How to collaborate with Dropbox Spaces

The Spaces feature in Dropbox creates shared workspaces where teams can collaborate on projects. Here’s how to use it.

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Dropbox is best known as a cloud storage service, but it also offers a set of collaboration tools under the name Spaces. In a nutshell, Spaces lets you turn folders into project workspaces where you and teams can collaborate. For example, you and your co-workers can add comments to files, include descriptions of folders, and create shared to-do lists. Spaces is available with all Dropbox individual user plans (including both free and paid versions) and team accounts for business.

This guide walks you through the main tools of Spaces when you use Dropbox through a web browser. Most of these instructions apply similarly to the Dropbox desktop apps for macOS and Windows.

Note: Dropbox recently announced Spaces 2.0, an updated and expanded version of its collaboration tools. Currently in private beta, it’s expected to be released to the public this spring. We’ll update this story when Spaces 2.0 becomes publicly available.

Turn a folder into a Space

Turning a folder into a “Space” activates collaboration tools that you can use on the folder and the files inside it. You can turn any folder, including the main folder of your Dropbox account, into a Space.

To get started, you need to open the folder you want to convert to a Space. If that’s your main Dropbox folder, click All files in the left column to view the main folder and its contents. To turn any other folder into a Space, click All files, then click on the folder’s name to open it.

Under the “Overview” header near the top of the folder’s page you’ll see text that says, “Click here to describe this folder and turn it into a Space.” Click and enter a short description for your folder. You can also include links, to-do items, shortcuts to key files and folders, and more in this area.  

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Entering a description for a folder in its Overview area turns the folder into a Space. (Click image to enlarge it.)

As you type in the description, a toolbar appears, offering typical text-formatting options (bold, italic, bulleted lists, etc.) plus three noteworthy functions:

  • Create link: This icon, which looks like two chain links, lets you enter a web link into the description.
  • Create to-do: The checkbox icon starts a to-do list; each line of text becomes a task with a checkbox next to it. When you (or another person with permission to edit the folder) click a checkbox, the line of text next to it is crossed out with a strikethrough. (Granting other people access to your folder is described in the next section of this guide.)
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You can add to-do tasks to a Space’s Overview area. (Click image to enlarge it.)

  • Mention someone: Clicking the @ icon lets you insert the email address or name of someone in your Dropbox contacts. But you can also simply type @ inside the description box to evoke this feature, which is faster. Either way, this person is notified via email and a notification in their Dropbox account that they’ve been tagged in this Space. (When you tag someone, you’re asked if you want to share this Space with them. If you do, you are taken to the share pane that is described in the next section of this guide.)

You can “pin” a file or a folder inside the description box as an icon shortcut. The simplest way to do this is to click the three-dot icon to the right of the file or folder name and select Pin to [folder name].

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Pinning a file in the Overview area keeps it handy. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To unpin a file or folder from the description box, hover the mouse cursor over the pinned item, click the three-dot icon, and select Unpin.

Share files or folders with other people

In order to collaborate with other people in Dropbox, you have to first share the items you want to work on with them. You can share files and folders, including folders that you’ve turned into Spaces. Sharing a folder also shares all its contents.

To share a file or folder in list view, hover the mouse cursor over the file or folder name in the list and click the Share button that appears toward the right. In grid view, hover the mouse cursor over the file or folder name, click the three-dot-icon and select Share from the menu that appears. And if you want to share a folder that’s already open, click the Share folder button in the far right column.

The share pane appears. In the “To:” line, type in the email addresses or names of the people in your Dropbox contacts who you want to share the file or folder with.

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When you share a file or folder, you grant invitees view or edit permissions. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To the right of the recipients is a drop-down menu labeled “Can edit” or “Can view.” “Can edit” means that the people you are sharing the file with can edit, delete, or comment on the file; download it; or add a copy of it to their own Dropbox account. If you’re sharing a folder, the same applies to all the files in the folder, and those with edit access can also upload files to the folder.

