By David Politis

Many companies make the move to Google Business or Enterprise by first embracing the platform’s messaging components, including Mail, Calendar, Contacts and Chat. Once users have a good handle on these features, it’s wise to roll out Google Apps’ Collaboration features, including Google Docs. However, unlike messaging components, there is often a slower adoption rate associated with Docs purely due to the user’s general lack of familiarity.

While many of your employees are probably familiar with Google’s messaging components from their experience with Gmail, most employees will likely have little or no experience with Docs. And even as users become familiar with this feature, Google releases dozens of updates to Docs each year. Here are five handy updates you and your users may have missed.

1. Research Tool

Google Apps recently rolled out a research tool for Google Docs. The new tool can be used in two ways. If you would like to search for a topic, simply click the “Tools” tab at the top of your document and then select “Research.” A sidebar on the right side of your document will appear and you can begin searching as you would from Google’s homepage.

Secondly, you can highlight a word in your document and then right-click and select “Research.” This option will return search results particularly related to the word you’ve selected.

Once you’ve found the appropriate source, Google gives you the option of previewing the source, inserting a link from the source, or my personal favorite, citing the source in the footnotes of your work – this would have saved me hours of work back in college.

2. Docs Offline

The usefulness of Docs Offline has been debated since its debut last September. Though offline editing tools have yet to be introduced, I feel the ability to view Docs offline is better than nothing. Of course, you’ll need to install the Chrome web browser to use the feature and a Google Apps admin must first enable Docs Offline for your Google Apps domain.

Once the feature has been enabled for your domain, click the gear icon in your Docs list and select “Set up Docs Offline.” You’ll be asked to complete two steps, the first warns you that Docs Offline should not be enabled on a public or multi-user computer, as all documents will be saved locally to the device. Secondly, you’ll be asked to install the Offline extension from the Chrome Web Store. You should now be able to read documents even without an Internet connection. And hopefully, Google will introduce some offline editing functionality very soon.

3. Organize Folders from within Documents

Creating folders for your documents has always been a great way to keep your growing lists of Docs organized. Moreover, Google lets you share entire folders with collaborators without having to share each individual document with that collaborator first.

Now, Google makes staying organized even easier with a new inDoc organization option. To add your document to a folder while you’re in the document, simply click the folder icon at the top of the document and then select the folder to which you’d like to add your document. This small, but important feature update saves time and helps you stay organized.

4. Add a Description

Google is the king of search and this strength is seen in every Google product particularly throughout Apps features like Mail and Docs. However, users often create Docs with similar titles and content (think about image files), so search results likely return dozens of results. Adding an additional description to help sift through these results cuts down on search time and helps users find the correct Doc quickly.

To add a description to a Google Doc, select the Doc in your Docs list. Then click the “eye” icon at the top of your screen. A side-bar will appear on the right side of your screen with an empty “Description” field. You can then create a new description and click out of the field to auto-save. Adding a description will cut down on search time and give collaborators a snapshot of the information contained in the document.

5. Advanced sharing permissions

Sharing permissions have always been an important aspect of Google Docs. However, advanced sharing permissions often go overlooked by Docs users. Permissions can be set on a mass or individual basis, allowing a particular user to edit your document, while giving other collaborators read-only or comment-only access.

Another useful sharing tip comes with the ability to generate a unique URL for your document. This is particularly useful if you wish to share the document with a large number of collaborators without making the document public. Creating the unique URL eliminates the need for individually entering in collaborators’ email address in the sharing settings box.

Lastly, documents can be shared publicly. However, use caution whenever sharing a document publicly, as this permission literally gives everyone access (although you can restrict editing) to the document. Publicly shared documents can be embedded in webpages and all subsequent updates to the document will be reflected wherever the document is embedded.

Bottom line

Staying on top of Google’s frequent feature updates is difficult, but worthwhile, as each new update gives users added functionality and ease of use.

About the Author: David Politis is the CEO and Founder of BetterCloud, an independent software vendor providing enterprise class security and management extensions for Google Apps. Follow David on Twitter @DavePolitis and BetterCloud @bettercloud.

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