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Bridging the hybrid work gaps with Google Workspace

September 8, 2021
Sanaz Ahari

Senior Director of Product Management

We’re bridging the gaps in hybrid work with enhancements to Google Meet and the introduction of Spaces.

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In June, we shared our vision for navigating the future of hybrid work with a single connected experience in Google Workspace. Now, as many of our customers begin to embark on their own hybrid journeys, I wanted to share how we’re helping them bridge the gaps in this new way of working.

A dedicated place for team collaboration: Spaces are now live

Spaces are the central place for team collaboration in Workspace and starting today, Spaces are live for all users. Spaces are unique in that they are tightly integrated with Google Workspace tools like Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, and Tasks, providing a better way for people to engage in topic-based discussions, share knowledge and ideas, move projects forward and build communities and team culture.

We hear from our customers that they’re continuing to work across a broad range of locations and working hours, and that Spaces can be a central hub for collaboration, both in real time and asynchronously. Instead of starting an email chain or scheduling a video meeting, teams can come together directly in a Space to move projects and topics along, whether it’s a team of 10 for “2022 Roadmap Planning” or a team of 1,000 for the “Company-wide All-Hands.”

With Spaces, teams can share ideas, collaborate on documents, and manage tasks from a single place. Because all their work is preserved for future reference, team members can easily jump in and contribute at a time that works best for them, seeing a full history of the conversations, context, and content along the way. Using Spaces has already helped my own team, which is spread across time zones and varied in its working styles. It’s been helpful to rely on Spaces to retain and structure foundational knowledge, whether it's for onboarding a new teammate or preserving context when someone moves to a new role.

We’re just getting started with Spaces and I’m excited to share a little more about where we’ll take it next. 

In the coming months, our users will see: 

  • Streamlined navigation: A flexible user interface helps users easily access their inbox, chats, Spaces and meetings—all from a single location—so they can stay on top of everything that’s important.

  • Discoverable Spaces: Spaces and their content can be made discoverable to all members of an organization, so other people can find and join the conversation. Administrators can also set discoverability as the default for their organization.

  • Enhanced search: Allows users to easily find content from within and across Spaces, or even discover new Spaces to join. “Search everything” in Spaces opens up powerful new collaboration possibilities and makes it easier to access the team’s collective knowledge base.

  • In-line topic threading: The ability to reply to any message within a Space fuels deeper discussions and collaboration across teams and organizations.

  • Robust security & admin features: Tools for content moderation, managing Spaces, and establishing the right rules for healthy communication across domains and companies.

In-line topic threading in Spaces fuels deeper discussions

Making meetings more hybrid friendly

Spaces will play an important role in laying the groundwork for meetings and, in some cases, reduce the number of meetings a team needs to gain alignment. Having a dedicated space for asynchronous collaboration, with access to all the right content and context, will help teams be more deliberate about scheduling meetings. This is top of mind for us and many of our customers given the rise in meeting fatigue over the last 18 months. But when having a meeting genuinely feels worthwhile, the experience of transitioning into (and out of) it from different collaboration touchpoints should be seamless. 

Over the past few months, in collaboration with many customers and across teams within Google, we developed a handbook for navigating hybrid work that includes best-practice blueprints for the five most common hybrid meeting types. Because meetings are a foundational piece of hybrid work, our goal is to make them as productive, immersive and inclusive as possible. 

Scheduling meetings that work across the entire team

With hybrid work, many teams—my own included—have locations and working hours that can change daily. When many of us were together in the office, we might have tended to schedule meetings at a time that favored the “in-office majority,” but now it’s especially important to schedule meetings that scale across the entire distributed team. 

Now, beyond indicating their virtual or physical presence when accepting meeting invites, team members can set their location for each work day in Calendar. When combined, these capabilities allow meeting organizers and on-site support teams to plan for the right mix of in-person and virtual attendance. They can also provide greater visibility and help set expectations across hybrid teams.

Working location in Google Calendar helps set expectations with co-workers

Making meetings more spontaneous

Remember when you’d casually bump into a colleague in the office hallway or a break room and start a conversation that sparked new ideas? That’s perhaps the thing I’m looking forward to most as more of my team plan their part-time return to the office. These casual encounters were always a great way to build relationships and learn about topics that might not come up in structured meetings. To help enable these spontaneous connections when teammates aren’t in the office together, we’re bringing Google Meet calling to Workspace.

