Business Advice

Google Docs outage sees users “freaking out” after being locked out of documents

Emma Koehn /

An international outage of Google’s document writing platform this morning saw business owners and university students thrown into panic after having access to their documents blocked for more than an hour.

Users started reporting the issue just after 7.30am AEDT this morning, with tensions rising in the time before Google posted a formal update on the issue.

“I’m freaking out right now,” one user complained upon discovering a document she needed in the next few minutes could no longer be accessed. Other users said they had lost important essays and work documents just before it was time to send them.

The issue appeared to affected Google Docs accounts in a number of countries, with users in Australia, the US and Canada claiming to be affected.

Along with individual responses to hundreds of concerned users on Twitter, Google Docs confirmed it was investigating the problem, and reported it had brought most accounts online just over an hour later.

In the interim, there were plenty of discussions about how reliant businesses and students were on the system to provide them with immediate access to files, with few users having any backups to work from during the outage.

Businesses faced a similar pause in their everyday operations yesterday, when an outage of domain name hosting service Netregistry saw Australian businesses unable to load their websites or access email.

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong, who was affected by the Netregistry outage, said businesses simply have to prepare for inevitable outages and disruptions given the number of digital services they now rely on.

For users affected by this morning’s Google outage, several reported on Twitter they had learned a clear lesson: always have backups of documents in the event a service drops out just before an important meeting or event.

Keeping staff focused in the face of a dropout

Psychologist and founder of Seven Dimensions, Eve Ash, tells SmartCompany there might be a temptation to send staff home in the face of a systems outage, but smart businesses will use these types of delays to focus in on tasks that often fall by the wayside.

It’s important to focus on what opportunity that brings, vs going over what’s lost,” Ash says. 

Workplaces often miss out on the opportunity to communicate about big picture projects, but events like a system knockout or disruption to day-to-day operations provide a chance for managers to sit down with their teams and problem solve.

Managers might think giving staff downtime during these moments is a good idea, but Ash warns against it, particularly if the issue arises at the start of the day and can throw out momentum for the next few hours.

“Don’t think of it in terms of ‘there’s nothing better to do, just sit and wait’. I think it’s important to review projects, do planning and look at problems [in this time].”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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