“Can view” means that the person you are sharing with can only view, download, or add comments to the shared file or any file in a shared folder. (Certain files, such as images and PDFs, can only be shared as “Can view.”)

Click the menu to make a selection, optionally type a message to your recipients, and click the Share button at the lower-right of the share pane. Your recipients receive an email that contains a link; clicking it grants them access to your file or folder and prompts them to add it to their Dropbox. Recipients must have a Dropbox account to access a shared file or folder. If they do not have one, Dropbox guides them through signing up for at least a free plan. If they are already a Dropbox user, they also get a notification through their Dropbox account.

If you’re creating a new folder and know you’ll want to share it, you can save time by creating and sharing it at the same time. From the Home screen or “All files” screen, click New shared folder in the right column. From anywhere else in Dropbox, click Shared in the left column, then click the Create shared folder button in the right column.

Either way, you’ll see a screen asking if you want to create and share a new folder or share an existing folder. Choose I’d like to create and share a new folder and click the Next button. You’ll see the same share pane as above. Give the folder a name, add your recipients, choose edit or view permissions, optionally type a message, and click Share. The folder is created and the email sent.

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Instead of sharing an existing folder, you can create a new shared folder from scratch. (Click image to enlarge it.)

As with any folder, you can click in the description area of the new shared folder to convert it into a Space.

Manage shared files and folders

When you open a shared folder or Space, circular icons in the right column show the headshots or initials of the people it’s being shared with. Hover the mouse pointer over one of these icons, and a callout shows if their access to the folder or file is “can edit” or “can view.”

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Look in the right column of an open folder to see who it’s shared with. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To share a file or folder with additional people at any time, bring up its share pane as described above, add the new recipients, assign edit or view permissions, and click Share.

The share pane also lets you manage the permissions of anyone you’ve shared the file or folder with. It shows all the people who have access; click Can edit or Can view next to any person’s name to toggle their permissions between edit and view privileges.

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The share pane for a folder lets you manage users’ access privileges individually. (Click image to enlarge it.)

If you click the gear icon toward the top right of the share pane, you’ll see a Settings pane that lets you control whether all members with edit permissions can add new users to the folder or only you can do that. If you want to stop sharing a folder, click the Unshare folder link at the bottom-left of the Settings pane.

Add to a shared folder or Space

Anyone who’s been granted edit permissions to a Space or other shared folder can add items to it. To upload files or folders, click the Upload button above the files list, choose Upload files or Upload folder. A screen appears that lets you browse to the files or folder you want; make your selection and click Upload. Alternatively, you can drag and drop the files or folder onto the folder’s page in Dropbox.

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Those with edit permissions for a Space can upload files and folders to the Space. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To create a new folder inside the Space or shared folder, click the Create button, select Folder, give the folder a name and click Create. The Create button also lets you create documents in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, and other formats in the shared folder.

Members with edit access to the folder can also add text, shortcuts, and to-do items to the description area at the top of the Space.

Edit a shared document

If you have edit permissions for an editable file such as a Word document, click its file name to see a preview of it, then click the Open button at the top of the right column. A drop-down appears that lets you choose a web editor to open it in — for example, a .docx file can be opened in Word Online or Google Docs, a .pptx file can be opened in PowerPoint Online or Google Slides, and so on.

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You can open and edit .docx files in Word Online or Google Docs. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Once you’ve made a selection, you may need to sign in to your Microsoft or Google account and grant it access to Dropbox, and then the document opens in your browser and you can edit it as you normally would. Any changes you make appear in the original document stored in Dropbox, and anyone with access to the file can see them.

Add comments to a document, image, or PDF

You can add comments in Dropbox to a shared file or any file in a folder that’s been shared with you. To get started, click the three-dot icon to the right of the file name and select Add comment. This opens a preview of the file, with a comments sidebar in the right column.

To add a comment, simply start typing inside the box marked “Enter your thoughts here” in the comments sidebar. If you want someone to be notified of your comment, type @ and the first few letters of the name of the person in your Dropbox contacts, then select their name from the list that appears. Click the Post button to attach your comment to the file.

