Cloud Collaboration With Google Docs
By Mike Anderson
Google docs has been in the stable of my workplace tools for about a year. Having been one of the hundreds of millions of Microsoft Office users, my startup was characterized by a few fits and starts. While it is simple enough to get basic things like creating a new file done, limitations in some areas and features added to my learning curve. To a great extent the trick was finding my best uses for cloud collaboration and not expecting a single tool to address all needs equally well.
Cloud file sharing
I need to share reference documents and some work in progress with others working on the same projects. Not a lot of bells and whistles are needed, like workflow or check-in/check-out, so the simplicity of Google docs in the cloud has made this a highly relied upon feature. In addition to using the native document, spreadsheet and presentation files in Google docs, the ability to keep current versions of final work in Word, Excel or PowerPoint stored in the same place keeps my document organization under control.
Cloud Tracking and Status Reporting
Spreadsheets, email and phone calls have been a staple for keeping a handle on priorities and action items. Having a shared spreadsheet in the cloud with key steps and milestones updated by each person working on projects makes staying focused easier. I’ve created a simple spreadsheet to monitor key deliverables with key dates and comments on status. As work progresses each individual makes changes and updates, and at any time a quick view of the shared spreadsheet provides status and highlights issues.
Shared Authoring in the Cloud
This feature gets the most use. I work on many different documents, and most get input and revision from other team members. I create some documents in Google docs and others offline using Word for later upload. Not all formatting translates completely, but the main use is for getting the key ideas and main content developed. Because Google docs can export and convert into Word file format, fancy formatting and special tables or graphics can be added in Word on the desktop after download.
Google docs also allows multiple authors to simultaneously edit a document, and displays changes as they happen to each user. Being able to see changes online as they happen is a real boon when carving out an outline, defining who will handle particular updates or working on refining specific wording. Once again what’s used is basic text entry and editing, with the real value coming from the ability to simply connect and see the edits being made by others while they are happening.
Collaborate on presentations
The real time creation and editing works well with presentations. It’s sometimes challenging to get ideas crystallized, and being able to have a voice chat while testing out ideas for graphics or other models can really accelerate that formative phase. PowerPoint offers many more features and advanced object types and not all of them, like SmartArt, will round trip, but the ability to work together and create slides that can be exported and enhanced later significantly aids collaboration.
Brainstorm and idea generation
Google docs works effectively as a basic shared meeting space for doing planning and brainstorming. Depending on the outcome, I’ll use each of the document types in shared edit in real time. Presentation format works well to capture the basics of meeting notes, and the occasional diagram to make a point. In some meetings it pays to capture ideas in a document, action plans in a spreadsheet and key concepts in presentation format. All participants can see updates as they are being made, and meeting notes are shared as the meeting takes place.
Collaboration is one of the top benefits of the cloud workplace. Google docs works well in many of my most important use cases, but there’s still no single tool that can handle everything. We’ll dig deeper into this in upcoming research on the battle in the cloud between Google docs and Microsoft Office 365.