Skip to main content

Chromebooks in the workplace: How one non-profit uses Chrome OS to get things done

Samsung Chromebook Pro
Samsung Chromebook Pro (Image credit: Android Central)

Despite its first impression, Chrome OS is great in the workplace. Every type of business needs access to email, internal sites for company announcements, calendars, and other basic tools. For the longest time, Windows has dominated the business landscape, but increasingly Chromebooks are challenging that notion.

During the weekdays, I work for a non-profit focused on mental and behavioral health. We have offices in a few counties in central Indiana, so we need to be able to communicate instantly to take care of our patients. While some members of our staff use Windows laptops and desktops, 80% of our workforce uses Chromebooks or Chromeboxes, and we all connect with Google's enterprise services. Certain workarounds are necessary to make all our tools available on Chrome, as I'll talk about, but most of it just... works.

Let's explore.

The basics

Google services make collaboration effortless and intuitive.

When our employees sign into their computers or open the Chrome browser at the beginning of the day, we have three tabs open for them: Gmail, Google Calendar, and our company Intranet. Some pro users may prefer using a dedicated email application, but most people just access their email from a website. Most of our new employees tell us they have a personal Google account, so we don't have to do much training to get them up to speed with using Gmail, Calendar and other tools.

All of the documents that stay within the company are handled inside Google Docs, and our spreadsheets and presentations are done inside Google Sheets and Slides. Since everything we do is automatically saved to Google Drive, no work is lost. When we do our orientation classes, we show the collaboration features in Google Docs; it's incredible watching everyone type into the same document and have everything "click" in their minds.

The same goes for other services like Hangouts. Google deserves the bad reputation it has built over the last few years with all of its various and opposing messaging applications, but enterprise users haven't been hurt by that.

Hangouts has been rock solid for us, and it integrates directly with Google Calendar. When someone creates a new meeting, they automatically get a Hangouts Meet link for video conferencing. They don't need to visit a separate page or check a certain box because it just happens automatically.

Speaking of Hangouts Meet, that tool is the coolest part of my job. We have a few Chromebooks that are set to only load meet.google.com. Setting this up didn't require a different version of the operating system or a separate license: every time we need to set up one of these Hangouts Meet Chromebooks or Chromeboxes, we just enter the serial number into a list in Google administrative console. Reboot the device, and that's it.

These Chromebooks have saved our skins plenty of times over the last few months. There are some days where a doctor in one location has a light patient load, and there are a large number of patients in other locations. The doctor starts the Hangouts Meet session, the front desk staff at the other location connects to them with a meeting code, then the patient goes into a room by themselves and talks to the doctor over the video conference.

Chromebooks have saved our butts more times than we can count.

The patient can't load any other websites, and if the Chromebox reboots or the session ends, it automatically goes back to the Hangouts Meet home screen. It's cool as heck, and has quickly become a vital part of how we treat patients.

All of our Chrome devices are running the latest version of Chrome OS with all of the proper security patches.

Our conference rooms are all run on Hangouts as well. Any Chromebook or Chromebox can be tied to a conference room calendar, and any user in those meetings can share content with the other participants by using Google Cast. These machines aren't running some ancient version of embedded Windows or Linux; they're using the same version of Chrome OS as our other devices. They get updated automatically every six weeks, and if something breaks they can be replaced in less than 20 minutes.

Using Chrome devices has plenty of advantages for our IT shop, as well. Chromebooks and Chromeboxes are much faster to setup and configure than Windows computers. There was one day I configured and updated 50 Chromeboxes, while I can typically do three or four Windows laptops in the same amount of time. Chrome devices are encrypted out of the box, and while hardware failures are still a thing, almost every software problem can be fixed with by factory resetting the device or recovering it.

Workarounds

There are some tools we use that aren't web-based, however. In this case, programs like Parallels Remote Access, Citrix and VMWare can be used to host, deploy and manage these applications.

We also need to be able to share documents with outside companies, most of which use Microsoft Office. Google's tools do an okay job of converting to and from Microsoft's formats, but they aren't foolproof. This means we also have a handful of employees using Microsoft Office — either accessed remotely through Parallels or installed to their Windows PCs. Some of our staff use Windows laptops because Chromebooks often can't reliably print to a printer over USB. Our marketing team needs Photoshop and After Effects, and while Adobe has started to make these available to Chrome devices through the Google Play Store, they aren't a replacement for their desktop equivalents just yet.

Apps like Photoshop, After Effects and other pro tools still don't have equivalent experiences on Chrome OS.

