Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Seven steps to handling group work online

Ah, group work. You need to keep dates straight, understand who does what, work on only the latest files, and you do all this with phone calls and email – big piles of email.

Or not.

Freelance writer Deborah Birkett has to facilitate a university course group project and is looking at online information management tools to do so.

Her question reminded me of a book on collaboration co-written by two lawyers, one based in Missouri, the other in Texas. One article in which I mentioned their experience outlined their reliance on Google Docs to complete the book.

I’d suggest going a step further and using Google Apps. Here’s how:

  1. Accumulate “rough draft” material in a wiki, provided by Google Sites. Put all the text, research, bibliographical information, even attachments in the wiki, then comment back and forth on the stuff you have there.
  2. Create a “next to final” draft in Google Docs. Once you’re happy with what’s there, one group member can export documents to Word, Excel or PowerPoint for final formatting prior to submission.
  3. Need to do a survey? Google Forms (part of Google Docs) makes this pretty easy.
  4. Keep track of dates and tasks in Google Calendar. Bonus: you don’t need to sign in regularly since you can subscribe to the group calendar using Outlook, Mac’s iCal or other calendar software.
  5. Create a Google Group to which group members send all project-related email. That way, all said email stays in its own online “bucket,” for easy retrieval and archiving.
  6. Need to find stuff related to a specific topic? You can do keyword searches within your sites, docs, calendar and other apps.
  7. Kick the tires on other Google stuff, particularly in Google Labs.

Sure, you can find other ways of organizing your work, and I know I sometimes appear to be a Google fanboi, but it’s hard to argue Google’s leadership in the online collaboration field (and the fact all this goodness is free!). Besides, when you start to play with this stuff online, I suspect you’ll find it easy to figure out – Google puts a fair amount of work into making their stuff user-friendly.

Deborah suggested this topic might cover several posts, and I suspect she’s right. Need more explanation of something mentioned above? Know of other Google tools that enhance collaboration? Care to mention non-Google stuff to try? That’s what the comments below are for!