People

Workspace is Google’s all-in-one, do-everything productivity tool

Google's bringing messaging, work and more into a single place — and a single strategy.

Google Workspace apps

Google Workspace is a new name, a bunch of new logos, and a lot of apps in one place.

Image: Google

Google's work-software products always almost made sense. Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drive were integrated in smart but incomplete ways, Gmail and Hangouts and Duo and countless other messaging products never felt like they co-existed very well, and Calendar, Keep and Tasks seemed perpetually one big update from being great.

Now, Google is trying to turn its sprawling ecosystem into a coherent whole. It's called Google Workspace, and it turns many disparate apps into one Productivity Voltron. Javier Soltero, who ran G Suite and now runs Workspace, called it a "complete reimagining of the G Suite business and our vision for the future of communication and collaboration."

Workspace seems to have been the plan ever since Soltero joined Google after a stint leading Office and Outlook at Microsoft. "No part of this was a response to COVID," he said. He said in April that when he looked at the many facets of G Suite — the content creation, the messaging, the collaboration — that the question was, "How do you make it seamless? Nobody needs to experience the organizational chart of a company as they move from one product to another." Workspace's solution to that problem is to do more in every app and browser tab: Users can run a Meet call picture-in-picture on top of their presentation or document, or preview a Doc that's linked inside another Doc.

The underlying infrastructure is all about communication. Inside Workspace, it'll be easy to create a spreadsheet from within Google Chat, which will be automatically shared with everyone in a channel or group. Users will be able to work on documents and spreadsheets from within their Gmail inbox, too. For years, Google seemed satisfied by using links to make sharing and accessing things easy, but now it's pulling all the content into every place users are.

Soltero said that Google isn't just focused on helping companies talk amongst themselves, though. He said Workspace is also designed for frontline, retail and remote workers who are spread all over the place "and need to remain connected to their organizations, need to be able to have the right kind of solutions that fit their skill sets, their device profile, their situation." He also mentioned banks, customer-service centers and other customer interactions where people want to work with the products they already understand.

Workspace puts Google in direct competition with practically the entire universe of workplace productivity software. Microsoft Teams and Slack both beat Google to the realization that chat, not documents, is the center of the digital workspace, and those products have poured resources into integrating with as many work tools as possible. But Google has an advantage: Gmail is the world's dominant email provider, and Docs and Sheets and Slides are integral parts of most modern companies already. Google now has more than 2.6 billion users across these apps.

Meanwhile, Monday and Asana and so many others are competing to be the home for people's projects, documents and work. Now that can be Google, integrated seamlessly into users' inboxes. The only other company that could even attempt to combine both sides in such a way is Microsoft, and while that's clearly the plan for Microsoft 365, Google is well ahead.

Fundamentally, though, it boils down to simple math. Google wants to turn three bills — for G Suite, Slack and Zoom — into a single subscription to Workspace. That will put it squarely in Slack's crosshairs: It has accused Microsoft of growing Teams in a similar way, competing by bundling rather than actually building a better product. In one view, that's exactly what Google is doing now.

One other challenge for Google in pulling off Workspace will be one that Soltero is well aware of, because he saw it first hand at Microsoft. When you shove a lot of apps into a single place, things tend to get bloated, slow and crowded. (You could call this "Outlook Syndrome.") Sanaz Ahari, a product director on the Workspace team, said that Google's design principles centered on "simplicity, flexibility and helpfulness," but Google Calendar users spent the summer annoyed at the ever-increasing size of the Google Meet button in the app, telling them to make video calls when all they wanted to do was add an event. Then they got mad all over again in July, when Soltero announced that Chat and Rooms were coming to Gmail screens. (In fairness, it's not just Google: Yahoo recently added a tab for watching NFL games to its Mail app.) Google's tools became popular initially in part as a response to the heavy, overbearing state of Microsoft Office. Now it risks becoming the same.

Much of software development seems to exist in a perpetual cycle of bundling apps together into a more powerful whole, and then breaking them apart when all those features get too big to coexist. Work apps are deep in a bundling phase right now, and Google has more to bundle than most. That's a big opportunity, and a big challenge.

Policy

Nobody will help Big Tech prevent online terrorism but itself

There’s no will in Congress or the C-suites of social media giants for a new approach, but smaller platforms would have room to step up — if they decided to.

Timothy Kujawski of Buffalo lights candles at a makeshift memorial as people gather at the scene of a mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Sunday, May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, NY. The fatal shooting of 10 people at a grocery store in a historically Black neighborhood of Buffalo by a young white gunman is being investigated as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism, according to federal officials.

Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The shooting in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people over the weekend has put the spotlight back on social media companies. Some of the attack was livestreamed, beginning on Amazon-owned Twitch, and the alleged shooter appears to have written about how his racist motivations arose from misinformation on smaller or fringe sites including 4chan.

In response, policymakers are directing their anger at tech platforms, with New York Governor Kathy Hochul calling for the companies to be “more vigilant in monitoring” and for “a legal responsibility to ensure that such hate cannot populate these sites.”

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less

We're answering all your questions about the crypto crash.

Photo: Chris Liverani/Unsplash

People started talking about another crypto winter in January, when falling prices had wiped out $1 trillion in value from November’s peak. Prices rallied back in March, restoring some of the losses. Then crypto fell hard again, with bitcoin down more than 60% from its all-time high and other cryptocurrencies harder hit. The market’s message was clear: Crypto winter was no longer coming. It’s here.

If you’ve got questions about the crypto crash, the Protocol Fintech team has answers.

Keep Reading Show less

How the founders of HalloApp plan to fix social media

Former WhatsApp execs talk about lessons learned building their privacy-focused platform.

Image: HalloApp

Stop me if you've heard this one before: An app that promises to be the anti-Facebook is focusing on real connections instead of ads and brands. Of course, this has been tried before. There’s an entire digital graveyard littered with the corpses of apps that tried and failed to offer a compelling alternative to the inescapable social network. But maybe two former Facebook employees who were instrumental at WhatsApp know the secret to drawing in users — and keeping them.

Neeraj Arora and Michael Donohue, who served as WhatsApp’s chief business officer and engineering director, respectively, started HalloApp in late 2019, dubbing it the “first real-relationship network.” Arora helped negotiate WhatsApp’s $22 billion sale to Meta (then known as Facebook Inc.) in 2014. He realized after joining the social giant that Facebook’s advertising-focused business model wasn’t serving its users and set out to create an alternative.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Climate

Business travel is Big Tech’s next climate challenge

Tech companies are waking up to the dangers business flights pose to the climate. Now, they’re trying to help employees figure out how to choose modes of travel that emit less carbon pollution.

Despite the fact that companies are focused more on cutting carbon, few have specific guidelines for individual employees on how to choose flights.

Photo: Gary Lopater via Unsplash

There’s no way around it: Business flights are frying the planet.

About 90% of business travel carbon emissions come from flying, and just 1% of travelers — many of whom fly for work — are responsible for 50% of all air travel carbon pollution. As the tech industry continues to make sweeping net zero pledges, actually getting there will require making smarter choices when it comes to flying.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins