Google Docs in the workplace

When I check out my Google Docs nowadays, I have 4 main collections:

  • Family (our grocery list (used most often), correspondence, my resume, wedding planning)
  • Organizational Tools (useful templates I’ve found, meeting trackers)
  • Stanford (work documents)
  • Trip Itineraries (vacation itineraries to share with family/friends)

I consider myself a MS Word and Excel power user, so initially it took me awhile to accept Google docs as a tool, since there are significant limitations. However, features like filtering and data validation, coupled with the fact that nothing else can beat it in terms of collaboration make Google docs a must for the workplace.

Best practices for Google Docs

  • Consider the best input and delivery method.
  • Access: do you need to limit to certain people, or is a private link easier on you to send out?
  • How are you providing guidance to users? You can lay this out in an e-mail, provide examples in a survey or with a spreadsheet, input 5-10 rows so they know what you’re expecting.
  • Search Google doc templates first – what you’re looking for might already exist.
  • For spreadsheets, add filters and freeze the top row – this makes a huge difference!
  • When working on projects with multiple documents, create collections and share link access that way
  • For categories/types, use data validation and a list to create a drop down menu so you don’t get varying answers like: Stanford, Stanford University, University
  • Save helpful templates you come across; or create new ones for others to utilize! I really like some of the templates from Jenny Blake, a former Googler, and I’ve saved them in my collections for a rainy day.

Use cases

The most important consideration is to ensure you’re using the right format and conveying to your users how to input information. As a basic example, my partner and I were using a Google spreadsheet for the groceries, listing common items by section and then indicating we needed to buy it with a list. Filter for 1 and you have your list. This format works fine on a desktop,  but it’s clearly a pain on a smartphone and a simple shared document where we just list out items is actually 10 times easier.

Aside from collaboration, Google Docs is just a great way to back up documents or access them from remote locations. Why use a USB stick for files when you can just put them on the internet?

Another way I’ve used Google Docs is in gathering co-workers travel information and cell phones for a conference. We’re all over the building and I thought a spreadsheet wouldn’t be as straightforward. Setting up a survey and having this feed into a spreadsheet was the easy answer – it allowed me to write out examples of how I wanted the information and then the report was easy for me to download and send out. Previously, I’ve used Wufoo, but it was a more complex process and less customizable for my needs.

For the Stanford Book Salon, our online discussion participants appreciate the audio interview we post monthly with our faculty host. We had removed the printed transcript of this interview from the website and they wanted it back. Unfortunately, the many factors in turning it around makes the whole process of getting a file to our Interactive team in a timely manner incredibly difficult. Our solution? Link out the file to a published Google document. It’s a great solution and has a clean look, reducing the impact on our teams. Plus, it takes less than 5 minutes to publish online.


If you’re not already using Google docs, at least play around with the tool. There’s an online forum, as well as a blog (impressively done in a Google docs look!) One thing on my to do list is to check out their latest product Google presentations. The entire docs suite continues to evolve and serve as invaluable tools in the workplace.

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