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Productivity and Collaboration

Dare to share: best practices for sharing documents in G Suite

June 11, 2019
Diane Chaleff

Product Manager, Office of the CTO

For those new to G Suite, here are some common questions about sharing and tips to ease the transition.

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Using cloud-based apps can open up new ways of collaborating for employees. But as companies move to the cloud, it’s common for people to stick to their old ways of doing things before using a new technology to its full potential.

For new G Suite users, one thing that may give pause is the concept of “sharing.” Whether it’s conscious or not, traditional ways of working (like desktop-based software) encourage people to keep information to themselves. For example, people can only create siloed versions of files—they cannot co-create content or share information openly across departments.

We think collaboration technology should do the opposite. It should encourage information sharing by default. For those new to G Suite, here are some common questions about sharing and tips to ease the transition.

1. Why are there three different options when I share a file?

G Suite puts you in charge of how widely you want your information to be shared. With three different permission levels, you can guide how you’d like others to collaborate on a project with you. Here are some good rules of thumb to consider before you do.

  • First, when should you give “edit” access? For the most part, you grant edit access to people that are core creators of your document. It says “I trust this colleague to make helpful changes.” This typically happens toward the beginning of a project when you need to add ideas into a document.

  • Second, when should you give “comment” access? It’s a good idea to grant comment access to others when you need input from multiple contributors or when you need to tap another team’s expertise. Your teammates can suggest text edits directly within a doc, but the change will not happen until you approve it by clicking “accept.”

  • Third, when should you give “view-only” access? Granting view-only access works great when you want to socialize an idea or distribute a document broadly within your organization without requesting feedback on it. View-only access communicates, “you should be aware that this thing is happening, but please do not provide direct input.”

Whatever permissions you initially set, rest assured—changing permission levels for a document is easy, and you can do so at any time.

2. When should I use link sharing?

Link sharing is helpful when large numbers of colleagues need access to a file, like if you want to share a document within an internal newsletter or an email distribution list.

For non-sensitive files that require quick attention, you can also turn on link-sharing so that anyone in your company can see your document when they click the link. For example, if a person is added to an email thread that has a link embedded in it, they can access the file without having to make a formal request. Of course, you always have the option to allow “view only” access when you share links like this so that individuals are not able to edit your document (They also won’t be able to see comments in it.). If colleagues need to chime in, they can always request access.

Having a single source of truth for a project is critical to preventing the spread of outdated data or information. For this reason, enabling link sharing is a good way to prevent “forking” copies of the same document which happens when folks are not aware that a doc already exists.

3. Speaking of which, how do I know when information is out of date (or let others know)?

First, thanks to version history, you can see every edit made to your document. Second, if the document is out-of-date, it’s okay to add text to the top of a doc to give context, like “This document is available for historical reference. Please refer to [X] link instead.”

Whatever you do, think twice before you delete the file; understanding where ideas come from is important, and in the future when someone has a similar idea, they can refer to past work. Space is free in Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, so it literally costs nothing.

4. How do I lock down sensitive information?

Unlike shared attachments in traditional email environments, a shared file that you own is always in your control. You can adjust permissions or revoke access with a click. In G Suite, there are many ways you’re in charge of what happens with your data. Here are some examples.

  • Use Google Drive’s integrated information rights management controls to prevent copying of a file, its contents, or even downloading and printing. This way you know for sure that ideas are staying just within that specific file.

  • If G Suite’s Data Loss Prevention (DLP) has been deployed by the admin, it will preemptively warn or stop users from accidentally sharing files that contain sensitive information. DLP scans all files to identify sensitive content, including images that use machine learning. Rules can be configured easily with our pre-defined templates and can help an organization limit intended and unintended data exfiltration.

Check out this post for more pointers on data security in G Suite.

A fair share

For new G Suite users, “sharing” may feel uncomfortable at first—after all, it gives colleagues what can feel like unprecedented access to their work and thoughts. But remember: you want people to contribute within an organization. It’s why they were hired! Instead of asking “what is the minimum access I can give this person?” users should ask themselves “what is the maximum?”

From personal experience, companies (and people) that embrace sharing are the ones that get the most out of their content collaboration platforms. Because with more access, comes more thoughtful feedback and higher quality work. Why deny that?

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