My dissertation focuses on Google Documents and cloud-based writing. During my research I began to better understand the value of writing in the cloud, but also the intricate layers and complexities of working online this way. My company just released Microsoft (MS) 2016 and Microsoft 365 to the employees last month. This post is not going to be about the complexities of Google Documents, but they will factor in. Instead, because I got to know Google Documents so well, I am going to spend a little time covering what I am currently learning about implementing MS 365 into my office environment.
There are innumerable advantages to using cloud-based documentation, or what is formally called Interactive Writing Software. Whether it’s Google Drive, MS 365, Ethernet, Crocodocs, or any other service, writing online promotes collaboration, sharing, and organization in ways that offline writing of all sorts does not. At my company (as in most companies), employees update and revise documents, creating new versions which are easy to lose track of on the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hard drives that exist here. When someone comes looking for the latest TPS report, it takes some investigative work to figure out who has the latest version. But when we work in the cloud, gone is the time we waste looking for the most recent version. This may not seem like a big deal, but when an application has gone down and an airline cannot board its passengers because they can’t scan tickets (or whatever the case may be), locating the right document to aid in fixing the issue can mean a lot to a lot of people.
Of course Google has cornered the market on Interactive Writing Software, because they were the first to release a mass-user public version in 2006, but companies like Microsoft are doing what they can to catch up. It is perhaps this reason that Google Documents is easier to use than MS Word Online. As a technical writer, my modus operandi is organization. Not only do I keep myself organized, but I make it my responsibility to keep my team organized. Because of this, MS 365 share features really halt the process of me loving the product. In the figure below, you can see that there are four areas to my OneDrive – which is synonymous with the Google Drive – where all my files and folders are kept inside MS 365 applications. My owned folders and files are housed under ‘Files’. These can be synced with my hard drive – much like a drop box folder – a feature that Google did not add until recently. In fact, I had to look it up as I was writing this to see if it was even a Google option. I had to watch the tutorial video to make sure the drive actually syncs to offline work. It does. ‘Recent’ is a place where recently accessed document can be found (I never use this and likely never will). And ‘Shared with me’ is where documents shared with me appear. The trouble is that once a document is ‘Shared with me’ I cannot then simply move it into ‘Files’ as I can in Google Drive. Instead, I need to create a shared folder, and only then can multiple people contribute files to it which I can organize under the ‘Files’ section.
When I am instructing a team of adult professionals on using Web 2.0 tools, issues like I describe above can be real road blocks to learning. When someone on my team cannot figure out how to move a file from ‘Shared with me’ to ‘Files’ (because it can’t be done) they sometimes want to throw up their hands and quit. Of course there are many other issues: We are still using Sharepoint 2010 in my company and therefore cannot link OneDrive files into our Sharepoint properly. Because OneDrive is designed to work with SharePoint 2013 and above, a lot of pitfalls are created for my team to fall into, and we must muddle through them together. Further, working in a Word Online document inside the browser creates issues with formatting which can scare off users who need their documents to look ‘just so.’ In ‘Edit in Browser’ mode, formatting is skewed because many of the options do not yet exist in the online version. However, once the document is closed and synced, the formatting returns and all is well in the document in view mode.
Despite the perils of wading through technology issues, implementing MS 365 into our operations team is already having a positive impact. It decreases the time spent in email because we no longer need to save and organize files that get sent as attachments. We no longer have to worry about versioning. But the best part is that MS 365 is designed to work with so many other suites of products used in the IT industry, that even a link to a document is fully searchable as a document. And we haven’t even tried collaboration in a document yet.