Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has been a shock to economies around the world, one of the markets that has undeniably soared is that of digital collaboration. The shift to distributed work across the globe forced companies to place collaboration tools front and centre of everything they do, which in turn resulted in vendors accelerating development in this area.
In other words, the race was on, and the likes of Google, Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft all quickly diverted their attention to their collaboration offerings - recognising the huge potential for growth.
The challenge has been not just making tools accessible and available at scale, but also understanding how work is changing and what shifts we will see in the workplace over the long term. The development of these tools needs to accurately reflect the reality of what people need in the workplace, when that physical workplace no longer exists.
Which is why we note with interest the latest announcement from Google Workspace - the rebranded suite of tools from Google that includes, Gmail, Meet, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Slides, etc.
Google is pursuing a model that focuses on what it calls ‘collaboration equity', whereby workers can get work done effectively, no matter where they are located. Not only this, but the latest features recognise that workers are facing greater challenges in balancing their work and personal lives, with the need for more flexibility.
The announcement sees Google Workspace build in tools such as segmentable working hours and focus time for users, with the aim of helping people manage their time more effectively when not in a 9 to 5 office environment.
VP and GM of Google Workspace, Javier Soltero, said:
As a company, we've been focused on how we can make this new hybrid work model support collaboration and innovation, and enhance inclusion and wellbeing for Google employees. We're especially interested in what we call collaboration equity, or the ability to contribute equally, regardless of location, role, experience level, language, and device preference. We've been experimenting with ways to bridge the gap between the in-person and the "somewhere else" by pushing our technology and the physical spaces of our campuses to be more inclusive. We're looking for ways to maximize participation everywhere we can-from personal desk space to conference rooms to group collaboration areas.
Google Workspace is at the nexus of Google's own transformation. After all, Google Workspace was built in the cloud to power flexible, real-time, anywhere creation and equitable collaboration. Whether it's with our Google Meet Series One hardware kits that enable safe, touch-free meetings and use Google AI to create immersive and inclusive experiences for all. Or the ways we help people focus their time and attention with intelligent, proactive suggestions that thoughtfully connect distributed content, people, and conversations. Or the features that promote inclusion, like live captions in multiple languages, so that everyone can participate effectively in video meetings.
It's all part of Google Workspace's mission to enable a hybrid work experience that enhances collaboration, strengthens human connection, and increases wellbeing for people-wherever they are and however they work.
As noted above, Google is thinking about how its tools can better help users manage their time and attention in this COVID-19 economy. The hybrid nature of work requires new ways to approach the working day. Some of the new Workspace features include:
Google Assistant - Users can now use their voice to ask Google what's next on their calendar, or to quickly join a meeting and send a message. Google Assistant is available for Workspace on any mobile device and is in beta for some smart speakers and smart displays.
Segmentable working hours - this will help users specify multiple work blocks in working hour settings to signal to team members when they're online and available for meetings.
Recurring out-of-office events - users will be able to schedule regular, recurring out-of-office blocks, automatically declining invites during that time.
Location indicators - Workspace will allow users to share which days they will be working from home and which days they will be in the office.
Focus Time - this aims to let people minimise distractions by limiting notifications during specified times.
Time insights - visible to the employee only, users can assess how they're spending their time against their own priorities.
On the ‘seamless collaboration' front, Google Workspace is now offering:
Second screen experiences in Google Meet - users will be able to host meetings across a mix of devices, such as Google Meet hardware in conference rooms or Nest Hub Max's at home.
New mobile functionality - a new tile view is being made available to see more users at once, while split-screen and picture-in-picture support on Meet mobile will help users to chat or browse Gmail without missing the visual thread of a meeting.
Livestream enhancements - Google Meet will now include the option for Q&As, polls and live captions, with the aim of creating more inclusive meetings.
In addition to the above, Google is also announcing Workspace Frontline, which is a new offering built specifically for frontline employees - such as retail staff, nurses, restaurant workers and those on site at construction.
Workspace Frontline is a custom solution that includes communication and collaboration apps, such as Gmail, Chat, Docs and Drive, as well as advanced endpoint management that Google claims will "help keep a company's data secure".
Commenting on the Frontline release, Soltero said:
From nurses to grocery store associates to warehouse employees, essential frontline workers have played a crucial and often heroic role during the pandemic. Despite their importance, those on the frontlines seldom have access to the same collaboration and communication tools that keep knowledge workers informed and connected. As a result, frontline workers often resort to their own personal devices and apps to get the information they need, when they need it.
In the coming weeks, we'll be launching Google Workspace Frontline with these challenges in mind. This will open up communication and collaboration channels between frontline workers and corporate teams in a way that's safe and secure.
Google obviously isn't the only vendor out there racing to cater to the needs of workplaces that are quickly shifting how they operate. But it's interesting to observe the features that are being released by the likes of Google, as they pre-empt the direction of the market. It's clear that front of mind at Workspace HQ is the pressures being placed on employees working within their home environments, as well as the ability to collaborate more effectively via digital tools. We will continue to talk to Google Workspace customers (as we did for this health case study), to find out the reality of how this is working out on the ground.