The Five Most Dreaded Words In The Office: “Let’s Start A Google Doc”

Matt Snyder’s work as a copywriter for a marketing agency is all about collaboration. He often begins by outlining a marketing strategy in a shared Google Doc, to which up to a dozen colleagues and clients can add their many thoughts.

Then he begins to write. All alone.


“I operate from a private doctor,” says Snyder, 37, who lives in Atlanta. “I don’t even want anyone watching me work. »


More than three billion people use Google Workspace products such as Docs and Sheets, according to the company. Many of them seem to dread it.

The workplace ritual tends to go like this: minding your own business, trying to write a proposal or plugging numbers into Google Sheets, when the mood changes. A small circle materializes near the top of the screen. The avatar belongs to a colleague, or worse, your boss. Discomfort can be aggravated by the appearance of an unlimited number of anonymous animals, which Google automatically assigns to people who open a Doc without being logged into their account: anteater, wombat, quokka.

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Who are you, anonymous wombat?

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The cursor starts blinking. Questions abound: What are this person’s intentions? Will they scroll far enough to see the scrambled notes at the bottom that you haven’t deleted? Why the hell are they online at 1 a.m. on a Saturday? And what is a quokka?

Like many others, Mr. Snyder works in a snapshot so he can work on a single phrase for half an hour without fear of anyone spying on his creative process. Once each word is perfect, it pastes the finished product into the shared document. He says he doesn’t mind if people check the original and wonder why he hasn’t made any progress. It’s better than the alternative.

“We’ve had clients who think it’s appropriate to edit as you write,” he says. “The fact that I can be in a shared doc and see an anonymous platypus, or any other animal hovering there- I’m like, ‘I can’t. » «

Kyle Bazinet, 34, who works as a government policy adviser in Toronto, recently completed a 10-page strategic analysis for an infrastructure project and shared it with three senior officials. He had planned to log out of the document immediately, but seeing the avatars of his senior colleagues appear one by one, his curiosity got the better of him.

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Look at these changes, mysterious ibex.

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“I watched them go line by line,” he says. “It was impressive and terrifying at the same time to see how quickly they were able to choose something different that I had been working on for days. »

The experience may have been a bit of shared karmic retribution. “I have a reputation for enjoying destroying people’s work,” he says.

Google says in a written statement, “The future is flexible, and the value of Docs means people can work and collaborate together from anywhere, when it works for them, despite the friction people may feel at home.” idea of ​​collaborating with a colleague or an anonymous armadillo. »

Vishnu Sivaji, product manager of the Google Workplace group, which includes Google Docs, said the company recognized during the pandemic that many people were working with colleagues. had never met face to face, and may meet for the first time in the comments of a document.

Over the past few months, the product team has added features to reduce tension and increase human connection, including the ability to leave emojis in place of a comment.

“I now see people, who are very experienced vice presidents, leaving emojis on my documents,” he says.

Mr. Sivaji’s most embarrassing moment in a shared document happened before he worked on the product. He was preparing separate proposals for two contestants and accidentally shared Partner A’s proposal with Partner B.

“Now we have very clear guidance when sharing a document outside of your domain,” he says.

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Will the quokka also weigh?

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At the start of the pandemic, Meisha Bochicchio, 32, was taking notes for a virtual meeting attended by her company’s senior executives. Each executive had access to the document and was connected, followed. After the meeting, Ms. Bochicchio jumped on a call about a job offer from another company she had interviewed with.

“My first I thought I should take notes on this quickly,” she said.

Without searching to see which tab she had open, she began typing in the details of the new position, including salary and start date. In the middle of the call, she realized she was still typing the original document. She saw the avatars of all the executives at the top, still logged in.

“I don’t notice it for 10 minutes, for example,” says Ms. Bochicchio.

Five days later, while preparing her resignation letter, she received a call from her boss’s boss.

“She was just straight, ‘So I saw you taking some interesting notes,'” recalls Ms. Bochicchio, who lives in Boston. Obviously not the most professional look. »

Ghost walkers have haunted Danielle Slakoff, 32, an assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento, who uses Google Docs to collaborate on research. Ms. Slakoff says one of her research partners, Lauren Moton, still seems to be in the doc, despite being three hours early in New York.

“She works all the time,” says Ms. Slakoff. “She works in the evening on it when I do it in the early afternoon. »

It came as a surprise to Ms Moton, a 31-year-old doctoral candidate who says she sets strict limits and does not work past 19.m.

“I never close my tabs,” she says. “Right now I’m looking at my computer and I have probably 30 tabs open, 80% of which I haven’t looked at in the last week. »

Even when Ms. Moton plugs into the project, she works from Microsoft Word documents and pastes the finished text into Google Docs. Years ago, as a research assistant, she was writing a brief after hours when a director logged on and started editing. The memoir was full of spelling mistakes and was by no means ready for viewing.

“I see his little cursor moving,” says Ms. Moton. “After that, I was completely scarred. »

Kathie Dello, 39, and a North Carolina State climatologist, says one of the perks of grad school was getting her writing so ragged that it got her used to any sense of self-awareness. the idea of ​​working in front of an audience. “I rarely do anything on my own,” she says.

Recently, while working on a weather report in Microsoft Teams, the system encountered an error and was no longer saving his changes. She wondered if the culprit was the number of people editing at once. “There was too much collaboration for the document,” she says.

“While things like document permissions and connectivity issues can sometimes interfere, there’s nothing like collaborating with colleagues from different time zones or zip codes,” Microsoft says.

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