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IT Essentials: a Practical Guide

Google Essentials

Google Essentials

All staff and students at the University of York have access to Google Workspace through their university account. It includes Google Mail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive, which is cloud-based storage that includes a number of apps that can be used to create documents, websites, and more

Google Drive

Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage system, meaning that your files can be accessed over the internet. Files in Drive can be shared with other people; the 'Sharing' options for any file can allow you to share files with certain people, anyone at the University of York, and anyone on the internet.

Our guide to Google Apps for collaboration has further information on Drive and how you can use it. It also has information on the Google Apps you can use at York.

What are the Google Apps?

If you're not familiar with them all, it may be confusing to know which of the Google Apps is the one you best suited to your task. Here's a quick overview:

  • Google Docs is a text processing application for creating documents, similar to Microsoft Word. You can collaborate with others in the same document at the same time.
  • Google Sheets is a spreadsheets application for working with data, similar to Microsoft Excel. Again, you can collaborate with others at the same time.
  • Google Slides is a presentation application similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. It has collaboration and also the ability to hold a Q&A with the audience of your presentation.
  • Google Forms is a survey tool in which you can create forms and surveys for others to fill in. You can set it to automatically collect the results in a Google Sheet for processing.
  • Google Sites allows you to create basic web pages using templates and guides - no coding knowledge needed!
  • Google Meet is for video meetings and calls, similar to tools like Skype but available straight from
  • Google Chat is for talking with others in chat rooms and direct messages.

Our Google Apps for collaboration guide has more details and links to further support using these apps.

Google Workspace Training

The Google Workspace Learning Center has a tips library for some useful things you might want to try out doing with the Google Apps, as well as guides on how to use all of the apps.



The University's email service for all staff and students is provided by Google as part of Google Workspace. Google Mail is accessible via a web browser and mobile apps. You can access your staff email account as well as team accounts and aliases.

IT Services have a page on Email that gives details on using Google Mail at the university, including non-personal accounts (a separate account to your own email, which may be for a specific role or team). For more help using Google Mail, see Google's own Learning Center.

Google Mail tips and tricks

Under Settings > See all settings (which can be found under the gear icon) you can personalise your email account, from setting an email signature or an out of office message to the ability to set a theme for Google Mail that gives it a different look.

You can use labels to sort your emails and keep certain emails together. You can manage labels under the Labels tab in Settings or by selecting 'More' down the left hand side and choosing 'Manage labels' or 'Create new label'.

You can set up filters for incoming mail. Filters are based on the search criteria that you define, for example all emails from certain addresses or including certain words. You can then define all emails matching a filter to have a certain action performed on it, such as being marked as read, have a certain label applied, or deleted.


The University's calendar service for all staff and students is provided by Google as part of Google Workspace. Calendar is accessible via a web browser and mobile apps. Calendar is an effective way of managing and scheduling meetings, events, and even reminders.

You can add other people's calendars that have been shared with you so that you can view them alongside your own in Google Calendar. The option can be found down the left hand side of Calendar. You can set these calendars (and your own calendars) in different colours to help you view them side by side, for example when arranging meetings.

For more guidance on using Calendar, see Google's Learning Center.

Using other tools with Google

At the University, you will have access to some other tools which you can use with the Google applications for more efficient collaborative working.

Arranging meetings and events

Using Google Calendar will allow you to invite others to meetings, view others' availability, and keep track of events you have been invited to.

It can also be used with Doodle, an event scheduling tool that allows you to suggest potential times for a meeting or event and have respondents state their availability. Doodle can be linked to your Google Calendar. IT Services has guidance on signing up for and using Doodle.

Google Chrome

By signing into Google Chrome, you can create saved websites (called 'bookmarks') that will follow you on any device where you also log into Chrome using your university account (see Advanced browser functions for more on bookmarks).

This will also allow you to use Chrome extensions whenever you are logged into Chrome. Extensions give additional functions to your browser, such as blocking the adverts on web pages. One tool that has a Chrome extension and which can help you save websites in a more organised way that using just bookmarks is Paperpile.

Paperpile is an web-based tool that can be used for reference management (keeping track of your reading), but it can also be used to save websites and PDFs to find and use later. These can be organised with folders and tags and shared with others, for example people working on a certain project.

Another option for keeping track of websites you might want to refer back to is Google Keep. Keep is a Google app that allows you to keep notes on various digital post-its, which can also be shared as with other Google applications. Google Keep has a Chrome extension that allows you to quickly save a website onto a new note, ready for you to add comments to or share with others.


Google Groups are a way of communicating and collaborating with a group of people. They are similar to mailing lists, but you can also email the whole group using its own email address, allow a group access to folders and files on Drive, and invite a whole group to a Calendar event.

For more information on using Groups at York, see the IT Services page on Google Groups.

Collaborative Working

Multiple people working in a Google Doc at once making changes in real time

Applications and online tools can help you work collaboratively with others and work more efficiently, both in terms of time and resources.

The Google apps can be used together to facilitate collaborative working in your office and within wider departments and projects. For example, the sharing permissions on files and folders in Google Drive can be set so that everyone in a particular Google Group is able to edit, comment, or view that file, or all files in that folder.

Below are some example scenarios for collaborative working within Google Drive and the Google applications.

Google example scenarios

Example scenarios

I create a document and want to share it for editing with one or two other people

  • Create a new document on your Drive with default visibility (Specific people)
  • Add the people to the list, giving them Edit permissions
  • Encourage them to use Comments, Suggestions and Chat to discuss updates
  • Use History to revert changes if you change your mind

A new project I am leading is starting and we will be working as a project team with several shared documents

  • First create a Google Group for the team
  • Create a project folder on your Drive and share it with the Group
  • Create sub-folders within this project folder as necessary - they automatically inherit the share permissions
  • Get each team member to add the project folder to their Drive (essential for easy management)
  • Make sure the team get the habit of creating new documents inside the project folder (or move inside) - they will automatically inherit share permissions

Some of the documents in the project need to be shared more widely for view/comment

  • Share documents (or a sub-folder) with View or Comment permissions with other specified users or groups

All the documents in one sub-folder need to be shared with another team for editing

  • Add the second team's Google Group to the share permissions, but just for the sub-folder
  • In this scenario full Edit permissions would allow them to move documents out of the folder - make sure they know what they're doing

An existing Word document needs to be collaboratively updated by the project team; the finished document needs to be in Word format

  • Upload the Word document into the shared folder structure, choosing to convert to a Google document
  • The team can now edit as normal, use comments, suggestions and chat
  • When editing is complete, download it as a Word document. You will need to do a final tidy up and reformatting of the Word document