any questions or comments below. As always, a like and subscribe is much appreciated. Happy syncing all those important files so you always have the important info at your fingertips.

Matt Wade
Matt is an engineer-turned-IT nerd and Microsoft MVP. His career began in the nuclear power design field and ended up in SharePoint adoption, pretty much by mistake. He’s best known for his SharePoint and Microsoft 365 infographics—especially the Periodic Table of Office 365—and advocating Microsoft Teams as the modern workplace.

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