Given the increasing prevalence of remote working and the ever-changing nature of office life, many small businesses are quickly adapting to the challenges of having as many employees working away from the office as on the premises.
The good news is that Google Workspace (opens in new tab) provides a cloud-based service, which comes with a range of features suited to small businesses with both in-office and remote working requirements. In this article, we’ll provide the 10 best features of the platform formerly known as G Suite for small business owners and employees, and help explain why the service is one of the best Microsoft Office alternatives available.
In addition to Gmail’s (opens in new tab) standard features—including spam blocking, email filtering, message scheduling and snoozing, and a convenient right-click menu—the Workspace version of Gmail comes ad-free and offers the option of customizing employee email addresses to match the company domain.
Gmail integrates seamlessly with other Workspace tools, enabling users to send meeting invitations via Google Calendar or discuss projects directly using Google Chat and Google Meet.
This being Google, algorithms are on hand to provide automation alternatives to manual tasks. Instead of writing out every word of an email, you'll find that Smart Reply and Smart Compose might be able to do it for you, and grammar nudges will help keep you typo-free.
Drive (opens in new tab) is the cloud-based storage option that offers safe and secure access to Workspace-based files. The Business Starter package offers an initial 30GB of storage space (opens in new tab) per user (the capacity is pooled together and shared across all users), while Business Standard offers 2TB per user, and Business Plus offers 5TB (again in both cases, storage is pooled across all users). For those requiring more, the G Suite Business package offers unlimited storage, or 1TB if four or fewer users.
For collaborative work, shared drives are ideal for organizing files and projects, with a variety of access and permissions options. For more, read our Google Drive review.
Docs (opens in new tab) is Google’s web-based word processor, part of its Editors office suite that also includes Sheets (for spreadsheets), Slides (for presentations), and Forms (for surveys). At the heart of each service is the concept of real-time collaboration, with 10 people able to work on documents at the same time and up to 200 permitted to view simultaneously.
Version history helps track changes by users, meaning that edits can be easily reversed. The blue Share button in the top right of the screen sets permissions on who can view the document while also providing a link for anyone to read the document. Crucially, the suite’s various apps can open and edit file formats from the equivalent Microsoft services.
Designed to integrate seamlessly with other Workspace tools like Gmail, Drive, and Meet, Calendar (opens in new tab) gives employees the ability to not only stay on top of their own diary, but get oversight on the availability of their colleagues.
Along with day, week, month and year view, Calendar also presents the handy option of displaying a user’s full schedule, listing all upcoming events on one scrollable page.
To put a date in the diary, simply hit the Create button; select whether you're adding an event, task or reminder; and then fill in the rest of the information. You'll see that this includes the ability to add guests and location, along with the option to integrate video conferencing.
5. Work Insights
Every good business needs detailed reporting, and Work Insights (opens in new tab) is one Workspace feature that should not be overlooked. Whether for a manager, IT administrator or HR officer, Work Insights can be useful to provide oversight on how staff are performing and engaging with Workspace.
Using charts and data that will seem second-nature to anyone familiar with Google Analytics, Insights can provide information on levels of adoption, collaboration and productivity.
The reporting can also show service-specific data, making it easy to spot staff preferences. For example, it might highlight that while 98% of staff appear happy using Gmail, only 67% are regularly using Sheets.
Currents (opens in new tab) is Workspace’s community hub, a remnant of Google+, the company’s now-defunct social media platform. What may have failed to rival Facebook for mainstream public use nonetheless retains innovative features in its new form that can prove useful for boosting communication among business employees.
Given that it is essentially a social media platform for employees, Currents is especially useful for businesses with large numbers of staff working remotely that want to boost social interaction between employees. Current enables employees to publish posts that are viewable on the home stream and searchable via tags, meaning staff can easily share ideas or shout about success stories, no matter where they are based. Admins are able to moderate all comments and content.
Vault (opens in new tab) is Google’s archiving service, which helps businesses navigate the complex and ever-changing world of data policy.
One of the first tasks for Vault users is to outline retention policies that will determine which users can access what data, and how long it will be stored, based on the requirements of your business.
Vault can also be used to compile audit reports, as well as exporting content into a range of formats. Unsurprisingly, Vault’s search capabilities are highly sophisticated, enabling users to search by file type, user, date and keyword.
Google Chat (opens in new tab), along with its video equivalent Meet (see below), has replaced Hangouts as Google’s main business messaging tool.
Giving users the ability to directly message contacts, the service can be used to send private messages to a single person, or to a wider group via the room function, which can support external users and up to 8,000 members. Users can access Chat via a standalone app or directly through Gmail.
Video conferencing has taken on a renewed level of importance in business, as remote working transforms from a niche perk to an established workplace norm.
Meet (opens in new tab) is Workspace’s video meeting service, and is an intuitive and easy-to-use application that works seamlessly with other Workspace tools, meaning you can join a Meet directly from Gmail or Calendar.
All video meetings are encrypted for added security, include screen-sharing and presenting functions, and feature adjustable layout settings. What’s more, the Enterprise edition comes with a maximum of 250 participants, and even includes dial-in phone numbers for those unable to join via the link.
Endpoint (opens in new tab) may not enjoy the fanfare of some higher-profile Workspace services, but for businesses it can prove to be a vital feature. Intended to keep your data secure, Endpoint monitors and manages all devices registered with the company. Security requirements can be tailored to company policy, such as requiring strong passwords of certain lengths and characters.
Handily, employees wishing to use their own personal devices for work can do so without risking security breaches thanks to Endpoint’s ability to work on a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) basis. Crucially, devices can be locked and even wiped in the event of loss or damage.
Now that you’ve read about some of the top features of Google Workspace, you may wish to read up on other useful tools and services for small businesses. With that in mind, check out our reviews of Microsoft Teams and OneDrive.