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Google I/O: Google Workspace gets smarter with this major update

Smart Canvas brings a handful of updates to Google’s popular collaboration software suite to make working in the cloud more flexible for everyone.

Google Workspace has been given a major update with Smart Canvas, a new product experience for its workplace software suite which aims to make collaborating in the cloud more flexible and interactive.

Smart Canvas isn’t a new product so much as it is a wide-ranging update to
Google Workspace

that more tightly integrates its many popular remote working apps and tools.

The underlying idea is to make working with others in the cloud less of a headache for dispersed teams – not to mention keeping Google ahead of the game in the rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive world of remote working software.

“Throughout the pandemic, millions of employees bridged the physical distances with their colleagues by making themselves more available, joining a deluge of virtual meetings, and leaning into a dizzying array of tools and applications,” said Erika Trautman, director of Google Workspace.

“With smart canvas, we’re building deeper connections across Google Workspace to transform collaboration anywhere it happens.”

SEE: Research: Video conferencing tools and cloud-based solutions dominate digital workspaces; VPN and VDI less popular with SMBs (TechRepublic Premium)

The latest updates to Workspace are centred around three new “interactive buildings blocks” – smart chips, templates and checklists – designed to make collaboration within groups easier.

First up, Google has updated
its smart chips feature in Docs

which, in addition to displaying a user’s contact details, will now show recommended files and meetings. Inserting a smart chip involves using an ‘@’ mention; typing ‘@’ in a document will bring up a list of recommended people, files, and meetings. These people can then quickly preview linked files and documents from the web or by mobile, without switching tabs or being pulled out of whatever they’re currently looking at.

Smart chips will come to Sheets in the coming months, Trautman said.

Google Workspace is making it easier to manage group projects and assignments. Starting today, checklists are available in Docs on web and mobile, allowing users able to assign action items to other people. These action items will show up in Google Tasks, making it easier for everyone to manage a project’s To Do list. 

Table templates are also coming to Docs, offering topic-voting tables that enable users to gather team feedback and the ability to track project updates on the fly. Meanwhile, a document template for capturing meeting notes will automatically import any relevant information from a Calendar meeting invite, including smart chips for attendees and attached files.

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Other updates to Google Workspace are designed to optimise the user experience across different device types and make it more consistent. For example, the new pageless format in Docs removes the boundaries of a page to create a surface that expands to whatever device or screen the user is working off – particularly useful when working with large images, tables or documents containing detailed comments.

Similarly, users can toggle between new views in Sheets to make it easier for them to interact with their data on web and mobile devices. Initially, this will include a timeline view that makes tracking tasks easier, and users will be able to organize their data based on whichever attributes best suit their project – by owner, category, or campaign, for example.

Smart canvas features are also being integrated into Google Meet, with the aim of making in-meeting collaboration easier by allowing participants to pull documents and other content in conversations, and vice-versa.

Starting today, users will be able to present content from a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide into a Google Meet call with members of the same team. Tighter integration of Google’s video meeting and productivity apps is pegged for the Autumn, when users will be able to launch a Meeting directly from Docs, Sheets, and Slides on the web, allowing users to chat to each other in real-time while working together on a project.

SEE: Software as a Service (SaaS): A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Google Meet will be getting additional captioning and transcription capabilities in the coming months, starting with English-language live captions translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, or German.

Also incoming to Google Workspace users in the coming months are new assisted writing features for Docs. These will, amongst other uses, flag when an author uses offensive words or language, as well as offer stylistic suggestion to help users tighten up their prose. 

Similar intelligent recommendations are coming to Sheets, albeit in the form of formula suggestions that aim to reduce errors and make it easier for users to glean insights from their data.

Trautman said: “As smart canvas drives the next era of collaboration in Google Workspace, we remain committed to providing a solution that’s flexible, helpful, and that fuels innovation for organizations in every industry. On the frontlines, in corporate offices, and across the countless workspaces in between, Google Workspace will continue to transform how work gets done.”

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