How to use Microsoft 365 recovery and backup features

Microsoft 365 has several features to protect and recover Office documents. Learn how to use them to protect your work.

Image: IB Photography/Adobe Stock

Microsoft 365 users have out-of-the-box file recovery and backup features. Others need to be enabled, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what’s available.

By default, Office applications save files to the default folder. However, you can save a file virtually anywhere: to a folder on your local system, a network location, the cloud, and even an external source, such as a USB drive or DVD.

Microsoft 365 also saves a copy of your files to OneDrive by default. Although some users choose to disable OneDrive, I encourage you to leave it enabled, as it enables autosave and version history. In this article, we will review several built-in features that will help you protect and recover files.

SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A side-by-side analysis with checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

I’m using Microsoft 365 on a 64-bit Windows 10 system, but you can use an older version. There is no demo file; you won’t need it. These features interact with the web and OneDrive versions.

How to use AutoSave for Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 subscribers have built-in backup protection called AutoSave. This feature automatically saves Excel, Word and PowerPoint files every few seconds as you work. Autosave is enabled by default in Microsoft 365 when a file is stored on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. If Save As changes to Save a Copy on the File tab, you know the file is being saved to OneDrive.

To find this feature, look in the upper left corner of the title bar or on the quick access toolbar as shown in Figure A. It’s a toggle, so you have the power to turn it on and off. If you don’t see the toggle, you’re probably not using the latest versions of Office apps. If you think you are and cannot find it, contact your administrator.

Figure A

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Enable autosave.

If you click the toggle to enable the autosave feature and your app can’t handle the request, it will display a message explaining why. Follow the instructions provided if you want to use AutoSave with this file. If you don’t, you can’t use AutoSave.

If AutoSave isn’t working, you may have a conflict between your existing personal OneDrive and the new OneDrive for business. You can disable personal OneDrive, but unless you disable the backup folders option, your system may still sync with personal instead of the new work OneDrive. To resolve this issue, follow these steps:

  1. Click the personal OneDrive icon on the taskbar. It should have a red symbol to indicate that it is not activated.
  2. In the resulting window, click Settings, then click Settings again from the drop-down list.
  3. Click the Backup tab and click Manage Backup.
  4. Figure B shows the settings you want to see, but most likely you see blue links that say Stop Backup. Click all Stop Backup links. By default, Microsoft 365 runs a backup on these three folders (you can add more).
  5. Click OK twice.

Figure B

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. This red link indicates that your OneDrive is no longer activated.

With AutoSave enabled and synced properly, let’s move on to the Version History feature.

How to use Microsoft 365 version history

Version history is another built-in feature for Microsoft 365 subscribers that’s enabled by default. This feature allows you to view and restore previous versions of files stored in OneDrive or SharePoint.

To check, open any Office file and click the File tab. Next, click on Info and click on the Version History option shown in Figure C. If this feature is enabled, Office will open a list of available revisions – up to 25!

Figure C

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Open the Microsoft 365 Version History feature for any Office file.

How to use the Microsoft 365 backup feature on OneDrive

Earlier, we briefly looked at OneDrive’s backup settings when troubleshooting a sync issue. This feature, when used, allows you to back up your default Desktop, Pictures, and Documents folder. This way, you can protect your documents while making them accessible to your other devices.

If this feature is not enabled, follow these steps to enable it:

  1. Click the blue or white OneDrive icon in the taskbar.
  2. In the resulting window, click Settings, then click Settings again from the drop-down list.
  3. Click the Backup tab and click Manage Backup.
  4. Figure D shows a folder not syncing – I disabled it on purpose. Simply click on it, then click Start Backup. The process will take a few seconds and notify you when you are done.
  5. Click OK twice.

Figure D

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Start the backup function.

You have 5 GB of storage space on OneDrive for free. Microsoft 365 subscribers have up to 1TB. If the worst happens and you lose everything on OneDrive, you’re still protected.

How to use the OneDrive restore feature of Microsoft 365

I hope that never happens, but if you lose files on OneDrive, you can restore them if you have a Microsoft 365 subscription.

First, go to your OneDrive website and make sure you’re signed in to the correct Microsoft account. Click the Settings gear, choose Settings from the drop-down list, then click the Restore your OneDrive link, shown in Figure E. From the Select a date drop-down list, choose a restore point.

Figure E

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Open Settings to restore OneDrive.

A few things to note

Despite all this protection, there are a few limitations you should keep in mind.

  • You cannot recover deleted files once you delete them from the Recycle Bin.
  • This feature will not restore photo albums.

It’s important to keep these features enabled if you want full coverage and the ability to recover or restore files. If that’s not enough for your organization, consider third-party protection.

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