When IT folks encounter a tech problem, we search. We enter several keywords, then review results. We usually find a solution quickly.

Things weren’t always this easy. A “search” before the age of the printing press took time. Scholars traveled to obtain knowledge or relied on carefully hand-copied documents. Knowledge moved slowly.

Google Docs simplifies document sharing. Select Share, then enter email addresses to share a document. Done. Sharing solved. Sort of.

Your Google Drive search results are limited to your own documents. You’re no better off than a scholar during the Middle Ages, meaning that you must seek knowledge elsewhere.

If your organization has “Gone Google,” use Google tools to find answers. Ask colleagues — an individual or a Google Group — a question with Gmail. Post a question to a private Google+ Community. Search a private Google Site that serves as your intranet. Unfortunately, all of these require people to upload documents or monitor and respond.

Not surprisingly, some organizational information resides in an organization’s documents. You might use the Google Search Appliance to index and search your organization’s documents and data stores. The price of the system makes this a solution suitable for large enterprises, not small organizations.

However, for organizations that use Google Apps, there’s a simple solution: change the default document visibility setting for your organization. The default document visibility setting is Private, which means only the document creator has access. No one else in the organization can find, view, comment, or edit the document.

The secret is to change the document visibility from Private to This organization.

You’ll need to be an Administrator for your organization’s Google Apps account to make this change. If you are, simply follow these steps:

  1. Login to the Admin Control panel
  2. Select Google Apps | Drive | Sharing Settings
  3. Change Document Visibility to This organization (Figure A)
  4. Select Save to finalize the change

Figure A

Make documents shared by default and private by choice.

After the change, when anyone in the organization creates a new document, the document will display in Google Drive search results for everyone in the organization.

Document privacy remains an option, because any document can made made private. Your change makes new documents accessible to others in the organization by default. By setting the default to shared instead of private, you cause people to think about privacy with every document: “Does this need to be private?”

Management needs to approve this setting, and all employees need to be aware of it. Include information about the sharing setting and implications in your employee orientation and policy materials. Everyone in the organization needs to know that new documents may be found by a Google Drive keyword search, unless the employee modifies a document’s sharing settings.

Clearly, this setting will not be an option for some organizations. A law firm, for example, may need to maintain privacy by default and sharing by exception. Similarly, companies in other regulated industries — such as healthcare or the financial sector — may need to default to private documents.

For most organizations, though, a default to private documents impedes access to information. A default to private documents encourages information hoarding. You’re subtly telling everyone in the organization they should keep information to themselves, that document and information sharing should be the exception rather than the rule.

Many leaders want to increase the flow of information through an organization, not diminish it. A default that makes documents easy to find by others in the organization encourages information sharing. Need information? Search Google Drive for it.

I realize this may at first appear a radical idea. “Every document I create will be available to others?” Yes, but a document may also be made private, if needed.

The point is to configure your organization’s document visibility thoughtfully. Consider changing your Google Apps document visibility to make shared documents the standard and private documents an option. Information previously hidden in private documents might just be helpful to your colleagues.

The advent of the printing press made information more accessible to more people. Shared documents make information more accessible to more people within your organization.

At the very least, such a change might provoke people to think about document privacy settings with every document they create. That alone might be worth the change. Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.