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Tech tips

Google Drive tricks: 15 smart ways to get more out of this free office software

Almost all of us utilize cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox in some capacity. Cloud-based storage services are just a normal part of using technology at this point.

While there are lots of cloud storage services to choose from, Google Drive has tons of advantages over the competition. Not only does it offer free file storage, but it also lets you create documents that can be accessed from anywhere. That’s a huge benefit now that it’s common to work remotely. Tap or click here to see what Google did to help at-home workers over the past few months.

But while most of us are familiar with Google Drive basics, how many are taking full advantage of this free office software? It has tons of tricks up its sleeve — and many of them could be useful if you’re still working from home. If you want to get the most out of Google Drive, check out the tips below. They’ll make you a Google Drive expert in no time flat.

1. Convert Office files to Google Docs, Sheets, and other formats

If you want to work on a file in Google Drive, you can easily convert Office files to Google Docs, Sheets or Slides. Doing this will allow you to work on that document in real-time in Drive. You don’t have to upload the document to Google Drive to convert, either. You have the option to do that, but you can also just open the file in Drive instead.

To convert an Office file without uploading it:

  1. Double-click the Office file. This will open a preview of your file.
  2. At the top, click Open in Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides.
  3. From within the document, click File > Save as Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides.

To automatically convert all Office files to Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides after upload: 

  1. Open Google Drive.
  2. In the top right, click Settings.
  3. Next to “Convert Uploads,” turn on “Convert uploaded files to Google Docs editor format.”

2. See version history

If you’re collaborating with other people on a file, it can be difficult to figure out what changes were made — and when. You can keep track of changes in shared files if you’re using Google Drive. You also have the option to revert to a previous version if unwanted changes were made.

To see the version history in Google Drive:

  1. Open your file in Google Drive.
  2. From Docs, Sheets, or Slides, select File > Version history > See version history. Note: You need Owner or Editor access to the file.
  3. Click a timestamp to see a previous version of the file. Below the timestamp, you’ll see:
    • Names of people who edited the document.
    • A color next to each person’s name. The edits they made appear in that color.
  4. (Optional) To revert, name, or copy a previous version, click:
    • Restore this version to make it the active version.
    • More > Name this version to name a previous version.
    • More > Make a copy to create a copy of a previous version.

3. Sharing documents to view, edit, etc.

One of the perks of using Google Drive is the ability to share documents with other people. You have the option to let up to 100 people view, edit, or comment on a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide. You’ll also have the option to limit the permissions of each person so that unwanted edits or changes aren’t a problem.

To share documents in Google Drive:

  1. Select the file you want to share.
  2. Click Share.
  1. Under Share with people and groups, enter the email address you want to share with. Note: If visitor sharing is on for your organization, you can invite someone who doesn’t have a Google Account to collaborate on your Google Drive files and folders. See Share documents with visitors.
  2. To change what people can do to your file, on the right, click the Down arrow > Viewer, Commenter, or Editor.
  3. Choose to notify people:
    • If you want to notify people that you shared a file with them, check the Notify people box. If you notify people, each email address you enter will be included in the email.
    • If you don’t want to notify people, uncheck the Notify people box.
  4. Click Share or Send.

4. Voice dictation

Need a hands-free way to get some work done? You can type and edit by speaking in Google Docs or in Google Slides speaker notes. The only caveat is that this feature is limited to Chrome browsers. If you’re using another browser, you’ll have to type — voice dictation won’t work.

There are a number of different uses for voice dictation, but we’ll start with voice typing.

To type with your voice:

  1. Check that your microphone works.
  2. Open a document in Google Docs with a Chrome browser.
  3. Click Tools > Voice typing. A microphone box appears.
  4. When you’re ready to speak, click the microphone.
  5. Speak clearly, at a normal volume and pace (see below for more information on using punctuation).
  6. When you’re done, click the microphone again.

5. Sync all your files

You can sync some or all your files and folders on your computer to Google Drive. This is a great tool to use if you need access to your documents and folders from different computers or devices. To use it, though, you’ll have to download Drive to your computer.

To sync your files to Google Drive:

  1. On your computer, click Backup and Sync.
  2. Click More > Preferences.
  3. At the right, click the folders you want to sync.
  4. To add a folder not on the list, click Choose folder.
  5. Add the folder you want to sync.
  6. Click OK.

