How to streamline collaboration with these G Suite apps

If your organization has G Suite, but people mostly use Gmail and Calendar, here are additional ways you and your team can enhance collaboration and conversation with other G Suite apps.

Hand drawn logos (left to right): Gmail and Google Calendar, separator dot, Google Drive, separator dot, Hangouts Meet, separator dot, word "+ More"

Illustration: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

I work with a few small and mid-sized organizations that use an on-site server, Microsoft Office desktop apps (on desktop or laptop systems), and G Suite. I noticed that people often use Gmail for email and Google Calendar for scheduling, but use installed versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to work with files stored on a server; users aren't always certain how to move from this sort of setup to a more collaborative set of tools.

SEE: Google Cloud Platform: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In many situations, such a move could technically happen quickly: Move files to Google Drive, remove Office apps, unplug the server, tell people to use Docs, Sheets, and Slides, then call the project complete. 

I prefer a technology transition process that gives people time to learn and adapt. I've found the sequence of steps below works well for organizations that want to move from a server-centric setup to a cloud-centric, collaborative environment.

1. How to get more out of Gmail and Google Calendar

Don't overlook several of the most useful and newer features of Gmail and Google Calendar, such as scheduled send for email, linked documents for meetings, and side-panel access to apps.

Scheduled send lets you choose a future date and time to send your email—this is a great way to make sure you follow up with communication, as well as reduce or stop sending email outside of typical work hours. To access it, (Figure A) select the dropdown arrow next to Send in Gmail on a computer.

Figure A

Screenshot of "Schedule send" option in Gmail in the Chrome web browser (desktop/laptop)

In Gmail, use Schedule Send to avoid emailing people outside of standard working hours.

You also may include links to relevant documents in Google Calendar invitations—this reduces the need for people to search for files. For example, for a project planning meeting, you might link to a Google Doc that includes details and a Google Sheet that includes a budget. When you create a new Calendar event (Figure B), select Add Attachment, then choose items from Google Drive or upload files from your system.

Figure B

Screenshot of Google Calendar (in Chrome on desktop/laptop) event details, with cursor over "Add attachment" icon.

In Google Calendar, add attachments to an event so that people may access relevant meeting files quickly.

Explore the options available in the side panel, which is available in both Gmail and Google Calendar from a web browser on desktop/laptop systems. In Gmail, the side panel can display Google Calendar, Google Keep, or Google Tasks information. Side-panel app access (Figure C) may minimize the need to switch to a different browser tab.

Figure C

Screenshot of right-side of Gmail screen, with Google Calendar side panel displaying calendar for Wed, Sep 4.

The side panel in many G Suite apps on the desktop may help you minimize the need to switch to another browser tab. In this example, the side panel in Gmail is open to Google Calendar, with additional icons for access to Google Keep and Google Tasks. 

2. How to move files to Google Drive

Next, move files from the server to Google Drive; often, I suggest people do this project-by-project or team-by-team. This is a good opportunity to remove duplicate files or folders. G Suite offers at least four tools to make the transition easier.

Shared Drives, formerly called Team Drives, lets people who use G Suite create folders where items are "owned" by the Shared Drive, not a particular person. As the set of people with access to a shared drive changes over time, all files and folders on the shared drive remain. 

Google Drive File Stream lets people install desktop/laptop software that provides a familiar way to access files on Google Drive from desktop systems. Drive File Stream works on both macOS and Windows systems, including Windows Server 2012 and newer. An administrator might install Drive File Stream on a server, for example, then work with team members to move files and folders.

If most people still plan to use Office apps, Google's real-time presence in Microsoft Office lets users know that another person is editing a file. This works when people open an Office file from Drive in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint on Windows or macOS.

As people become more familiar with G Suite, they might prefer to open and edit Office files in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint format with G Suite apps. For example, a person could open a PowerPoint file with Google Slides, make changes, and then close the file. The file remains in the native .ppt (or .pptx) format.

3. How to use Hangouts Meet for conversations

After a move to Google Drive, I suggest that teams use Hangouts Meet, which offers video conferencing and screen sharing, to collaborate.

One way to encourage the use of Hangouts Meet is for a G Suite administrator to adjust a Google Calendar setting to automatically add a Hangouts Meet session to every scheduled event; now when anyone in the organization creates a Calendar event invitation, a Hangouts Meet link will be shared with invitees. I also suggest that people add a bookmark (e.g., in a desktop/laptop browser to https://meet.google.com) and install the Hangouts Meet mobile apps.

4. Explore additional G Suite apps

In my experience, the G Suite apps that people adopt after Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and Meet varies significantly by person and by organization. Often people use Google Forms to gather information, Tasks or Google Keep to track to-do lists and notes, or Google Sites to publish pages. Some organizations adopt Hangouts Chat with persistent "rooms" for conversations or Cloud Search to find information quickly. Others extend G Suite by adding Jamboard (a collaborative whiteboard) or Voice to handle telephony needs. Different needs and preferences result in significantly different adoption sequences.

Your experience?

Has your organization recently expanded use of the many G Suite apps? Which G Suite apps do you notice that people use first? Which G Suite apps do users adopt after Gmail and Google Calendar? Let me know about your experience with G Suite app adoption sequence in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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