Google tweaks its products for new reality: Hybrid work

Google tweaks its products for new reality: Hybrid work

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Google is rolling out updates to it suite of productivity tools as it aims to capitalize on a more flexible future of work.

Many companies have been changing the way office employees work since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, in some cases allowing partially or fully remote work. As a result, tech companies like Zoom, Cisco and Google have been rolling out products and features to help with collaboration. Google’s latest update to its Workspace tools were revealed at its annual I/O developer conference Wednesday.

“We [are enabling] people to be effective regardless of where they happen to be working or learning from,” said Javier Soltero, general manager and vice president of Google Workspace. “There’s different ways to go about doing work, and not everyone is going to be on the same click every step of the way.”

Hybrid work for many is messy and exhausting

Soltero said the latest additions to Workspace should help people as they “embrace hybrid” work, or working part-time in their offices, a shift he says is here to stay. They include features to help workers keep up with interactions, easily get meeting notes, and better represent themselves on video calls.

Here are the four things you should know about the latest features on Google Workspace.

Need notes from the meeting? No problem.

Later this year, the company’s video calling service, Google Meet, will be able to automatically transcribe meetings for select users. When a host enables transcription, all participants will be notified, as they are when a meeting is recorded. Then Google’s artificial intelligence will transcribe the meeting, crediting comments to individual users or as an aggregate for those participating from a conference room. The meeting transcript will automatically be saved as a Google Doc, which can then be shared by the host and viewed or edited simultaneously by users.

“One of the hardest parts on video calls with multiple people is people talking over each other, and in hybrid [environments], that becomes harder,” Soltero said. “Transcriptions allow any participant to not only see what was discussed, but reference it later.”

Stay up to date on the latest conversations

Aiming to accomplish a similar goal, in the coming months, Workspace will roll out summaries for its group conversation platform, Spaces. The feature will summarize, in a few sentences, conversations that a user may have missed by being away or doing other tasks. The summary will tie what was said to who said it in some cases or provide an aggregate of the topic. Users can then decide whether they want to scroll down to get more details.

“The effect of providing that summary [is] the person feels informed about what’s going on and either comfortable about skipping the details or motivated to go track them,” Soltero said.

The feature is expected to roll out initially to English-language customers using business, enterprise, education, essentials and front-line versions of Google Workspace. The company expects to extend this capability to Google Meet next year.

Look and sound good on video calls

Google is also aiming to improve how people look and sound on Google Meet. In the coming months, it will debut options called portrait light and portrait restore that aim to improve low-quality video streams and light users as though they are in a studio. And Google says its “de-reverberation” option will improve sound quality, getting rid of echoes in large rooms, for example.

All three features will be available for select versions of Workspace.

“This idea … is making sure people can be seen or heard, and employing AI to do that,” Soltero said. “It’s all in the service of ensuring equity on a video call.”

More safety and collaboration features

Also on Google Meet, in the coming months, users will be able to synchronize and play video or audio so that all participants see or hear it at the same time.

Lastly, Google is extending its phishing and malware protections that exist on Gmail to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides so that users get alerted about suspicious links and guided back to safety. The protections are expected to be available to all users later this year.

Soltero said Google will continue to work on features and products that serve the next era of work.

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