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When You Need to Google Google: Tips for Using Google Apps in Federal Government

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You have probably heard that phrase – “Just Google it!” – in all type of environments, and by using the search engine you can usually find a relatively accurate answer in lightning speed.  But, what if you need to “google” Google?   In other words, how do we do something in Google and its respective apps?  And perhaps most important to the federal employee, how do we use Google in the most efficient and productive way possible when working in the federal government?

Over the last five to ten years, Google has competitively become the main server being used in multiple federal government agencies.  USAID was one of the first federal government agencies to begin using Google and its suite of applications, and I remember when USAID’s Bureau for Global Health switched to Google in October 2011 – the GH Bureau was also one of the first USAID bureaus to use this new service in federal government.  Many had mastered a way to manage their emails, and organize their work, in a way that did not translate to Google.  The change in email servers was nerve-wracking for many to say the least, and then came the Google applications.  Suddenly, there was a Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and much more.  What were these apps?  And how could they ever be used in government in a productive way?

Full disclaimer:  I am not a Google expert – we luckily had those during the transition at USAID, and they were fantastic!  However, as I have worked in Google apps for multiple projects at work over the last few years, I have figured out some very useful tips for Google use in federal government that could streamline processes (yes, it is possible to do that):

  1. Version Control:  Google Docs allows you and all of your colleagues to edit one document, and only one document.  How many times have you searched through your email for that “final version” of a document as an attachment?  Google eliminates that panic you feel as you are only 99.4% certain that you have found “the final version.”  You can easily share that Google Doc with colleagues (and sometimes only select specific colleagues for privacy) by clicking the “Share” button in the top right of the Google Doc.  Or you can copy paste the link directly to that Google Doc into an email (make sure you also “Share” it with them first in Google Docs) and voila – everyone has access to one version of that document, and all updates can be made to one version.  Please note that if you upload a document to Google Doc, it retains its original format (i.e. a Word document), so you will not have these same capabilities.  But, you can copy paste the document into a Google Doc to give it these properties.
  1. Track Changes: I have heard concerns from multiple colleagues about not knowing who has changed what in a Google Doc.  Fact: Google Docs has a type of “Track Changes,” although it goes by another name.  Or, what I like to call:  “the Suggesting Format formerly known as Track Changes.”  When you have a Google Doc open, you can click on the drop down menu at the top right – you have the options of Editing (makes changes directly in the doc without denoting that it is a change) or Suggesting (makes changes by striking out deletions, and adding in new text in a different color).  You can always add a Comment to parts of the document by clicking “Insert” in the top horizontal menu, and then “Comment.”  Using the “Suggesting” format allows you to track not only the changes, but who made what changes (different colors match up with different contributors by name on the right side of the document).
  1. Administering Surveys: Personally, I feel that one of the most underutilized features in federal government is Google Forms.  You access forms under Google Sheets, and this feature allows you to design and send out a short survey, as well as analyze the results of a survey in either a spreadsheet or by generating charts – all in Google.  If your agency has Google Sheets in the Google Drive, you can access this survey design feature for free and you can share the results with your colleagues, just like you shared the Google Doc.  You can also send the survey link to non-federal organizations and individuals that do not have Google.  Under the “Form Settings” drop down menu at the top of the form, just unclick the first checkbox that “requires login,” and non-Google users will have access to the survey.  Note: Google forms has limitations like all survey software, so I always recommend that before sending out the survey to multitudes of people, please test the questions and answer options with a small group to identify any potential survey issues.

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and practice your Google apps skills – you could even turn out to be the Google master for your team!

The views expressed in this document reflect the personal opinions of the author and are entirely the author’s own.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government.  USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.

Samantha L Corey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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