Google has unveiled a wide-reaching overhaul to Google Workspace (previously G Suite), its suite of productivity and collaboration tools, in preparation for the rise of hybrid working once the pandemic subsides.
In a hybrid working model, employees divide their time between the home and office, reaping the rewards of remote working without sacrificing the benefits of face-to-face interaction. However, Google believes this new flexible arrangement will demand a set of tools that is adept at supporting all ways of working at once.
“We’re especially interested in what we call collaboration equity, or the ability to contribute equally, regardless of whether you’re sitting in the same room as your colleague or hemispheres apart,” said Javier Soltero, who heads up Google Workspace.
“Today, we’re announcing new tools and features to help people make the most of their time, collaborate equally and deliver more impact.”
Google Workspace time management
Some of the most significant Workspace changes, which are expected to roll out in the coming weeks and months, revolve around how employees divide up their working day and make themselves available to colleagues.
“A trend we’re seeing in today’s workforce is the juggling of professional and personal responsibilities, with many employees now working in ‘sprints’,” explained Soltero. “As more businesses embrace a flexible, hybrid model, we’ll all need tools to help us achieve better work-life balance and make the best use of our time.”
A new “segmentable working hours” feature, for example, will allow Workspace users to specify chunks of time during which they are available for meetings, while “location indicators” will show which days a person is working from home versus the office.
“Focus time” and “recurring out-of-office events”, on the other hand, will give users a way to schedule distraction-free portions of the day. The former limits the kinds of notifications received during a predefined period, while the latter can be used to establish regular time slots away from the desk, automatically declining all calendar events that overlap.
Workspace is also getting a new analytics feature that will let employees see how their time is divided between each of their responsibilities. This data is visible only to the employee, not their manager, so cannot be wielded as a means of monitoring staff.
Beyond new time management facilities, Google will also deliver a range of upgrades designed to make collaboration more “equitable and accessible”.
The company has announced new Google Meet options for those that use a range of devices (e.g. conference room hardware, Nest Hub Max etc.) to host meetings. According to Soltero, these “second screen experiences” will allow users to present and participate in all aspects of a meeting (chat, polls, Q&As etc.) from any device and any location.
Google Meet for mobile devices will also receive a much-needed tile view, allowing multiple attendees to appear on-screen at once, while picture-in-picture support will give users the option to perform other actions on their device without navigating away from the meeting feed.
In the name of inclusivity, meanwhile, Google is introducing a live captions feature for live streaming, with support for a range of languages, along with Q&A and polling functionality and the ability to stream across multiple Workspace domains within a single organization.
Rounding out the announcement, Soltero revealed that users of the most basic Workspace package, Essentials, will gain access to a few additional services, including the new-look Google Chat, whiteboard app Jamboard and Calendar.