How to Get User Files as a G Suite Admin

Adopting shared drives within your organization can encourage collaboration and transparency within the workplace. It can also help you, as a manager, to stay on top of what each of your users is working on.

There are a few ways in which you can access user files as a G Suite admin. Following the steps below, you’ll learn how to transfer file ownership, move content between drives, and remove terminated users from your Google Workspace.

Why is Accessing User Files Useful for G Suite Admins?

As a G Suite administrator, there are a few scenarios in which you can benefit from having access to user files.

In the instance that you want to facilitate increased collaboration in the workplace, G Suite administrators have the capability of creating shared drives and moving existing, privately owned files, into one central location.

Gaining access to user files also allows you to monitor workflow and stay up-to-date on the progress of each of your teams.

But the scenario in which accessing user files has the most benefit is when someone leaves your company. Instead of losing access to any private files this user was working on, G Suite admins can transfer any files they own to another person.

This allows you to save their files, before deleting their account in an effort to prevent them from accessing company data in the future.

Keep reading to understand exactly how you would achieve these tasks.

Step 1: Create Shared Drives for your Organization

If you already utilize shared drives well within your organization, you can skip ahead to step two.

But if you’re not already taking advantage of shared drives within your Google Workspace, it’s about time you did. Shared drives not only encourage collaboration within your organization but also allow for complete transparency and smooth transition of data between employees.

Shared drives also mean that each file does not belong to one person in particular and avoids the administrative task of transferring ownership every time an employee leaves or changes positions within your company.

To create shared drives, navigate to Google Drive by clicking on the Google Apps drop-down in the top right-hand corner of your Google Admin home page.

From the My Drive home page, click on + New to create a new folder. Once the folder is created, you can share the folder by clicking the down arrow against the folder name and selecting Share. Type in the people or groups you wish to share the new folder with.

If you’ve already got specific organizational units set up, such as a marketing or sales department, you can grant access to the new folder to that group in one go. Furthermore, if you’ve already got departmental folders set up, but they haven’t been properly shared among the entire team, you can easily share them following the same steps.

Taking the time to set up shared drives for each departmental arm of your organization will also make it super easy when onboarding new staff. You’ll simply be able to add the new user to the applicable group and they’ll gain instant access to folders relevant to their job requirements.

Step 2: Move Content to a Shared Drive

Now that your shared drives are organized, it’s time to move the existing content to its new home.

There are two ways in which you can go about this. You can let users move the files themselves or you can move the files as an admin. We are going to look at how to do both so you can choose the best method.

Let Users Move Files from My Drive to Shared Drives

Users can follow the same steps as we highlighted above. Simply open the folder to be shared, click the down arrow against the folder name, and click Share.

However, users won’t be able to do this if you don’t grant them the applicable permissions to do so.

From your Google Admin console, go to Apps > Google Workspace > Drives and Docs. Then, click Sharing settings and Sharing options and allow all users to share files within your organization.

Move Drive Folders as a G Suite Admin

Alternatively, if you work with hyper-sensitive information and prefer to maintain control over who is sharing what, you can move the drive folders yourself.

First, you’ll need to ask users to grant Viewer access or higher to your admin account. They’ll also need to add you as a manager of the shared drive of the files’ new home.

Then, access My Drive with your admin account and expand the My Drive and Shared drives folders to show both the My Drive folder you’re moving content from and the Shared drive you’re moving content to.

Drag-and-drop the My Drive folders to the Shared drive folder, accept the confirmation request, and away you go.

It’s important to note that if you’re transferring a large folder, it can take a while and it will interrupt your workflow so be sure to do it outside of business hours or at a time that won’t affect productivity.

Step 3: Transfer Drive Files to a New Owner

There will be some instances when the files you want to transfer need to remain private and don’t belong in a shared file. Most likely these files contain sensitive information and apply only to those in high-level management.

If the previous owner of these documents has left the company and you want to delete their account to prevent any future access to these files, it’s important to transfer ownership as soon as possible.

From your Google Admin home page, go to Apps > Google Workspace > Drives and Docs. Click Transfer ownership.

In the From user field, enter the current owner’s email address to find the user. In the To user field, enter the email address of the new owner. Then click Transfer Files.

It’s important to note that the original owner will retain edit access following the transfer unless you revoke their access by resetting their password or deleting the user from the organization altogether.

Step 4: Accessing a Previous User’s Files

So far, all the steps you’ve had to take assume that the owner of the files is either a current user of Google Workspace or an employee that has complied with your requests to access their documents.

But this won’t always be the case. Unfortunately, it is likely that at some point, your organization will say goodbye to a disgruntled employee who is less compliant and poses a real risk of a data breach for your business.

We know that you’ll agree it’s imperative to access this type of user’s files immediately to ensure they aren’t withholding vital information from your organization and that they don’t have the opportunity to destroy it.

The quickest and easiest way to do this is to reset the user’s password. To do this, you must be signed in with an administrator account and have reset password privileges.

From your Admin console home page, click Users.

Once you’ve found the user in question, hover over their details and click Reset password. You can either let the system generate a password for you or you can create one yourself.

If you choose to create one, make sure you do it on the spot and uncheck Ask user to change their password when they sign in. This will prevent the user from accessing their account from a personal device moving forwards.

Step 5: Deleting Users

This step only applies to users that are no longer employed by the company. If the employee has been compliant in sharing any files they had access to before their departure, it’s probably not so important to take this step right away.

But if the user is non-compliant and disgruntled with the company, it’s best to delete them as soon as possible to maintain security.

Before you delete a user, it’s imperative to be confident that you’ve transferred all important files to a new owner. After you delete the user, you only have 20 days to restore them and their data before they’re permanently deleted.

To delete, open your Admin console and click Users.

Hover over the user you want to delete and click More > Delete user.

Common Problems When Accessing User Files as a G Suite Admin

Gaining access to user files as a G Suite admin is a straightforward process. If you follow the steps above, you should have no issues accessing and moving files around as you see fit.

However, you should be aware of the few stumbling blocks that you may come across in the process.

User Access Outside Company Time

One of the only downsides to utilizing Google Workspace for your organizational needs is that it’s relatively easy for users to access their work account outside of work hours or from a personal device.

While you can monitor user movements, this does pave the way for a disgruntled employee to gain access to sensitive company information.

The best way to combat this issue arising is to implement company policy around unauthorized user access outside of company time to ensure users understand their bounds. You can also suspend users in breach of the policy temporarily or delete users completely to prevent them from gaining accidental access in the future.

Time-Consuming Setup

If you didn’t start out utilizing shared drives from the beginning, it can be a time-consuming process to get them set up and have the applicable content transferred and organized in the right drives.

To make the process easier on everyone, why not grant department managers permissions to help with the process. After all, they are likely to have a better understanding of where their respective files should live.

Furthermore, when you have to move multiple or large files, it can take a long time to process, just like it would on a standard desktop solution.

With this in mind, if you know you’ll be transferring a lot of files at once, it’s a good idea to set the transfer up towards the end of the day or overnight, so it has less potential to affect your workflow and productivity in the process.

Setting New Habits

When collaboration hasn’t played a significant role in your organization, you might find it tricky to get employees on board with the habit of saving their files to a Shared drive instead of their own drive.

Although most employees understand their work is company property, they may also feel apprehensive to share all their ideas with their colleagues.

It’s important to set expectations and ground rules surrounding the sharing of files. Make sure employees understand that saving their work to a shared drive is purely for collaborative purposes and their transparency will help the organization move forward collectively.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira