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Excel at work: How do people use Excel day-to-day?

Excel at work: How do people use Excel day-to-day?

Many office workers say they ‘live in Excel’!

Given this, we thought we’d investigate further and try to put some numbers around it.

How often do they really use it?

Which Excel functions and features do people use regularly?

Do they use Excel’s more advanced features like VBA and Power Pivot?

We answer all of these questions and more below.

To answer this, we ran a survey asking people who work in offices to tell us more about how they use Excel.

In previous articles in this series, we’ve looked at what causes people problems in Excel and how people use Excel day-to-day, so this article will be the third and final one in the series.

Question 1: How Often Do You Use Excel? 

First, let’s look at how much the people we’re surveying use Excel.

As you can see, our sample is overwhelmingly (84%) made up of people who use Excel at least once per day. 

Almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they use Excel more than once per day.

This is unsurprising given how widely Excel is used in offices.

Question 2: How Do You Rate Your Excel Skills?

We’ve not seen such a good bell curve (or normal distribution for the aficionados out there!) since school maths lessons!

Given how frequently our sample of people uses Excel, it’s not surprising that 90% of them rate themselves as intermediate users or better.

Over half (51%) of our sample rate themselves as advanced or expert Excel users. 

Perhaps predictably, the overlap between frequent Excel use and self-reported skills levels is very strong. 

Of the people who rate themselves as advanced or expert, 93% say they open Excel at least once per day. 

Conversely, of the people who rate themselves as beginners, 24% use Excel less than once per week.

Equally, we’re very conscious that asking people to self-report their level of Excel skills depends on the environment they work in.

The average level of Excel expertise will be very different at a manufacturing company compared to a data analytics firm, for example.

Excel skills relate directly to the business’s main product or service, so they will be very common at the analytics firm.

Being considered an Excel expert will mean different things at different firms.

Question 3: Which Of The Following Excel Features Are You Confident Using?

The chart above is relatively predictable.

As the features of Excel get more advanced, there are fewer and fewer people who are confident using them.

There are a couple of surprises in this chart as well, though. 

We were surprised at how low the levels of confidence were for some features, given people’s self-reported skills.

Firstly, we would expect an intermediate (or better) Excel user to be comfortable with things like Tables and using SUM and COUNT formulas.

Our experience from our monthly Excel courses, is that these are exactly the types of features that intermediates are comfortable with, but this clearly this isn’t the view of all of our respondents. Many rate themselves as intermediate or better users of Excel but say they are not confident using these features.

However, the biggest surprise for us was absolute cell references, which we thought would be much more widely used.

These are a beginner/intermediate skill, but the responses would imply people replying to our survey view it as an intermediate/advanced skill.

Question 4: What Is Your Preferred Lookup Method?

In recent years, Microsoft has introduced XLOOKUP (2019) to replace VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP, while using INDEX & MATCH has become a more popular way to carry out lookups.

As you can see above, INDEX & MATCH is now the most popular way to carry out lookups, followed by VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP and then finally XLOOKUP, which has grown rapidly in popularity given when it was introduced.

Interestingly, there isn’t much of a change between the different levels of Excel expertise.

We had assumed that more advanced users would be more likely to use XLOOKUP or INDEX & MATCH but the data doesn’t show any particular differences. 

Those who rate themselves as advanced or expert Excel users use INDEX & MATCH 44% of the time versus 41% for the whole population.

Similarly, advanced or expert Excel users use XLOOKUP 15% of the time versus 18% for the whole population.

It just goes to show, even when using Excel, people are creatures of habit and slow to change!

Question 5: Which Of The Following Have You Used?

With this question, we wanted to see how many people had used the most advanced features of Excel.

Predictably, the majority of people had never used these features.

As you would expect, the use of these features was concentrated among Excel experts, who on average had used two of these features, and advanced Excel users, who on average had used 1.5.

This trend continues with intermediate users having used, on average, 0.4 of these features. Predominantly, the features they report using are ‘Macros & Visual Basic (VBA)’ and ‘Power Query’. In both cases, we assume they are generally using macros and queries that other, more advanced users have created for them.

Finally, almost no beginners had used any of these features as expected. In the very few cases where they had, it was ‘Macros & Visual Basic (VBA)’. Again, we assume these were macros others had set up for them. 


Does this tally with your experience?

If you work in an office and use Excel frequently, let us know which features you are comfortable using and how you rate your skills.

About the Author

Ben Richardson runs Acuity Training a leading provider of Excel training the UK. It offers a full range of Excel training from introductory courses through to advanced VBA training. Acuity has offices in London and Guildford, Surrey but operates UK-wide. He blogs about Excel on Acuity’s.

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