One of the great things about modern office technology is that it makes it really easy to collaborate on documents. You write out your doc, presentation or spreadsheet, then email it to your colleagues, and they can all see it, make comments, edit it, and so on… and that’s where it can get tricky. You now have several different versions of that document floating around, each with different edits in. You’ve now got to get all of those back, work out what’s changed, create a new master version, and then send it out to everyone.
You can be certain that three things will happen:
- Someone will end up looking at an old copy, and will be making comments or corrections to an out of date version. If you’re really unlucky, the wrong version will go to a client or be used for somehing critical.
- You’ll miss someone’s changes, and they won’t get folded into the new master version.
- Several people will make changes to the same part of the document, and there will be confusion when the new version doesn’t look like anything that any of them wrote.
Google Docs are a really neat way to get around this problem. Google provides a free suite of web-based software that creates text documents, spreadsheets and presentations – basically Word, Excel and Powerpoint. They live online in the cloud, and you can access them and edit them from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. This is handy if you’ve got things you’re working on in the office and then need to get to them when you’re at home, at a meeting, or on the move.
Better still, you can share those docs with other people, and they can edit them too. All the edits are logged, and you can see who’s changed what. The important thing is that everyone’s looking at the current version – you don’t end up with one person having an out of date copy. You can also make comments on a document, which is a handy way of raising discussion issue, noting areas
that are still in progress, or flagging where you need input from others. If you need extra control, you can allow some users to view, but not edit.
Where Google Docs become most powerful is when you have several people working on the same doc at the same time! It’s a little disconcerting at first when you can see other people making changes to something you’re currently writing, but once you’re used to it, it’s a surprisingly natural and effective way to work. There’s a chat window so you can send messages to your collaborators, or else you can have a simultaneous voice chat via phone or Skype.
For example, say you’re working on a press release. Your product manager wants to make sure the technical specifications are accurate, your PR agency in New York has suggestions for how everything should be phrased, and your CEO, who’s away on a trip, wants to ensure he has a good quote in there and that it matches what he told the shareholders.You could draft it up, and then send it on a round robin email for approval from each of the stakeholders, which could take days or weeks before everyone signs off. Or you could draft it up and get everyone for a half-hour online session to hammer it out. All the changes are immediately visible to everyone and can be approved on the spt, and the final document takes shape there and then.
Admittedly, Google Docs aren’t nearly as feature-rich as full Microsoft Office or similar applications. They’re still quite basic by comparison when it comes to formatting and layout. However, for many purposes, they’re perfectly adequate, and the time saving from easy collaboration can be well worth it.
They can make great shared to-do lists, for example, or a handy tool for time tracking, expense tracking, or simple budgeting. For longer documents, even complete books, they’re ideal for drafting.
If formatting is important, you can always take your final, approved document, download it, and create a finished version using your preferred tools.