How to get started with G Suite shared drives

Use shared drives to store and share files with your team to ensure access to items over time--even if team membership changes.

How to get started with G Suite shared drives

If you use G Suite, it helps to know that Google gives you two subtly different types of drives. First, there's the standard Google Drive My Drive that stores files you create, upload, or can access. But there's also the newer Google Drive Shared Drives that hold files available to shared drive members.

A shared drive lets people upload and collaborate on files in the cloud, rather than keeping documents on a local server or drive. Here are a few tips to help you and your team get started with Google Drive shared drives.

Note: The following steps and examples assume you use Chrome on a laptop or desktop to create and work with Shared Drives. You'll need to use G Suite Business, Enterprise, Education, Nonprofit, or Essentials edition, with an account for which an administrator has enabled shared drives.

SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download) 

How to create a shared drive

For your first shared drive, you might start with one either for many people or for a specific team. A shared drive for a group of people who frequently collaborate on Docs, Sheets, or Slides makes a great deal of sense. Similarly, a shared drive that contains information many people need, such as forms, guides, or policies, may also be useful.

To create a new shared drive (Figure A):
1. In Chrome on your computer, go to https://drive.google.com.
2. Select Shared Drives (from the left-side menu).
3. Select +New.
4. Enter a name for your new shared drive, then select Create.

Figure A

Screenshot with arrows that point to Shared Drives (upper left), New (upper left, above the available drives), and New shared drive name field (center of screen, with text box for name entry) and Create button.

If you use a G Suite edition that has shared drives enabled, select Shared drives (left menu), then +New to create a shared drive, then enter the name for your new shared drive.

New files are your files on My Drive

When you open Chrome and type doc.new where you would normally type a web address, the system creates a new Google Doc. By default, this Doc is private and available only to you. After you make any edits, the system stores the file on Google Drive in your main My Drive directory. 

If you select the blue Share button (in the upper-right), you may give access to the Doc to other people. Regardless of whether you let other people edit, comment, or view the Doc, you remain the owner--it's your document.

How to move or upload a file to a shared drive

When you move or upload a file to a shared drive file ownership changes: The shared drive becomes the "owner" of the file. This means that as shared drive membership changes (e.g., as employees change roles or as different people join or depart), the set of files on the shared drive remains unchanged. That's unlike your files on Google Drive My Drive, which remain owned by you until either you or a G Suite administrator transfer ownership to another account.

Here's one way to move a file from My Drive to a shared drive:
1. In Chrome on your computer, go to https://drive.google.com.
2. Navigate to an item on My Drive, then single-click or tap on it to select it.
3. Select the three-dot menu (to the right of the trash can icon).
4. Select Move To.
5. Select the back arrow until Shared Drives displays.
6. Select Shared Drives, then choose the shared drive to which you want to move your file. 
7. If you like, similarly navigate to a specific folder on a shared drive.
8. When your desired destination displays, select either Move Here (or Move).

How to manage shared drive members

What you or other people may do with files on a shared drive depends on each person's member access level. When you create a new shared drive, the system recognizes you as the Manager of that drive. As Manager, you may "Manage content, people, and settings," which means you can control who has access to the shared drive, as well as what each person may do with items stored on the shared drive (Figure B). 

Figure B

Screenshot of Shared Drive add member screen, with the 5 access levels displayed (Viewer, Commenter, Contributor, Content manager, and Manager).

A Manager of a shared drive may manage members and access levels. If you're not sure which access level to give a person, I suggest Contributor, which lets people add and edit files on the shared drive and, importantly, also prevents the person from moving or deleting files.

A Manager may give individuals and groups access to a shared drive. Note: There are a few limits on the maximum number of accounts that you may add to a shared drive. See Google's Shared drive limits support page for details.

To manage members on a shared drive:
1. In Chrome on your computer, go to https://drive.google.com.
2. Select Shared Drives (from the left-side menu).
3. Select the desired shared drive.
4. Select Manage Members (in the upper-right).
5. Add people and groups or modify access levels of any current members.
6. Select Done when complete.

Currently, you may select from five distinct access levels for a shared drive. Each level gains all of the abilities of the levels above it. In increasing order of access, the levels are:

  • Viewer
  • Commenter: Allows people comment on content
  • Contributor: Allows people add and edit files
  • Content Manager: Allows people to move and delete files
  • Manager: Has full administrative control over the shared drive

In many cases, the most common role to assign for a shared drive member will be Contributor. This allows people to add or edit files on a shared drive, and also prevents a person from deleting content. If you're not sure what level of access to give a person on a shared drive, start with Contributor.

You will likely want to minimize the number of people with Content Manager or Manager access. Make sure that any people with these roles understand that their changes may affect everyone. A Content Manager may add, move, or delete items on a shared drive, which means they can significantly change your file and folder structure. And a Manager may make any changes needed to a shared drive. 

The most limited access levels, Commenter and Viewer, let you give people access to files, but without the ability to do much with those files. These levels of access essentially let people look (Viewer) or react (Commenter) to files, without any chance they can change the content. Use these access levels for people who aren't necessarily core collaborating members of your team.

What's your experience?

If you use G Suite and Google Drive, how does your team work with files on My Drive and Shared Drives? Have shared drives helped you complete a move from local storage to Google Drive? Let me know what your experience with Google Drive Shared Drives has been, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).

Also see

Drawing: Google Drive My Drive icon (upper left), with an arrow arcing from My Drive, through a Google Doc, to a destination point of an icon for a Shared Drive. (Label of "Shared Drive" displays near the Google Doc.)

Illustration: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic