How to Collaborate with Google Docs

We often talk about working for yourself as a self-employed freelancer here at LockerGnome, but we know many of you still work in offices. The truth is, regardless of how you earn your income, you likely still work with others in some capacity, whether you’re working as part of a large team, working with someone else as a small business, or working for another company. Working together, however you define this, often requires collaboration to achieve a consensus on a final project.

Different industries require different types of communication and different products; some are document-heavy, and others may rely heavily on presentations as part of their core business concept. There are dozens of tools available to create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and even forms to collect data. Unfortunately, many of these tools are not geared for access by multiple users, let alone at the same time. Collaborative features can allow multiple people to edit a document simultaneously, which can be useful when trying to quickly agree on a proposal without sending a document back and forth, accepting revisions, and repeating the process.

Google Docs is a great solution for anyone — even students — who might need to collaborate on these types of projects. With the Google Docs range of services including Document, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Form, Table, and Drawing, any Google user can join forces with other Google users to simultaneously edit and create projects without the need to send revisions back and forth. So how you can you collaborate with Google Docs?


Google Docs is one of the most useful suites of applications for collaborating with other team members, clients, business partners, classmates or even family members, and its Document feature will look familiar to anyone who’s ever used Microsoft Word. I’ve used Document within Google Docs on multiple teams to collaborate on drafts of proposals in real time, comment on the edits of others to learn from mistakes, as well as learn why certain language and clauses should and should not be included. Here at LockerGnome, we occasionally use Google Docs Document to edit our articles and learn from our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. There is nothing quite like watching someone edit your writing in real time, which can allow you to learn exactly what mistakes you made, and how the editing process can transform an awkward clause into a truly powerful sentence. Google Docs Document — like all other Google products that can be used to collaborate with other Google users — features the ability to grant specific permission levels to each user for any given document. One user will own the document, and other users can either read and edit the document, or just read the document. In an educational setting, this can be ideal for demonstrating the editing process live while preventing other students from editing the article at the same time.


Another key product that Google offers users is Presentation, which allows users to create decks for, well, presentations (think Microsoft PowerPoint). Similar to Document, users can use Presentation to collaborate on presentations in real time and change settings to allow some users the ability to either view and edit a Presentation deck, or just view it.


Spreadsheet (akin to Microsoft Excel) is another great feature of Google Docs that allows teams to collaborate. This is an especially useful tool for small groups that need to share data in the cloud, such as a list of clients, important marketing data, shared social media accounts and credentials, or even budget information. Again, these can be read only, which is useful to prevent interns from changing things like passwords in a document that carries shared team credentials. Another great use of Google Docs is to collaborate with family. I personally share a Google Docs spreadsheet with my family members to track my personal budget so they know I’m on course to keep paying off my credit cards, and they can add comments to my plan or suggest a new plan of action if they see that I have added drastic changes to the spreadsheet.

Google Docs also features products like Form, Table, and Drawing, and they can be edited by multiple users — though they aren’t necessarily designed to be collaborative tools as much as the others.

If you do use Google Docs to collaborate, you may want to consider a new app called Insync (no, not that NSync), which functions like Dropbox but instead syncs all of your Google Docs, even across multiple accounts, into one place, accessible either via the Web or your desktop. Like Dropbox, Insync also features a desktop app for Mac OS X that notifies you of any changes to any files in your Google Docs accounts, as well as if you have any new files in your accounts. If you rely on Google Docs throughout the day, this app could make life much easier, alerting you of new changes instead of requiring you to constantly check for updates to a document or ask colleagues if they’ve made the necessary change.

Do you use Google Docs to collaborate with colleagues, clients, or even friends or family? If not, what tools do you prefer? Share your favorites in the comments.

Article Written by

Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.

  • Peter Paul

    I use GDocs and I love it! It was never so easy to share and to publish documents and articles for business. Combining GMail and GDocs works great and has a lot of cool features for small and medium businesses without any extra fee instead of regular GoogleApps for Business. 

  • Brian Worhatch

    I love Google Docs

  • Anonymous

    Google Docs is great for collaboration and sharing documents, but I cannot STAND actually using it for actual editing.

    As a Pages and Numbers for Mac user and there’s some serious functionality that these applications have that Google Doc can’t even come close to replicating. I can’t imagine righting a Game Design or a Project Management document in Google Docs.

    I’d easily also recommend Open Office for document editing and creation over something like MS Office for great Office apps.

    • Kyle Polansky

      What are some of the things that you dislike about Google Docs?

      • Anonymous

        There are mostly formatting and media importing features that are on lots of modern office products that I find very tedious to do on Google Docs.

        Especially when talking about creating in depth, graphic heavy word documents, like game design documents or a curriculum syllabus. Google Doc’s does not have to tools to create and edit those documents in a meaningful way.

        I still think it’s a great tool for sharing simple documents or just as a way to collaborate on projects. But for serious document creation, it’s just not an option.

        And of course, maybe most important for me, no Helvetica :P. But that’s a ME problem hah.

  • John Pycroft

    being a young person, it becomes difficult to afford software such as MS office, google docs makes for an easy alternative, no downloads and no hassle, it links in with my smartphone so i can email a resume while on the go, i don’t think i could live without google docs

  • Mustafa Youssef

    I always liked Google Docs but throughout projects Dropbox has been more practical to me and teammates sharing just about anything instantly without having to see the web again after you sing up. I have not used Insync before but I’m gonna give it a try.

  • Jake Di Toro

    Thank you for the pointer to Insync.  I’ve been bemoaning the DropBox limits, and not wanting to pay for storage there when I’m already paying for storage with google (because of images).  I’ll be running the two of them in parallel until I can completely wean myself from DropBox.

  • Shawnmars86

    To bad the mobile version is not as friendly as the desktop version. There is not even an app to cover mobile editing in the app store. So all I get is a simple box to type text in to and no way to format my text. Chris is wrong! Google docs is not all you need. Many people are relying on their tablets and google docs is a complete fail. Microsoft word or Pages on Mac combined with Dropbox gives just as much collaboration. I’m sorry that’s a two step process but it works just as well.

  • allgood2

    There’s an app called GoDocs. I haven’t used it on my phone, but use it on my iPad. It’s way better at letting you edit and contribute data on your mobile device than Google Docs is. I believe its a pay app, but it was worth every cent.

  • HNguyens

    I’m so much better now!

  • David

    Honestly, GDocs is not an option for me. I’m at uni and everything I submit has to be a word document (I know I could convert it but why have the extra step?).
    If I have a doc that needs collaboration – which I very rarely do – I just use skydrive and the office web apps.

    I am a bit bias as I really like the office products and I haven’t used Google docs much but I find office works for me, but if google docs works for anyone else better than office does then hey, you use whatever is best for you. :)