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Google Groups Limitations and Alternatives for Remote Teams

July 24th, 2021

Google groups are the digital equivalent of a swiss knife.

Q&A forums, virtual notice boards, collaborative inbox for Gmail, or internal email lists.

No wonders why they're included in the tools starter pack of most companies.

When a company is just starting out Google Groups provide the necessary duct tape to run a wide range of internal processes. From sharing company-wide announcements and internal team updates using internal distribution lists, to collaborating on email support tickets using shared inboxes.

There are many justifications for this, starting from the obvious one: if your organization is using Google Workspace Google Groups are already bundled in the base package along with other Google services.

However, as your company scale, Google Groups and duct tape are less effective and your people will start asking for better solutions.

Software designed for collaboration purposes around support and tickets to replace shared inboxes, and more effective systems to broadcast internal content (updates, videos, etc) instead of email distribution lists.

In this post, we'll see what are the most critical limitation of Google Groups for remote teams communications, how other remote companies approached and solved this issue, and how you can do the same for your start-up.

Why Google Groups don't work for remote team communication

The reason why Google Groups don't work for remote communication is unique from company to company. It doesn't just depend on the specific use cases but there are some cultural-based factors.

However, here are some of the most common reasons that we see often coming up:

1. No centralized, permanent hub for content

Email is a highly decentralized way of communication. There's no permanent place that everyone can see and read the postings. As a result, Google Groups are lousy alternatives to a virtual bulletin board.

Inboxes by definition are siloed. If mixed with a company culture that doesn't strongly encourage transparency, this can create important knowledge holes and information gaps.

On top of this, when someone leaves your company their email inbox gets shut down and you automatically lose years of relevant memorialized knowledge.

2. No subscription layer = high noise

In high-growing distributed companies taming the information chaos that results from rapid growth is one of the hardest problems.

In this type of environment, 100% of the communication layer happens virtually and as a result, people are overwhelmed by too much information. This growing pain will reach such a crescendo that staying up to date with Slack and Email will feel like drinking from a firehose.

Unfortunately, Google Groups don't allow much customization on top of distribution email lists and people are either forced to get too much information or too little. (fwiw: there are some open-source GitHub repositories that might do the job for you, but I'll require some dev work on your side)

This inevitably ends up in a chaotic and distracting environment where builders can't stay focused and in flow for a decent amount of time.

4. Google Groups can be hard to navigate for new employees

When a new person joins your team, your number one goal is to provide her with the maximum amount of context available and provide a clear answer to all her questions. What are the company priorities? What does leadership think is important? Who are these people I’m working with that are spread out across the globe?

Things will feel blurry and unclear at first, but the more data and information you crunch, the more you start developing knowledge and develop contextualized judgment.

iterative approach

This exposure is often embodied by live onboarding sessions, virtual training or guided tour, and kick-off meetings, but often new employees are just so excited that they would love to start as soon as possible and in full autonomy.

Google Groups might contain years of memorialized operational knowledge and could be terrific leverage to facilitate self-serve onboarding.

By reading previous company-wide announcements, team-wide updates, team member shout-outs, shipping releases, and more new employees could quickly immerse in your company tone and culture, understand how the team operates, and have a feeling of connectivity in no time.

The common issue though is that Google Groups are terribly hard to navigate, especially for newcomers. The interface feels clunky, there are no intuitive hierarchies, it's hard to know where to start, it's hard to understand what lists should be important or relevant to you.

5. Emails are abused and it's so easy to miss important things

Emails have been subjected to SPAM since the early days. But nowadays people are overwhelmed by vendor email notifications, pestered by cold emails, swamped in newsletters.

Emails inboxes have never been more cluttered and it's easier than ever to miss stuff that actually requires your attention.

6. No Integrations

Google Groups haven't done much progress in terms of integrations since the early days.

To be fair, they haven't made it all.

No easy way to display rich content or extend with audio and video.

7. Lack of Analytics

Google Groups lacks simple ways to know who saw what and help you close the feedback loop.

While you should be watching yourself from employees' surveillance there's no denying some data would help you prevent internal disconnection and avoid misalignments.

Ultimately, you're not writing for the sake of it, you're writing to communicate something.

Knowing in what percentage teams, departments or even the entire company are aware of your update would help you make more informed decisions and prevent future disconnections.

