The Way We Work
May 11, 2010 by Tamara Rice

 Freelancers and remote workers definitely benefit from Google Docs, a free and convenient way to store and share documents online. However, the subtle manners and etiquette of this resource are still being hammered out -- mostly by trial and error.

So if you want to avoid a costly Google Docs faux pas, take note of these sharing best practices:

Always verify the email addresses. A lot of people use a Gmail account to manage their Google Docs -- but this may be different from the "work" email you commonly use for communication. Before sharing, ask your client or collaborator which of their email addresses you should use to prevent any accessibility problems.

Confirm how they want to share. Under the "Share" pull-down menu, Google Docs offers you the ability to grab a link to share, invite someone to share, or email the actual document as an attachment. Always verify what method your collaborators prefer, then be consistent in using that method when sharing with them.

google doc file share threeShare multiple documents efficiently. Use the main Google Docs page to mark all the files for your collaborator and then share them in one click. It's the easiest way to ensure that your client is receiving all of the documents they should have access to. (Note, the opposite does not work -- when removing a collaborator, you'll have to do so from each file individually.) You can also generate a folder on this page and move client documents there for easy online file organization.

Set the Advanced Permissions accordingly. Don't assume the person you share with will keep the document private. If you want to lock down further document sharing, go into "Advanced Permissions" and be sure you have deactivated the "Allow editors to invite others to edit or view" option. If privacy is paramount, keep yourself as the document owner and keep an eye on the "People With Access" tab.

Don't forward if you are not the owner. Not everyone takes the preventative steps detailed above to prevent sharing. Just because you can pass it on, doesn't mean you should -- always ask the document owner first if they want you to share it.

google doc file share oneDon't put important communication in the message field. When sharing, you're given the option to attach a message to the collaborators. A lot of people ignore the email notifications and go straight to Google Docs once you've shared with them -- though all of us should take a moment to open the message, for this very reason. Assume that your collaborators won't open notifications, and don't put anything important in the message field when sharing. Do, however, open all of your notifications!

Edit with care. Document owners should be the only ones to finalize changes to the document. Unless instructed otherwise, if you've been given permission to make changes to the document, then highlight any changes you make and tag them with your initials if there are multiple collaborators. This will let everyone know whose commentary and edits they are considering, and they can direct any followup questions to you. It's in bad form to make and save changes any other way unless you've been given specific permission to do so.

When an assignment ends, store documents cautiously. Make a clear plan for transitioning ownership of the document once the assignment ends. If it will transfer to your client, invite them to make a copy of the document before you delete it from your system -- then they get control over who it is shared with and how it is edited. Alternatively, if it will remain your document, advise your collaborator of the timeline for removing them from the document. Either way, managing access permissions will help protect the privacy of you and your client, and help maintain a positive work relationship. You'll be glad you took the extra steps!


Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.

  • Rava

    Yes, useful article, but I'm still not convinced Google Docs can fully replace the aletrnative I've been using so far (as a long-standing user of MS Outlook):
    http://outlook-center.com/How-to-share-documents-with-others-without-using-Google-Docs/60/

    Is there any video avaialable to see how the google docs work? such as the one from CodeTwo - very illustrative, it's helpful to get the picture of the program.

  • http://www.tunisdesign.com/blog TunisDesign

    Nice article, even if I didn't use google docs so offen, this is a best practice that you should follow. Thanks for sharing!