Alternatively, you can comment on a specific area of a document, image or PDF. For a document (such as a Microsoft Word .docx) or PDF, highlight text in the document preview with the mouse cursor. A callout icon appears above the highlighted text. Click this icon, and you can post a comment that refers specifically to the highlighted text.

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Highlight text in a document or PDF preview and click the comment icon to add a comment specifically about that text. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To comment on a specified area of an image file, or on an image that’s in a PDF, use the crosshair tool to frame the area in the preview window. After you do this, you can post a comment that refers to this framed area.

To go through the comments that are attached to a file: Simply click its filename to open the page that previews it with its comments.

When you click a comment, you can read its entirety and post a reply. If it’s a comment that you posted, you can edit or delete it. Other people who have access to this file or the folder where this file is stored can post a reply.

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You can review and reply to other people’s comments. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Clicking Resolve in the upper-right corner of a comment removes the comment. Only you and any other person with edit access to your Space can mark a comment as resolved. (If you want to view or restore a resolved comment: Click the three-dot icon at the bottom of the vertical toolbar along the right side and select Show resolved comments.)

Request files for a Space

While all members of a Space with edit access can upload files to the Space at any time, there may be times when you specifically want to request files, such as documents or images, from other team members — or from people who aren’t members of the Space. To start a request for files, click File requests in the left navigation, then click the New request button in the right column. (Alternatively, you can click All files in the left navigation, click the three-dot icon to the right of the Space or folder where you want collaborators to upload files, and select Request files from the menu that appears.)

A pane appears for you to enter details about your request; here you can change the folder where you want collaborators to upload files — for instance, a Space for a project. (If you used the alternative method of starting a request in the previous paragraph, the correct folder will be designated already.) With certain Dropbox plans you can also set a deadline for file uploads. Click the Create button. A second pane appears for you to enter people’s names who you want to receive your request. They will be notified via email and their Dropbox account.

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You can request that collaborators upload documents, images, or other files to a Space or other folder. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You can track the progress of these requests by clicking File requests in the left column.

Keep track of updates to a Space

If you want to know when other team members add or delete files in a Space or other shared folder, open the folder and click the Follow button underneath the large folder icon in the right column. You’ll see a screen where you can choose to be notified when files are added, deleted, or both; and that lets you opt to receive notifications as these changes happen or just once a day. When you’ve made your selections, click Confirm and you’ll be notified of activity by email and through your Dropbox account.

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You can keep track of files uploaded or deleted from a Space by following it. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Installing Dropbox’s desktop app for Windows or macOS gives you another tracking option. Find the Dropbox icon in the taskbar’s notification area in Windows or in the top menu bar in macOS. Click the icon, and a pane opens with three tabs that help you track the status of files and folders you’ve shared with others:

  • For you: This tab highlights files and folders that Dropbox determines may be important to you to follow.
  • Recent: This tab lists recent activities that you’ve done to files and folders in your Dropbox, such as when you added, shared, or viewed a file or folder. If you are using a Dropbox Business account, click the Team button to see recent activity done to files and folders by other people who you are in your team.
  • Notifications: When someone you’ve shared a file or folder with does something to it (such as adding a comment or resharing it with another person), or if someone shares a file or folder with you, these actions are listed here.
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Dropbox’s desktop app notifies you when another user does something with files or folders you’ve shared. (Click image to enlarge it.)

When you hover the mouse pointer over a file or folder name in either the “For you” or “Recent” tab, icons appear to the right of it. Clicking the star marks the file or folder as something you want to track more closely. On the Home page of your Dropbox account, your starred files and folders are listed below the list of recently accessed files and folders.

The Share icon (a person) opens the share pane for the file or folder, the link icon copies a web link for the file or folder to your computer’s clipboard, and the three-dot icon opens a menu presenting several actions, such as opening the file or folder in Dropbox or sharing it with other Dropbox users.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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