Google LLC said today it’s expanding its support for hybrid workforces with a host of new capabilities added to Google Meet, Spaces and Voice.
In a blog post, Google Meet and Voice Director of Product Management Dave Citron and Gmail and Google Chat Product Lead Drew Rowny said the updates are meant to help workers stay better connected and engaged while they’re working from home, the office or any other location.
The backdrop for the raft of new features is the new reality of today’s workplace. By Google’s polling, more than three-quarters of people now think hybrid work will become standard practice. “Hybrid work is here to stay,” said Citron.
The bulk of today’s updates pertain to Google Meet, which is the company’s video collaboration tool that’s similar to Zoom. For many, the new ability to merge Meet with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides is likely to be appreciated. Google said users will now be able to start a meeting and then drag the Meet interface into whatever document they’re working on, so they can present that content to their colleagues.
“This enables everyone in the meeting to collaborate in real-time while having a conversation — all from the same tab,” Citron and Rowny said.
While collaborating, meeting participants will be able to express themselves better with “in-meeting reactions,” giving them another way to provide quick feedback.
Meanwhile, multitaskers will no doubt appreciate the new picture-in-picture capability (below) of Meet, which will enables users to view a floating windows with up to four tiles showing meeting attendees as they flick through various different applications.
Google added that it’s improving what it says is the “in-room experience,” rolling out automatic noise cancellation capabilities on Google Meet hardware from Logitech International S.A., Acer Inc. and ASUSTek Computer Inc. As the name suggests, this will help to eliminate background noises such as someone tapping away on a keyboard or the muffled whispering of colleagues also present in the room.
Google Meet is also getting an improved livestream experience, Google said. The idea is to strengthen organizations’ ability to broadcast a message, and to that end it’s making it possible for users to host a meeting with up to 500 attendees, while livestreams will be able to support an audience of up to 100,000 people across Google Workspace domains. In addition, Google said Livestream attendees will be able to take part in polls and Q&A sessions later this year, similar to the experience of Meet attendees today.
The final update to Meet pertains to client-side encryption, which is an optional capability now available in beta that gives users full encryption of their meetings. Users will have direct control of both their encryption keys and the identity provider that’s used to access those keys.
Then there are advances for Google Spaces, formerly known as “Chat Rooms.” This is Google’s platform for asynchronous communications, allowing team members to drop by anytime to share ideas and discuss ongoing projects with one another. Spaces is somewhat similar to Slack and it’s getting even more like the Salesforce.com Inc. company with the addition of inline threading, meaning users can now respond to specific comments on a thread and create side conversations apart from the main channel of conversation.
Other new capabilities in Spaces include the ability to invite new users to join a Space by sending them a link, introduced last week, and a new search capability that will allow employees of a firm to find and join Spaces within their organization, coming later in the year. Google is also improving its search capability within Spaces to help users surface relevant files and chats that may get buried in the conversation.
A final update to Spaces will see the team size limits increased to 25,000 users by the end of the year, up from 8,000 today. “This will improve knowledge sharing and collaboration in larger organizations and unlock key scenarios, including team, department and organizational announcements,” Citron and Rowny said.
Finally, Google said, it’s bringing its Google Voice service to more users. The company said it has seen renewed interest in cloud-based phone systems that untether people from legacy desk phones.
Earlier this month, Google said calls from European Google Voice numbers to mobile and landline numbers in most European countries will now be included within the Google Voice license, a move that was clearly aimed at making the service more appealing for European customers.
Other updates, coming next month, include on-demand call recording for Google Voice Standard and Premium subscribers. Meanwhile, Premium subscribers will get the additional benefit of automated call recordings.
With reporting from Robert Hof