How to Share Folders and Collaborate Using Google Drive

And How to Not Accidentally Ruin Things

With Google Drive, you can add collaborators to either view or edit your documents. It's pretty simple. 

  1. Open Google Drive.
  2. Check the box next to the document you want to share. 
  3. Click on More toward the top of the browser window. 
  4. Select Share
  5. Select Share again (when you hover over Share, you'll see a list of options, and Share is on that list).
  6. Enter the email address or addresses of the people with whom you'd like to share. 
  7. Choose whether the additional users will have editing or view-only privileges. 

Easy enough. 

If you want to share an entire folder, the process is exactly the same. 

  1. Open Google Drive.
  2. Check the box next to the folder you want to share. 
  3. Click on More toward the top of the browser window.
  4. Select Share.
  5. Select Share again. 
  6. Enter the email address or addresses of the people with whom you'd like to share. 
  7. Choose the privileges. 

That's pretty much the same process, except that you've made a folder. 

You can also do the exact same thing and save a few steps by opening the document and then choosing the big blue Share button on the upper right corner of the window. 

Once you share a folder, every document you put in that folder inherits the same sharing privileges. If you've shared a folder with Bob, every document, spreadsheet, drawing, or file you put in the folder also gets shared to Bob.

That is some pretty powerful collaboration, but now that Google Docs is also Google Drive, it gets complicated. You see, each file can only exist in one folder, but people sharing editing privileges can move files around.

Files Can Only Exist in One Folder

If you're using Google Drive's desktop app, it's very, very tempting to move a shared file into My Drive or into some other folder, either to organize or to have ready access to it on your desktop Google Drive folder. Avoid this temptation! Because a file can exist in only one folder, moving a file out of a shared folder means you move the file out of everyone else's shared folder, too. Moving a shared folder into My Drive means you stop sharing it with everyone, too. Oops. 

What happens if you accidentally move a file out of a shared folder? Move it back, and all is restored. 

What happens if you or someone you are collaborating with accidentally drags and drops a shared folder into some other folder on My Drive? Well, the first thing that should happen is that you get a warning. Don't ignore it. The second thing that should happen is that you get a message telling you what you did and offering you a chance to undo it. Wise choice.

If you ignore both warnings, you'll need to share the folder again to restore the settings. If you're working with an organization, make sure everyone knows these rules beforehand and make sure you're sharing documents with people you trust to obey them. 

How to Add Files to My Drive Without Getting Into Sharing Trouble

You can actually sync files in My Drive now without having it mess up your collaboration settings. Hooray. Here's what you do: 

  1. Click Shared with Me on the lefthand side of the window.
  2. Check the boxes to select the files or folders for syncing.
  3. Click the Add to My Drive button. The files will automatically sync to the Google Drive folder on your computer, so you can use your desktop apps to edit them, and the changes will sync with everyone else.

Yes, this is a tricky exception to the files can only exist in one folder rule, but it allows the potential for offline editing. Just be careful to coordinate those edits to make sure you're not creating editing conflicts when you do so.