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The RSPCA are the UK’s leading animal welfare charity. They specialise in animal rescue & furthering the welfare cause for all animals.

This Guide describes some of RSPCA's collaborative working processes and the Google Workspace tools they use. It covers communication practices, managing documents, allocating tasks, working openly and holding meetings

It includes a downloadable copy of RSPCA's Ways of Working Google Collaboration guide in the 'Further information' section.

Any organisation, regardless of its size, can use these tools to help help its staff work together.

Steps to creating a collaborative culture using Google tools

In this Guide, we mean some specific things when we talk about collaborative culture. This includes:

  • Aiming to share tasks and document management in an open way within and between teams

  • Keeping as much communication as possible open and public rather than just between individuals

  • Working on documents collectively in an online space (rather than emailing different versions)

  • Only holding meetings when they’re genuinely needed and trusting asynchronous (not occurring at the same time) communication to replace many

  • Making space for flexible working and different accessibility needs

This type of collaborative working also has many other subtle aspects that can extend to a whole range of workplace behaviours. See 'Further information' below, for links.

For over 10 years the RSPCA have been using Google tools to make collaborative working easier. But they knew they could do more. 

In 2022 they decided to take learning from their most collaborative projects and combine it with best practice from charity and commercial sectors. They also shifted focus from using individual products to using them in tandem for greater collaboration.

To manage this kind of collaborative working effectively you need staff to be able to easily use:

  • A chat system that allows supports direct messages, groups and channels. 
  • Online file storage for any file format (for example documents, spreadsheets, slide decks). It needs to include online editing facilities, good version control and the ability to set access permissions.

  • A note-taking system that is connected to everything else.

  • Good search functionality - ideally that can search all the systems you are using at the same time.

There are many tools to choose from. If you staff haven't used any of these types of tools before then you may need to offer them guidance or training in how to perform tasks such as online editing and commenting.

The RSPCA are long term Google Workspace users. Workspace includes collaboration tools like Gmail, Spaces, Keep, Calendar, Meet, Chat, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Sites and others.

Darragh, their digital lead, believes this is the best option for collaborative working. He particularly values:

  • That it was designed with collaborative working in mind, rather than adapted to try and enable it

  • Workspace's search facility that can search documents, conversations and notes all at the same time. No other combination of tools can do this.

  • Non-profit pricing that keeps the costs low.

The RSPCA felt their staff already understood enough about how to collaborate within Google Docs and Sheets, two of Google Workspace's main tools.

When organisations introduce online chat as a replacement for email communication, staff can be nervous. Often you will find that people are worried about:

  • Managing interruptions from online chat and losing control of their working day

  • Being properly understood, including communicating in the right tone of voice 

  • Message privacy and security

  • Finding things - some people use email folders as file storage systems and their inbox as a to do list

To help staff benefit from your new approach, build protocols and expectations about how any chat system is used that deal with these worries (see Step 7).

The RSPCA ask project teams to create their own chat spaces and channels in Google Spaces. They also ask them to set their own expectations for when people will reply to messages. They remind people that its OK to use the do not disturb function, so that it is culturally accepted. This approach allows team members to control their working day.

They recommend a particular way of writing messages in chat. People should:

  • Articulate their thoughts in a single message rather than several short ones. Sending their thoughts in multiple short messages can create multiple 'pings' for the receiver.

  • Use short paragraphs, good spacing and bullet point lists to structure their messages.

  • Reply using emoji responses such as “thanks, or I’ll get on with that or done”, where appropriate

  • Use conversation threads to keep messages connected

They encourage staff to communicate as much as possible through open channels. This creates a culture of trust and transparency.

One of the keys to smooth collaborative working is having everything in the same place.

You want to be able to:

  • Easily move tasks between team members

  • Make sure no one is working anywhere that team members (and your search functions) don’t have access to. This even includes early notes.

When you work in Google Spaces, you can use other Google Workspace tools to create documents, spreadsheets, slide decks and forms. You can use Keep for note-taking and, when needed, convert notes into tasks via the integration between Keep and Tasks. Tasks also integrate with Google Calendar.


  • Use Keep for notes - because it has a feature that can turn lists into checklists and back again. This makes it more efficient for note taking than Google Docs.
  • Assign project tasks to individuals, so people can run their own to do lists.
  • Create spaces for each project, rather than keeping them all in the general workspace. This helps teams keep track of assigned tasks, and notes. It also means documents are shared only with the people in that space or team rather than across a wider group or organisation.

One of the advantages of digital collaboration tools should be that we need less meetings. But it can take time to leave behind a meeting-based culture.

One of the easiest types of meeting to reduce are “project update or status update” style meetings.

In Workspace you can replace these with:

  • Updates created in Docs or Slides updates. Share these in  a relevant space and ask for comments and feedback in a thread.

  • Voiceover recordings on Slides, creating short presentations that people can watch in their own time.

You can use Workspace tools Meets or Stories to create recordings.

RSPCA encourage regular communication and that teams check in regularly. But they also try to empower staff to decide if they need a meeting. They use a framework to assess whether a meeting is needed and whether hybrid or face to face is best. In this way people are supported to assess whether they really need a meeting to share their update.

They also recommend that regular meetings are cancelled if there aren’t clear agenda items.

One of the scariest things about moving to any kind of shared online documentation system is “how will I find things”.

In Workspace you can use Google Cloud Search to find anything. It is an AI-powered assistant that searches across all elements of a Space, including documents, chat, tasks and notes. It also searches inside documents not only titles. This reduces reliance on folder structure.

RSPCA recognise that using Search Console isn’t always a first thought for staff. They share videos and make sure staff develop confidence in creating the right search terms so that they can find what they need in the most efficient way.

You should document what your organisation wants to use collaboration tools for, and how they want to do it. Otherwise you will end up with inconsistent expectations and approaches.

You should also train your teams in how to use collaborative tools. Otherwise they won't learn to use them to their potential or in the way that your want. 

You do not need to create new training courses or documents. High quality video and written guides to using Workspace tools are widely available online.

The RSPCA have created a slide deck that documents their collaborative working process at a high level. It also contains onward training links. These links contain a mixture of:

  • Google’s own support documentation

  • Blog articles by other organisations

  • Video content from a range of sources

This deck is used to deliver training sessions for all staff and as a reference for each staff member to put the training into practice.

Simply creating the training materials and running one set of workshops will not be enough.

Think about ways to embed practice into your working culture. You could try:

  • Supporting senior staff members to model good practice

  • Running a digital champions programme across the organisation - champions in each team support others to adopt ways of working

  • Refresher training sessions

  • Taking key facts from your training and sharing them in a different format as top tips

  • Other methods that have previously reinforced elements of your organisation’s culture

When the RSPCA first embraced collaborative working, they ran open workshops. These workshops introduced the tools, answered questions and listened to peoples fears and concerns. They have since adapted these sessions and included them in their new staff induction programme.

The RSCPA have also added "being able and willing to use modern digital collaboration tools" to all job descriptions.

Further information