Google provides powerful tools to search mail with advanced text commands or via a simple search form.
You're probably a power search user. For example, need to find a critical email from your boss mentioning the "glasses" project this year? Go to the search box in Google Mail, type:
glasses from:firstname.lastname@example.org after:2012/01/01
By default, the search results displays email for which all three conditions are true: email that includes the word "glasses" AND is from email@example.com AND is dated after January 1, 2012.
You can also use the traditional logical "OR" operation in Mail search. To search for email from your boss OR the CEO, type:
from:("firstname.lastname@example.org" OR "CEO@mycompany.com")
Google+ Circles provide an even more powerful version of the "OR" search.
If you work with, say, a "Leadership Team", a "Project X" team, and a "Secret Project Team" you now have a reason to use Google+ Circles.
Create a Circle for each team. Put people on the team into the appropriate team Circle. Remember, you can put people into as many different circles as needed.
To find all emails with people in the Leadership Team circle, type:
Or, combine all of the above commands to find emails mentioning "free glasses" with your Google+ Circle "Google I/O team" with dates later than June 25, 2012:
"free glasses" circle:"Google I/O team" after:2012/06/25
But most people won't read documentation
Tech folks are used to reading documentation. If something doesn't work, we search for answers. We "read the man pages". We search for error codes. Normal people don't read documentation - even if they know it exists.
A 2006 study by Donald G. Novick and Karen Ward with the wonderful title, "Why don't people read the manual?"(PDF), explored how people use printed and online documentation. The authors found that "the median proportion of the times that participants reported that they solved problems with computer applications by using online help was only 25 percent."
If you email people the link to the "Using advanced search" page, expect the majority to not read the information. The obvious solution then, is to use paper. Give users paper documentation. Except that the same study found that the "...median proportion of the times that participants reported solving problems with computer applications by using printed manuals was 0 percent."
Yes, that's right. ZERO percent. So handing out the legendary "How to Search Google Mail Effectively" book isn't the solution either. (Don't search for the book. I made it up. The study and conclusions are real, though.)
Try to get people to remember just one Google Apps search tip: "Click on the triangle in the right-hand side of the search box for more search options."
That's it. Don't confuse people with more information. Don't make them read documentation. Keep it simple: Click on the triangle in the search box for more options.
The search options provide forms that let you restrict your search, much as above. There are no commands to remember, only fields to fill out.
Make it fun. During a staff meeting, see if people with laptops can find a specific "all organization" email sent earlier in the year. Make sure it is an email folks find by entering information in the "triangle for more search options" boxes.
Clicking on the triangle in the search box also brings up more options in Google Drive and Google Calendar. One tip works for all three apps.
Google+ Circle filters
Google also makes it easy to filter email by Google Circles. There's no need to type "circle:" in the search box.
If you use Google+ and have set up Circles, a "Circles" menu item will show among the various email boxes in the left menu. Click the "Circles" drop-down triangle to show all of your circles.
Now it is power filtering time; click on the name of a Circle. This filters your email so that only email with people in that Circle will display. Click on the name of a Google+ Circle in email to display email with people in that Circle. Click on the "Inbox" in the left menu to return the view of all email in your Inbox.
There you have it powerful and simple search. Two more reasons to use Google Apps and Google+. How do you search within Google Apps? Do you use Google+ Circles to filter email?