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What is Google Sheets and How Does it Work?

Google Sheets is one of the productivity applications that’s included with free consumer Gmail and with Google Workspace [for business].

It is a cloud-based spreadsheet application. No desktop software is needed to create and edit spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are stored in the cloud, on a virtual drive called Google Drive.

Businesswoman viewing spreadheet

Google Sheets can be used for everything from basic calculations to sophisticated data analysis.

Google Sheets has most of the functionality of a traditional desktop spreadsheet application. The fact that it’s cloud-based adds a new level of capabilities, including sharing, collaboration, data exchange with other applications, and publishing of data visualizations on websites.


There are a number of business and personal templates in Google Sheets that provide just a few examples of how Sheets can be used. A template created by accounting vendor Xero could actually be used by a sole proprietorship to track and report on revenue and expenses. You can view a copy of this template even if you don’t have a Google account (we’ve publicly shared a copy).

Google Sheets Work Templates


Google Sheets includes over 400 functions. A simple and commonly used function is SUM, which “returns the sum of a series of numbers and/or cells.” A less commonly used function, and one that only a statistician can love, is GAMMA.DIST, which “calculates the gamma distribution, a two-parameter continuous probability distribution.”

Functions are arranged in the following categories:

  • Array
  • Database
  • Date
  • Engineering
  • Filter
  • Financial
  • Google
  • Info
  • Logical
  • Lookup
  • Math
  • Operator
  • Parser
  • Statistical
  • Text

There’s something for everyone, whether a user is in engineering, finance, marketing, sales, operations, or management.

Pivot Tables and Charts

Pivot tables can be used to summarize data that has repeating parameters. In another blog post, we showed how to summarize and display survey data using Pivot tables and charts.

For the functions listed above, we did the following:

Google Sheets Add-ons

There are many add-ons for Google Sheets, some of which allow for easily pulling in data from other sources such as Google Analytics and CRM systems like Salesforce and Copper.

Google publishes a free add-on for Google Analytics, which is aptly named Google Analytics Spreadsheet add-on. This add-on supports most of Google Analytics’ dimensions and metrics. A daily refresh can be scheduled so that reports are always up to date.

There’s a Google Sheets add-on for Salesforce called G-Connector for Salesforce. The add-on for Copper called Copper CRM Custom Report Builder.

With Zapier, a Google Sheets sheet can be updated from dozens of different cloud applications. Zapier also works in the other direction. For example, a sales lead from Google Forms can be pushed into a CRM system.

Using Google Sites with embedded Google Sheets charts, dashboards can be created on intranet pages that are only viewable within an organization.


As we explained in detail in a post about Google Docs, Google Sheets can be selectively shared with anyone within an organization or anyone outside an organization who has a Google account. Once shared, there are a number of collaboration options.

A Google Sheets sheet can also be downloaded in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Excel (.xlsx), OpenDocument format (.ods) and comma-separated values (.csv).

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