6. Collaborate with others

Another solid perk of Google Drive is that it allows you to collaborate with others remotely. All you have to do is share Google Drive files or folders and you can work on them with teammates or even people outside of your company. The person you share your files with doesn’t have to be a Gmail user, either. This feature works for collaborating with almost anyone.

To collaborate with others:

  1. Select the file you want to share.
  2. Click Share.
  3. Under Share with people and groups, enter the email address you want to share with.
  4. To change what people can do to your file, on the right, click the Down arrow > Viewer, Commenter, or Editor.
  5. Choose to notify people:
    • If you want to notify people that you shared a file with them, check the Notify people box. If you notify people, each email address you enter will be included in the email.
    • If you don’t want to notify people, uncheck the Notify people box.
  6. Click Share or Send.

7. Create surveys

Want to send out a survey? You don’t have to use SurveyMonkey or another survey site to do that. You have everything you need in Google Drive. Creating a new survey is simple. You’ll use Google Forms to get the job done, and it will be saved in Google Drive.

To create a form directly from Google Drive:

  1. On a computer, go to drive.google.com.
  2. In the top left, click New > Google Forms.

8. Drag and drop uploading

Uploading files or documents to Google Drive is really simple. All you have to do is drag and drop what you’re uploading into the right spot in the Drive.

To drag and drop uploads:

  1. On your computer, go to drive.google.com.
  2. Open or create a folder.
  3. To upload files and folders, drag them into the Google Drive folder.

9. Work offline

If you aren’t connected to the internet, you can still view and edit files in Google Drive. This trick works for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides — but you’ll have to change your settings to make it happen.

To change your settings to work offline:

  1. Open Chrome. Make sure you’re signed in to Chrome.
  2. Go to drive.google.com/drive/settings.
  3. Check the box next to “Create, open, and edit your recent Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides files on this device while offline.

10. Mobile app for both iOS and Android and productivity apps like Docs, Sheets, etc

You can’t work efficiently in Google Drive on your mobile browser, but you can get the job done if you download the mobile app for your phone. You have the option of a Google Drive app or individual apps for Docs, Sheets, and other Google Drive categories. This makes it easy to share or edit documents directly from your phone or tablet.

11. Storage size

Your Google Drive account comes with 15 GB of storage space for free. If you need more storage space, there are a number of subscription options to choose from — up to a whopping 2 TB of storage. The plans won’t break the bank, either — the most expensive plan will run you $9.99 per month, with a 17% discount for prepaying by the year.

If you want more storage space:

  1. Make sure you’re signed in to your Google Account.
  2. On your computer, visit the Google One website.
  3. Choose a different storage plan.

After you upgrade, your Google One membership replaces your current Drive storage plan.

12. Add-ons/extensions

There are tons of add-ons and extensions that work well with Google Drive. One example is the Save to Google Drive Chrome extension, which lets you save web content or screen capture directly to Google Drive. It’s simple to use — all you have to do is add the extension to Chrome and right-click to save hyperlinks and media.

13. Advanced file search

You have the option to complete advanced searches in Google Drive using different search metrics. Let’s say, for example, that you want to search for an exact phrase. You would use quotation marks around the phrase in the search box to prompt that type of advanced query.

You can also use a minus sign to find documents that exclude a particular word, or you can search by owner, creator, and file type, too. For more information on advanced file searches in Google Drive, tap here.

14. Keyboard shortcuts

If you’re using Google Drive on the web, there are dozens of different keyboard shortcuts to utilize. There are shortcuts for navigation and views, selecting items, moving between items, taking actions on selected items, creating items, opening menus, application actions, and preview mode actions. In other words, there are too many to list here.

Want to check out the keyboard shortcuts? You can display the keyboard shortcut list by pressing Ctrl + / (Chrome OS, Windows) or +/ (Mac).

15. Customize folder colors, etc.

It’s easy to customize and organize your file folders in Google Drive. These tricks can be helpful if you’re a heavy user and have tons of folders in your drive. One of the simplest ways to organize your files is by color-coding them, which doesn’t take much effort at all.

To color-code your folders, open your Google Drive and right-click on the folder you want to change. Click Change color and choose the color you want to use. For other folder organization tricks, like creating a folder shortcut or moving a file, tap here.

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