Office 2016: A roundup of the best new capabilities

Office 2016 Professional and Office 365 include some handy new features that can boost productivity and facilitate collaboration--without a huge learning curve.


You probably know that Microsoft released Office 2016 in September of this year. And although upgrades can often be harmful to one's mental stability—at least for a while—there's some good news this time around: The Office interface hasn't changed much and some neat, easy-to-use features have been added. Odds are, you'll find upgrading to be a simple adjustment. The bad news is... there isn't any. Surprise!

In short, Office 2016 offers features that busy users will find convenient, helpful, and straightforward.

Collaboration is the 2016 buzzword

When OneDrive first appeared (as SkyDrive), you could upload and download documents stored in the cloud. Then, OneDrive appeared in your local file structure, which was a tremendous move forward (in my opinion). With Office 2016, file sharing is an option on the Ribbon. To quickly share a document, click Share (in Word and PowerPoint). You'll be prompted to save the file to OneDrive or SharePoint and then the pane shown in Figure A will appear. Just use the options here to invite others to view and edit the same file. It's seamless and efficient.

Figure A

Figure A

It's easy to share a document with others.

If you want to use the new real-time collaboration (co-authoring), which allows you to watch others update the file you're currently working on, you'll need Office 365. You'll share the file on OneDrive for Business or SharePoint, where multiple users can view and edit the file at the same time. In addition, you'll actually see those changes onscreen.

Cross-platform and cross-device access

OneDrive isn't new but now it's compatible with most mobile devices. That means you can access your Office documents from anywhere using any device if you save them to OneDrive. View and edit your documents across Windows, Android, and Apple devices; I call it freedom.

I've been using OneDrive for a long time and I highly recommend it. If you change only one work habit in the year ahead, adopt OneDrive.

Smart Lookup

The new Smart Lookup feature lets you browse the web without leaving your Office document. It's a nod to the earlier Reference pane, but it seems more efficient and intuitive now. Simply right-click a word or phrase and choose Smart Lookup from the resulting shortcut list (Figure B). The feature uses Bing to evaluate the text and display a list of context-sensitive web search results in the Insights pane.

Figure B

Figure B

Choose Smart Lookup to review web content in your Office document.

The first time you use this feature, Office will explain that the feature relies on Bing and prompt you to proceed. After accepting this term of use, the Insights pane offers two tabs: Explore and Define. Using the Explore tab (the default), you can click a link to open the resource in your default browser or read the info in the pane. Click the Define tab to display a definition of the word or phrase.

Tell Me...

Help is a bit more helpful than it used to be. Tell Me... lets you ask a question in plain language, then analyzes your request and presents appropriate tools or features. (I hope Tell Me... doesn't render me obsolete!) For instance, enter Track Changes and choose Track Changes in the dropdown list. Word will make the Review tab current and turn on the feature.

Figure C

Figure C

Enter a question to find features and tools.

For the most part, this feature executes options you can execute by choosing options yourself. It won't always be a shortcut—but for some things it might. It's most helpful when you don't know where an option is or you're unsure how to perform a specific task. Using Tell Me... will save you the time you'd otherwise spend searching for an option or more specific instructions.

Outlook's Recent Items

One of my favorite tricks has been to copy a file in the Explorer window and paste it into an Outlook message to avoid the built-in attachment process, which can be a bit tedious. Now, you can choose from a list of recently used files (Figure D). No more drilling down through your folder hierarchy!

Figure D

Figure D

Choose from the Recent Items list when attaching files.

Excel charts

Excel 2016 has five new chart types: Waterfall, Treemap, Histogram, Box & Whisker, and Sunburst, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Figure E

Excel offers five new chart types.


This new app lets you create and share presentations (another 365-dependent functionality) that resemble an ebook rather than the traditional presentation slide. It's quick and easy—that's its claim to fame—and its files are easy to share.

To use Sway, sign in using your Microsoft account at

Skype for Business

Skype for Business (Lync) lets you collaborate while working. You can IM or video-call contacts and even share screens with Skype using the new Share pane that's built into Office 2016. The Skype for Business mobile app enables online meetings via a tablet or phone while on the go.

PowerPoint tools

Office's presentation app, PowerPoint offers two neat tools: Morph and Designer. Morph is a new transition that lets you animate objects across slides. Designer learns your preferences and adapts its recommendations to the way you use PowerPoint.

You can find out how to use Morph by reading Using the Morph transition in PowerPoint 2016. For more on Designer, see What's PowerPoint Designer?.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at

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About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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