Google Docs: Simple, Free Collaboration Tools
Collaborating online with coworkers, partners and customers sounds great but it can be hard justifying buying a groupware package. And it can be difficult getting employees to learn and use a new system, let alone convincing customers to do the same.
When the tools are free and the learning curve shallow, however, it’s worth figuring out how your business can take advantage of online collaboration.
Google Docs is a great option, especially if you (like many businesses) use e-mail as your de facto collaboration tool.
On the face of it, Google Docs are cloud-based versions of word processing and spreadsheet documents. They’re mighty convenient because you can access them anywhere, but lack some of the features of packages like Microsoft Office.
Google Docs’ power is sharing and organization. You can share any document, and decide who can change it and who is limited to viewing it. The documents provide activity tracking, so you can see who’s been working on them, and revision history, so you can recover earlier drafts — all the more important in collaborative environments. You can also download some or all of your documents to back them up locally.
You can send e-mail alerts to document collaborators from within a document. You can open a chat window as you’re working on a document, and two people can edit a document at the same time.
Key to Google Docs power as a collaboration tool is the ability to share folders. When you share a folder, any document you put in it is automatically shared, including nested folders. You can also upload PDFs, Word files, images and other files, and put them in shared folders. You can include someone else’s folders in your file structure. How you structure your folders is key to organizing your online collaboration environment.
You can use Google Docs to maintain internal resources like template files and status reports, and organize your company’s workflow. You can share documents like specifications and punch lists, and manage project schedules with subcontractors. And you can invite your customers to share a dynamic record of what they want, what you promised and what you’ve done.
Here are a couple of places to get you started:
Google Docs Tour
Real Time Collaboration with Google Docs and Spreadsheets