How to request and track approvals with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides

When you want a formal record of an approval, stop asking "Is this document OK?" and start sending an approval request

Sketch with the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides icons, with an APPROVALS stencil text stamp over the top

Illustration: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

In an organization, people often need formal approval for text (e.g., a plan or proposal, a press release or a contract), a spreadsheet (e.g., a budget or a list) or a presentation. Often, several people from different areas in an organization—marketing, finance, legal—have to give their formal OK on a document. Obtaining these approvals can take seemingly relentless rounds of email and edits.

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Approvals, launched in November 2021, streamlines the sequence of steps needed to obtain formal edits and final approval on a file. To start the process, you add the accounts of the approvers, then they'll receive a notification. Each approver may review the file, then choose to either accept or reject it. If you allow edits, a new round of review and approval requests starts after every change. Once every approver chooses to approve it, the system locks the document to prevent changes, and the side panel displays the date your document reached "Approval complete" status.

You'll need a Google Workspace account, not a personal Google account, to use Approvals. Approvals are available to people who use all editions of Google Workspace, except Business Starter, Education Fundamentals, Education Standard, Frontline and G Suite Basic. Additionally, a Google Workspace administrator can control whether Approvals are available to people within an organization.

How the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides Approvals process works on the web

The steps below cover how to use Approvals within Google Docs, Sheets and Slides from a browser on a computer. Open the file for which you seek approvals before you begin.

1. Select File | Approvals to display the Approvals side panel from the web (Figure A, left). Then, select the Make a request button (Figure A, right).

Figure A

Screenshots: (left) Google Doc open with File menu displayed and Approvals (below Share) circled; (right) Approvals side panel with Request approval displayed and an arrow pointing to the Make a request button.

In Docs, Sheets and Slides, access Approvals from the File menu on the web (left). This opens the Approvals side panel (right) to start the process.

2. Add approver accounts and, optionally, a message and due date, as shown in Figure B. You may choose to allow edits or to lock the file before sending. (Note: If you choose to lock the file, you will likely be prompted to reload the document, since locking removes edit-related menu options.)

Each edit restarts the approval process and notifies each approver. If you anticipate several potential changes, a good approach would be to simply use the standard Share option with your collaborators during the active editing phase, then seek Approvals when few or no edits are expected.

Note that each approver's account needs to be a Google account. Within an organization that uses Google Workspace, that's not an issue. However, if you seek approval from someone outside your organization, they'll need a Google account to either approve or reject your request.

Figure B

Screenshot of a Google Doc with the Request approval box displayed, with sections for Google accounts, a message, an Add due date button, a checkbox next to Allow approved to edit this file, and a checkbox next to Lock file before sending approval request. (With a submessage: "Edits during the approval process will reset any recorded approvals.") A Send request or Cancel button in the lower right of the box.

Add the Google accounts of the people you want to approve your file, along with a brief message. You may optionally specify a due date, allow approvers to edit the file or lock the file.

3. If prompted, adjust file access permissions, as shown in Figure C. The system will suggest permission settings that will allow access to the file for all approvers, so in most cases you'll want to accept the provided recommendations.

Figure C

Screenshot of a "Some people need access to the file" prompt, with options to Share with 2 people or Turn link sharing on.

Adjust file access levels, as prompted.

4. The system will notify each approver of your request, based on how each person has configured Google Drive notifications. That means people may receive a notification in email (Figure D), from the Chrome web browser or from a mobile app.

Figure D

Screenshot of New approval request email, with the message from the requester, a link to the related file, and an Open button, shown in Gmail on the web.

Each approver will be notified of your request. For example, people who choose to receive Drive notifications via email will be sent a New approval request, as shown.

5. When an approver opens a document on the web, a bar displays across the top with Accept, Reject and View Details options (Figure E, left). The person may select either to accept or reject directly from this bar. If an approver selects View Details from the Pending Approval options (as shown in Figure E), the system will display the status of other approvers (e.g., Approved or Pending) along with the initial requester's message.

Figure E

Two screenshots: (left) Approve, Reject, View details options in bar above a Google Doc, with View details circled, with a line drawn going to the (right) Approvals side panel, with Approve, Reject options, View changes details, list of Approvers, and Approval activity status, with a comment box.

On the web, when an approver chooses to open a file from an approval request, it will display with a Pending approval bar that offers three options: Approve, Reject or View Details. 

6. Approve the request and, optionally, add a comment, as shown in Figure F. (If an approver rejects the request, you'll need to address their concerns and then go through the approval process again.)

Figure F

Screenshot with Approve request? box open, with space for comments, and Cancel or Approve options displayed.

When an approver selects the Approve button, a prompt appears that lets them optionally add text and then confirm.

7. When all requests are approved, the document will be locked and the Approvals side panel will indicate Approval complete (Figure G). If an editor unlocks the document and makes changes, you would need to repeat the approval process after changes to regain this approved status.

Figure G

Screenshot of Google Doc with Approvals side panel open. Approval complete in large letter, with "on Nov 9, 2021" below, along with list of Approvers, both with green checkmarks on their account image and "Approved" below their name.

The Approvals side panel indicates who has approved the file. In this case, all requested approvers have approved, so the header displays Approval Complete.

Approval administrative controls 

In most cases, an administrator will want to leave the settings for Approvals in the Admin console at the defaults (Figure H). The only reasons to change the setting would be if you want to prevent access to Approvals or manage who may request approvals. A Workspace administrator may review Approval requests settings at the Admin console | Apps | Google Workspace | Settings for Drive and Docs | Approvals. The settings may be modified for the entire organization or for an organizational unit.

Figure H

Screenshot of Approval requests settings. Two options: Allow approval requests on files owned by your organization (on/off) and Allow users in your organization to request approvals on files (on/off). Both options show as the default ON position.

A Google Workspace administrator may manage approval request settings for your organization.

What's your experience with Approvals?

The Approvals feature reduces the logistical hassles associated with getting multiple people to review and accept a file. Importantly, it also documents that approval for a particular file was given by a specific person on a specific date. That documentation can be helpful, should people ever question whether appropriate people signed off on a particular document, spreadsheet, presentation or file.

Does the Approvals option change how you work with colleagues in your organization? Will it simplify workflows you'd otherwise attempt to track with a series of emails or messages? Does the ability to set an approval due date, and the related notifications that occur, make it easier for you to manage the approval workflow? Let me know what role the Approvals feature plays in your organizations, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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