Google Drive vs Microsoft Office 365 or “You will take my Excel from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”

Google vs Microsoft
Which email service do you use?

When we ran a staff survey recently, we were surprised by the deep feelings of affection and identification many staff hold for their ‘Legacy’ productivity tools…

In a nutshell

Google Sheets is a peerless collaboration tool. Excel is the Swiss army knife of business software.

Many staff at Caplin have demanded their right to bear Swiss army knives! We compiled the top 7 Reasons to like Microsoft Excel over Google Sheets that we found during this process.

Some context

We have recently moved from an on-premises Microsoft Exchange server to Gmail. Our survey showed that by far the most popular personal email choice amongst our staff is Gmail. Despite this, the move away from Exchange (and particularly Outlook) was very difficult for some.

What we learned was that, while Gmail is capable of 99% of what people use Exchange for, accessing this functionality is different, and in the case of tables, plain odd.

“I found the move to Gmail disruptive, despite the fact that I use it for my personal email.”

“Based on the mail experience, I am strongly against fixing something that ain’t broke.”

The vast majority of users were totally happy with the transition. However we actually had to revert a number of users back to Outlook (still synced with Gmail), as the sheer mental pain of trying to work out how to achieve their tasks in the new environment was just too much and too disruptive to their work.

The Office survey

As part of the Gmail migration, everyone got access to Google Drive, and we started encouraging people to use it.

We ran a survey to see what people thought of Microsoft Office and Google Docs.

The survey asked questions about “How often do you use Microsoft Excel / Word / PowerPoint” and “Have you ever used Google Sheets / Docs / Slides?”. It also included the question “Do you think you could use Google Sheets / Docs / Slides instead of Microsoft Excel / Word / PowerPoint?” and a free text comments field.

Looking back, we should have expected some robust responses. We sure got some! Quite a few of the respondents used the comments box to respond to the unasked question: “So can we ditch Microsoft Office or what?”

“I would liken swapping out MS Office to what I would imagine the disruption would be like if we moved from those tools preferred by our development staff over to AngularJS, Google Java Developer Tools, and any other development related applications simply because they are free and from Google.”

“Don’t like it [Office], but not convinced we can get rid of it entirely, purely down to having to communicate with the outside world.”

“Collaboration within Caplin and collaboration with external partners is not always going to include the same sorts of rules, rhythms, and tools and I worry that our effectiveness and for what it is worth, image, may be compromised by being too doctrinaire about productivity tools.”

There were plenty of positive words for Google too:

“Google all the way :)”

“Google Drive seems like a no-brainer as it’s definitely better! I’ve been using Google Drive for this for the last month without any issues”

“I try to avoid anything that is Microsoft – please get rid of it”

One of the really interesting things was the depth of feeling in the responses. People seemed to either love or hate. This wasn’t just about the dry consideration of business functionality — this was emotional!

“As with the other core MS Office applications, use of alternatives sends a message to business users in other organizations that Caplin might lack an appropriate level of professionalism”

As Johnson said in Peep Show:

“Don’t thank me, thank the Microsoft Office family – PowerPoint, Excel and Word, the Three Amigos.”

Johnson in Peep Show

Where we ended up

So it turns out that it’s not about Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel (or Docs vs Word) after all. It’s about using the right tool for the right job.
We will be renewing our Microsoft subscription and moving to Office 365 for the Office software. There’s no getting around it – folks love them some Excel.

We will also be sticking with Google Mail and Drive. There are some truly great things that can be done with Google Drive that just don’t compute in Microsoft land.

We will be encouraging the use of the Google tools in the places it makes sense – shared and collaborative documents. The two sets of tools play well enough together that a document started on one platform can easily be completed on another – for example, collaborating on a list in Sheets and then pulling it into Excel for manipulation.

What we learned

We learned that when it comes to productivity software, it really pays to give people what they want. We need to be sensitive to the deep feelings of identification and attachment that are felt for the software people use.

It seems untidy but having multiple tools with similar functionality is the right path for us at the moment. We get to reap the benefits of both systems and everybody wins.

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