These use cases are our low hanging fruit, and the majority of employees are perfectly productive on a Chrome device. Most of our employees even prefer Chrome OS over Windows because it is harder to mess up, and is easier to navigate. This makes me even happier since Chromebooks are safer and easier for us to keep track of. My main ongoing project is to find people using Windows laptops that don't need that much power, offer them a Chromebook and see how they do. Everyone I've done that to has been extremely happy, which makes me happy and increases productivity for the reasons listed above.

Microsoft is taking Office to the same cloud-based world that Google's tools are in.

Microsoft is taking Office to the same cloud-based world that Google's tools are in.

We use Chrome and Google services, but Microsoft is going in the same direction with Office 365. Whenever I have to install and license an actual program on someone's laptop, it feels so… archaic. Being able to have the user visit a website and type in their password is so much easier, both for me as an administrator and them as a user. We're on our way to being 100% cloud based, and we're using Chrome OS to get there.

Have you used a Chromebook in a business setting? Let us know down below!

16 Comments
  • I found this to be a very interesting read. It sounds like Chrome OS works very well with this organization and how they do things. Thanks for sharing!
  • My Acer R11 is the best invention since the internet. Having that light Chrome OS with the Andriod apps..... Oh my!! ...and still be able to use Microsoft Office too!! *sniff* Thanks...
  • I recently made the switch to a Chromebook for work, and it's been a seamless transition. I work in consulting, and 95% of what I need to do I can do on a Chromebook. For the other 5%, I have a PC and a Macbook lying around. With how things are evolving with Chrome OS, I'm sure I'll soon be able to do 100% of my work from a Chromebook.
  • Not too familiar with Parallels Remote Access but from the context it seems like it is just another remote access app. Would you not be able to use Chrome Remote Desktop app instead of using a third party app? I use it to connect my Chromebook to my Office Desktop and it works wonderfully. Also, for the users that "need" Microsoft apps, there is a Office Online app that you can use to access all of the Microsoft Office suite through the browser. Not sure if you have looked into this as an option for your non-profit setup.
  • Chrome Remote Desktop is wonderful, but is used to access an entire computer. Parallels, Citrix, etc hosts the applications on a server, but the end user can only access those applications, not the entire server. Office Online requires an Office 365 subscription. Instead of the subscription, we use single Office 2013 licenses on our server and for the local installations.
  • There are FLOSS you can also put in virtual machines or even install via Crouton that can you free from Adobe Photoshop, or After Effects as GIMP, Blender or a lot more you can find only searching for alternative to ...
  • For those that use it in the workplace, the biggest addition for me has been MyScript Nebo, running on Android, with the Samsung Chromebook Plus. Handwriting notes, converting to typed text, saving as a word document for sharing has been unbelievably effective. The best $6 I've ever spent. It works far better on my Chromebook then on my old Surface or my new Lenovo Yoga.
  • Our entire office runs on Chromeboxes using RDP to connect to our legacy software running on a windows server as the backend. No more pc headaches and Google docs, sheets, slides, gmail and calendar run flawlessly. Happy to be rid of the Exchange server nightmare. Microsoft still gets their RDS CAL license and server fees but these are one time costs. Once the legacy software goes cloud based their is no reason to have a true pc in the building.
  • Not a snowballs chance in hell. I used to configure and image 100 Windows pcs in 4 hours, all plug and play and they had every piece of software they needed.
  • Saving people's medical info to google drive? Seriously?
  • Not at all, that stays inside our electronic medical record program. Google Docs is used for all other documents though.
  • I live in northern Europe, where medical companies and government comanies are prohibited to use any public server to store documents. I don't think I would like any form of documentation about me on one of those...
  • It isn't a public server at all, but okay.
  • I work for fit20 a Dutch franchisor. We have more than 120 personal training fitness studio's worldwide and are expanding rapidly. Until recently our franchisors could choose their own devices. But because of the European GDPR we changed that policy. Chrome OS is inherently more save than Windows 10 and therefore required. 2 steps verification is only required once a month one a Chromebook, with a Windows device every time you log in! Our franchises can do everything they need on a Chromebook or -Box and with Android for Work and the Chrome Management Console cyber security is on a high level.
  • YES! I've happily used a Chromebook in a business setting. Having an org on G Suite makes using them even more compelling, especially if you're collaborating with other organizations using Google products. But even if it's just you, 80-90% of what a lot of what we needed to do we could get done in Chrome OS.
  • Really looking forward to Chrome OS' progress.