Google Meet calling is a seamless experience of initiating a video or audio call between one or more participants, complementing more structured, scheduled video meetings. Our intention is to bring Meet calling to all the natural endpoints in Workspace where you’d initiate an ad-hoc call including chats, people cards, and Spaces, but this will come first to one-to-one chats within the Gmail mobile app. Soon I’ll be able to call members of my team directly from a one-to-one chat. This will ring their device running the Gmail mobile app and send a call chip to our chat on their laptop, so they can easily answer from any device. It’s not quite the same as a spontaneous hallway conversation, but it might be the next best thing in a hybrid setting.

Google Meet calling from 1:1 chats in the Gmail mobile app easily connects co-workers

Ensuring collaboration equity in hybrid meetings

How do we ensure that hybrid meetings aren’t two meetings in one, divided between those in-person and those who are remote? Effective hybrid meetings need a unified experience so that the people sitting together in the same room can interact with their remote colleagues seamlessly, without it ever feeling like there are two parallel conversations.

We designed Companion mode in Google Meet to specifically meet this challenge and we’ll start rolling it out to customers in November. With Companion mode I can host or join a meeting from within a conference room using my laptop while leveraging the in-room audio and video—and it all happens without any awkward audio feedback. This functionality lets me share content or see presentations up close on my own device, access the meeting chat and whiteboard, initiate and vote on polls, or post a question in Q&A, just as I would from home. And to ensure that users have greater choice over how they participate in meetings, live-translated captions will be available in Meet and through Companion mode by the end of the year. We’re currently working on translating meetings in English to French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, with many more languages coming in the future.

Companion mode let’s in-room attendees host, present and fully participate in meetings

Expanding choice and flexibility for meeting hardware

While Companion mode keeps people in the room seamlessly connected to their remote colleagues, meeting hardware plays a crucial role in making hybrid meetings feel more immersive and human, with the ability for everyone to be clearly seen and heard. To provide more flexibility and choice on this foundation of how we come together in a hybrid work world, we’re announcing an expanded Google Meet hardware portfolio and interoperability with other conference room solutions.

First, we’re announcing two new all-in-one video conferencing devices to complement our Series One Room Kits. The Series One Desk 27 is an all-in-one 27” device that’s perfect for small shared spaces or your desktop, either in the office or at home. Series One Board 65 is an all-in-one 65” 4K device that can be paired with an optional stand for ultimate configuration flexibility—turning any room or space into a video collaboration hub in minutes. 

Both devices feature collaboration capabilities with the Jamboard app built right in, and each can be used as an external display. While optimized for Google Meet, USB-C connection from your laptop gives you the flexibility to use the meeting app of your choice while leveraging the high-fidelity audio and high-definition video on Series One Desk 27 and Board 65. You can learn more about these devices developed in partnership with Avocor through our on-demand webinar starting at 9 AM PT today.

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We’re also proud to announce new third-party devices coming to the Google Meet hardware ecosystem. Google has certified the Logitech Rally Bar Mini and Rally Bar for Google Meet, which provide complete room solutions for small and mid-sized rooms. You can learn more about these Google Meet-certified products in Logitech’s September 21 webinar. Additionally, the Rayz Rally Pro is a new mobile device speaker dock by Appcessori that will automatically launch Google Meet for video meetings and provide an improved audio experience from your mobile device.

New third-party devices certified for Google Meet

Certified Google Meet hardware ensures high-quality video and audio in meetings and is easy to deploy and manage. You can view our full Google Meet device portfolio and purchase directly from approved resellers by visiting the Google Meet Hardware website

While Google Meet customers enjoy a full-featured experience on Meet hardware, we realize they sometimes need to connect with people outside of their video calling network. To enable this, organizations can use Pexip for Google Meet to seamlessly join Meet meetings from the widest range of third-party video conferencing solutions. Today, we’re also announcing support for bidirectional interoperability with devices from Webex by Cisco and Google Meet hardware. Soon you’ll be able to launch a Google Meet meeting on Webex hardware and a Webex meeting on Google Meet hardware. Calling interoperability between Meet and Webex is supported on Series One Board 65, Series One Desk 27, and the rest of the Google Meet hardware portfolio, as well as Webex Room Series, Room Kit Series, Desk Series and Board Series. We expect general availability later this year. You can find more details here. We plan to give Meet users even broader calling interoperability with support for other conferencing services in the near future. 

Navigating hybrid work is a journey

We’re thrilled to bring these new Google Workspace experiences and devices to our customers, but we also realize that navigating hybrid work will be a journey of learning and adaptation for every organization. Two resources we recently developed can help along the way:

Bridging the gaps in the emerging hybrid work world will necessarily be a combination of technology, workplace culture, and reimagining the use of physical spaces. But developing a “hybrid-first” mindset starts with the tools people use every day to connect, create, and collaborate, and Google Workspace will continue to play a crucial role in that evolution.

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