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The kids know what they’re doing

I’ve been politely asking people for thirty years not to send me documents in proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word, although the reasons for doing so have changed. Back then it was because I might well have been using a computer which didn’t have the program installed; now it’s because I might need to access the document on a device we couldn’t have dreamed about back then, and it really might not be convenient or efficient.

More importantly though, sending other people documents runs the same risk as it always did: different versions will start to appear. Using only a single, collaborative and remotely-accessible version of every document is just sensible business practice, now that it’s so easy.

It seems that in 2021, if you create standalone documents with a standalone application on your computer, you’re dating yourself as coming from an earlier generation. A Harvard academic noted recently that when he asked his students for submissions in Word format, it was clear that all his students had converted their Google Docs file into a .doc format file for him. Nobody used Word.

In 2021, the only time I ever create a document with a standalone app and save it to that computer’s drive is when it’s only ever going to be used on that computer, and nobody else is ever going to see it. Few documents meet those criteria. It would usually mean they’re something I’m working on temporarily which will probably be redundant quite quickly.

If I’m working on something I’ll want to access and/or amend in the future, I’ll use either a standalone app (such as Word, Excel or Indesign) and store the document remotely; or I’ll use a Google Workspace app (such as Docs or Sheets), which lives remotely by default.

If I’m working on something which I’ll want other people to see (and perhaps edit) in the future, it’ll be Google Workspace every time.

It’s a long time since I’ve ‘attached a document’ to an email, and I see this as just good business practice. Sending a link to an online file has so many advantages.

Google Workspace apps have less functionality than Microsoft Office ones, but they’re built from the ground up for remote access and collaboration, and it shows. If they can handle what you need, they’re a sound choice. Otherwise, when more sophisticated capabilities are required, there’s a lot to be said for Word and Excel …but their files really should be stored remotely. Microsoft 365 may be a decent compromise.

I don’t know about you, but can’t remember the last time I picked up a device (phone, tablet, laptop or computer) anywhere in the world and didn’t have instant access to any document I’d created. I can certainly remember many occasions in years gone by, however, when ‘having to wait until I was back in the office’ caused me no end of stress …and cost.

  • Beyond the basic word-processing and spreadsheet apps, Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 offer very different things. It’s worth investigating both – or if you can use a combination. I couldn’t live without Google Forms, for example, but I’m liking the integration of Microsoft Teams into the 365 universe. There’s a good comparison here.