Why New Collaboration Tools Aren’t Just for Work

Keeping your life in sync

Key Takeaways

  • There is a wide range of online collaboration tools that can help you stay organized. 
  • Google’s new smart canvas makes apps like Drive and Sheets more flexible.
  • While smart canvas and other collaboration tools are often aimed at businesses, they can also be helpful for personal items.
Someone using a conference all software on a computer in a home office.

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New online collaboration tools can make you more productive and help organize your life, experts say. 

Google is taking its workplace productivity apps a step further by introducing smart canvas, a new feature that makes apps like Drive and Sheets more flexible. It’s one of a growing number of options for collaborating online that are useful for more than just work. 

"When I moved out of my old apartment and planned to sell it, I used a mix of Google Sheets and Google Docs to capture action items and track them down," Henry Shapiro, the co-founder of collaboration software Reclaim.ai, said in an email interview.

"There are so many things that go into selling a property, moving into a new property, making improvements to both, and so forth, and having a central place to capture that stuff was essential."

Working Together

Smart Canvas aims to make collaboration easier. For example, you can work on Google Sheets and Docs without leaving a Google chat room or put a Meets call into a Doc or Slide file. 

"We have seen work transform in unprecedented ways, and it is no longer just a place," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said during the Google I/O keynote.

"Now, amid the pandemic, many of us are working from our kitchens and dining rooms, with pets and kids constantly interrupting. With smart canvas, Google is aiming to make online collaborating a bit more seamless, as if you were actually sitting with your coworkers side-by-side once again."

Google Workspace has struggled to bring cohesion between its different products, Shapiro said. Google Drive suffers from poor search capabilities. Google Sheets lacks the interactive and integrated features that one would need to use as a project management platform. 

Upstarts like Airtable and Notion have entered the market to fill many of these gaps, "offering an all-in-one suite that can create dynamic links between different kinds of assets, and enabling teams to replace tons of point solutions with 'interactive docs,'" Shapiro said.

Nearly a year ago, Google announced Tables to compete with these new entrants, and "now it's clear that Google Canvas is the full realization of that vision," he added. 

Here's what's Shapiro said is most useful about Google Canvas:

  • Building blocks/templates allow users to create interactive documentation that can dynamically render data from other Google Workspace products. For example, you could use a template to create a product roadmap doc that pulls from Google Sheets automatically.
  • New Sheets views make Sheets a more dynamic tool that you can use for Gantt charting, roadmaps, and other things. 
  • Better calendar integration means Google will start pulling in your calendar view to make it easy to join meetings directly from Docs, which is a great feature for folks who want to share and collaborate directly from a doc. 

While smart canvas and other collaboration tools are often aimed at businesses, they also can be helpful for personal items. For example, Shapiro said, the software can be used to organize family chores and errands. 

Someone working on a document on a laptop while wearing headphones in a home office.

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You can make a project list for different categories of errands and chores and assign ones to various family members. The software also can be a great way to build databases of crucial personal info, such as a list of home improvement projects with links and summaries to relevant contractors. 

Pick Your App

There are a wide variety of online collaboration options aimed at individual users, as well as businesses. For example, there’s  the app, Notion, which Shapiro called "great, simple, free for most individual use cases, and extremely powerful for capturing data in an interactive and organized way."

Shapiro also likes the app, Trello, which he said, "is great for creating super simple projects and to-do lists across work and life."

Some online collaboration tools have more specialized uses. For example, Andrew Cohen runs a small animation company called Confidential Creative, which works on creative projects for musicians including Maroon 5, P. Diddy, and Jada Pinkett Smith.

He uses WriterDuet, screenwriting and editing software to write scripts with other team members. Cohen added that "It’s a great tool for collaborative screenwriting."

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