How modern organizations replaced Google Groups with homegrown alternatives to spur remote growth

Leading distributed companies like Shopify, Stripe, Zapier, or Automattic built proprietary internal systems to stay more connected and aligned avoiding email overflow and.

Zapier built Zapier Async, Stripe built Stripe Home, Shopify built Shopify Vault and of course, Automattic built Wordpress P2.

While none of these internal tools share the very same feature set, they all seem to solve common issues around cross-functional communications and operations as well as providing better structures for asynchronous communication.

Pulse solves this

We don’t think it should take extra work, custom internal solutions, and homegrown tools to get this stuff right. That’s exactly why we built Pulse, the best way to communicate asynchronously with your team through text updates, videos, and more.

Let me show you how exactly companies are using Pulse to solve all Google Group's issues and more to communicate better and grow in a transparent environment:

1. Central hub for updates, announcements, videos, and anything that matters

In Pulse, you can share updates. They're are permanently recorded in a central hub that your current and future team members can search and access.

Important decisions, discussions, and critical company or team updates will be permanently stored in a private and secure way.

2. Bring the right information to the right people

How do you keep a consistently high level of signal/noise ratio as your company grows? This is the classic communication conundrum for most companies.

We believe there's no such thing as absolute noise. What's signal to you, might be noise for others in your company and vice versa.

That's why Pulse has been designed to you give people the possibility to opt-in what they want to read about and stay in the loop.

Unlike emails, you're not being targeted, but you deliberately opt-in for certain content.

Pulse will give each one of you a simple way to tweak how you get information for each specific topic stream:

  • All pulses: get alerts for every new update
  • Daily digest: get a daily wrap-up with everything that happened the day before
  • Weekly digest: get a Monday weekly wrap-up with the highlights of what happened the week before
  • None: stop all notifications unless you're being mentioned in pulses or comments

3. Now just text - video, audio, and more

Updates in Pulse aren’t limited to text or images alone.

Pulse allows you to embed content from the tools you already use so that you can convey more in less space.

Embed Figma mockups, Loom video, Grain recording, Gist, or RunKit snippets in your next update.

4. Create reference, see how dots connect

Pulse allows you to easily reference updates previously shared in your next post. For instance, in your company weekly update, you could link all the individual accomplishments that your team achieved in the previous days to hit the week's top priorities.

People can click to expand the individual updates and read them beyond their title in case they missed something meaningful. See the quick video below for more.

You can then backtrack where a specific Pulse has been mentioned. We call these linkbacks. At the end of the update, we show a list with of all the posts that contains a reference to it. This makes it easier for everyone to see the broader scope of every action and keep everything in perspective.

5. Send your updates to specific people

Want to send your post to one or more people? We've got your back. Pulse allows you to forward your or someone else's post to one or more recipients.

This way you're ensuring you're sending content to some users regardless of what streams they're following.

6. See who's caught up on what

Pulse updates come with rock-solid analytics designed to help you understand who saw and who missed your update.

Pointy notifications will make you aware as teams and departments get caught up on your content - whether that's text or video.

7. Accelerate onboarding for new hires

One of the nice benefits of having a central, permanent hub for memos, video recordings, and announcements is that it makes onboarding new employees much easier.

Pulse makes it easy for new employees to immerse in the company tone and culture, understand how your company operates, and have a feeling of connectivity in no time.

A radically better experience than digging through thousands of cluttered Slack channels or messy Google Groups.

Easy to navigate Streams to make sense of what's happening in other teams, projects, or departments.

Easy to explore profiles to see what your teammates shared, what they worked on, and for what you might need to get in touch with them.

Conclusion

It's obvious to state that if you're cruising through the 50 - 500 employees stage, you need better structures to increase communication bandwidth, provide better layers to reduce noise, and ultimately keep the entire company on the same page.

The question, though is for those early-stage companies with 20 employees or less. Do you really need something to communicate better at that stage? Should I really make a bet on asynchronous communication?

The answer is a simple YES.

Regardless of the stage of your company, it's much better to be very intentional and disciplined about how you communicate from the get-go and instill a memorialize communication approach very early on.

Asynchronous communication can be daunting at the beginning because it requires more processes, documentation, and infrastructure than synchronous communication. Pulse will help you make the transition to asynchronous communication much easier.

Are you ready to keep your team connected and inspired? Create a workspace in Pulse in less than 1 minute.