Google debuts Meet features including ‘Companion mode’

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Google today announced a series of updates across Workspace, its collection of cloud computing, productivity, and collaboration tools, software, and products formerly known as G Suite. Among the highlights are enhanced search, Meet calling, and live-translated captions in Meet, as well as new all-in-one video conferencing devices for Meet from Logitech and Avocor.

As millions of enterprises emerge from more than a year of fully remote work, the hybrid work model is becoming the new normal. According to one survey, 44% of employees and employers favor hybrid working arrangements, while only 5% mention fully remote work as a possibility.

Spaces

This morning marks the launch of spaces in Workspace, which are dashboards for real-time project collaboration. First announced in July, spaces — which can be made discoverable in search — integrate tools like Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, and Tasks, providing a way for users to engage in topic-based discussions.

“With spaces, teams can share ideas, collaborate on documents, and manage tasks from a single place,” Sanaz Ahari, senior director of product management, explained in a blog post. “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.”

Google SpacesGoogle Spaces

Above: Spaces in Google Workspace.

Image Credit: Google

Beyond spaces, Workspace is gaining a unified dashboard with access to inboxes, chats, and meetings and in-line topic threading, which enables users to reply to any message within a space. Also new are tools for content moderation and managing spaces, and the ability to set the location (e.g., virtual or physical) for each work day on a regular basis or by segmentable working hours in Calendar.

New Meet experiences

On the Meet side, Google is rolling out Meet calling on both mobile and desktop devices. Coming first to one-to-one chats within the Gmail app and other Workspace endpoints in the future, Meet calling allows Workspace users to call members of teams directly from a one-to-one chat, ringing their devices running the Gmail app and forwarding calls to Gmail running in a web browser.

Companion modeCompanion mode

Above: Companion mode in Google Meet.

Image Credit: Google

In November, Companion mode will come to Meet, letting users host or join a meeting from within a conference room using a laptop while tapping the in-room audio and video. With Companion mode, users can share content or see presentations on their devices without audio reverb, plus access the meeting chat and whiteboard, vote on polls, and post questions in the Q&A.

Accompanying Companion mode is a live-translated captions feature, which will be available in Meet through by the end of the year. Google says it’ll translate meetings in English to French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese, with more to come in the near future.

Meet hardware

Google also announced additions to its Meet hardware portfolio, following the unveiling of its Series One Room Kits earlier this year. One is the Series One Desk 27, an all-in-one 27-inch device, and the other is the Series One Board 65, a 65-inch 4K display that can be paired with an optional stand. Both were made in partnership with Avocor, have Google’s Jamboard app built in, and can be used as an external display via USB-C.

Series One Board 65Series One Board 65

Above: The Series One Board 65.

Image Credit: Google

New third-party options include the Logitech Rally Bar Mini and Rally Bar, which are designed for small and mid-sized rooms, and the Rayz Rally Pro, a mobile device speaker dock by Appcessori that automatically launches Meet for video meetings.

These devices will be the first to support bidirectional interoperability with Citrix, allowing users to launch a Meet meeting on Webex hardware and a Webex meeting on Meet hardware. Calling interoperability between Meet and Webex is supported on Series One Board 65, Series One Desk 27, and the rest of the Meet hardware portfolio, as well as Webex Room Series, Room Kit Series, Desk Series, and Board Series. Google expects general availability later this year.

Series One Desk 27Series One Desk 27

Above: The Series One Desk 27.

Image Credit: Google

“As some people return to the office, teams need that ability to flexibly collaborate from anywhere, anytime,” Ahari said in a press release. “At Google, we face the same challenges that I’ve heard from many of our customers: how do we stay in sync, make decisions, and build team culture in a hybrid environment? The innovations we’re bringing to customers today help bridge the gaps of virtual and in-person collaboration. I’m especially excited about spaces — a new, dedicated place in Workspace to share information, advance projects, and build community as teammates.”

Growth in remote meetings

The expansion of Workspace comes as companies begin to realize the benefits of remote and hybrid work. Businesses save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year, as per the latest survey by Global Workspace Analytics. Nearly 9 in 10 employees state that video conferences reduce the time it takes to complete their projects, resulting in potential operational savings.

“With long-term hybrid workflows gaining traction, organizations are looking for better ways to adapt to rapidly changing work environments and needs of employees,” Dan Root, senior analyst at Wainhouse Research, said in a statement. “Workspace is continuing to expand its product offerings and capabilities in order to provide the right technology and tools that allow individuals and organizations to embrace a work from anywhere culture. For example, the new Meet Series One hardware devices can flex and scale to the user’s desired workflow, helping to more readily bridge the gaps of hybrid work.”

Google said during its July earnings call that Workspace revenue rose in the past quarter, driven by growth in both seats and average spend per seat. The company’s Google Cloud unit, which houses collaboration tools, saw sales climb 54% year-on-year to $4.6 billion.

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