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Google Workspace picks up new features designed for remote work

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Including new ways to set your status in Google’s office tools

Second screen in Google Meet
Second screen in Google Meet.
Image: Google

Google is adding a smattering of new features to Google Workspace today, including new tools for categorizing your focus time in Google Calendar and Chat, better ways to join Google Meet videoconferences with multiple devices, and a version of its office suite for frontline workers. It’s also taking Google Assistant for Workspace out of beta and making it generally available.

The company is trying to categorize these features as part of a new push for what it calls “collaboration equity.” For Google, it’s a high-minded way of explaining the tools it’s trying to create so people working from home are not put at a disadvantage compared to people working from an office (when people are allowed back into offices, that is).

The idea that comes closest to hitting that mark is Google’s tools for setting your status across its suite of products. In addition to setting up out-of-office and working hours, users will also be able to create a new event type called Focus Time. When you set up a block of Focus Time, Google says it will limit “notifications during these event windows.” You can also set your location, letting co-workers get a better sense of your availability and time zone.

The key is that Workspace’s various tools like Gmail and Chat will be aware of your current status and location and adjust your notifications to suit. It’s not nearly the ideal universal status indicator, but it’s a step in the right direction — as long as you live mostly in Google Workspace and aren’t mixing in other tools like Slack.

The new types of statuses on the calendar also allow Google to make a kind of work-focused “time well spent” chart, only this one shows how much time you’re wasting in meetings every week. Google says this “Time Insights” breakdown will only be available to workers, not their bosses.

Google Calendar Time Insights
Google Calendar Time Insights.
Image: Google

Google is also introducing “second-screen experiences” for Google Meet. It essentially allows people to log in to a meeting from multiple devices, making it easier to share screens (or get other work done) without the meeting taking up your whole laptop. The idea is that home workers could use a Google Nest Hub Max or their phone to log in to the meeting but still be able to present from their main computer.

On phones, Google Meet is picking up a mobile tile view for video calls, picture-in-picture support, and split screen. It’s not clear whether those tools will work across both Android and iOS.

Google is also building up its lower-cost Google Workspace Essentials offering with support for Chat, Jamboard, and Calendar — all of which were weird omissions at launch.

Finally, Google says it’s launching “Google Workspace Frontline,” which it calls a “custom solution” for frontline workers. It seems to be a simplified way for administrators to configure a Google Workspace setup for workers in retail or in the field. It will also make it possible to create AppSheet apps (simple, form-based apps) within Google Sheets.

Put together, the set of feature updates Google is announcing today seem mostly designed to make meetings either less painful (because you can more easily multitask during them) or easier to avoid (because you can set up Focus Time and also discover how much time you’ve given away in the Time Insights sidebar).