Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

workplaceworkplaceauthorDavid PierceNoneYour guide to the new world of work.39cd4d6373
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Protocol | Workplace

Google Chat is back for real, and Google's going to need it to win the future of work

Google's messaging strategy has gone haywire. Now it's coming back into focus.

A screenshot of Spaces inside the new Google Workspace

Google is bringing Chat to all Google users, and making it the center of its work tools.

Image: Google

Three billion people now use Google's Workspace apps every month, the company announced on Monday, making Gmail and the Google Calendar/Docs/Slides/Meet suite among the most popular apps on the internet. "It's a crazy number," said Javier Soltero, Google's VP of Workspace. "There's a lot of products you can use to communicate and collaborate with people, right?"

For its next act, Google is looking to win in messaging. Because without it, you can't win the future of work.

The new Google Chat is coming to all Workspace users, the company announced, meaning anyone with a Google account will soon be able to use it. Within Chat, there's a new feature called Spaces (an evolution of a feature previously called Rooms), which acts as a more durable, project-based tool for keeping track of files and tasks across groups of people. "There's a time and a place for email," said Sanaz Ahari, Google's senior director for communication products. "There's a time and a place for chat. Now we recognize that we need a more permanent real-time collaboration canvas — that's Spaces."

Google's also making it easier for individuals to get the full Workspace experience, offering an individual subscription that doesn't require buying a domain or running an administrative console. And for bigger enterprises, it's also offering a more secure, encrypted system that means even Google can't see the data being created in Google apps. In the midst of a time of change and upheaval for so many businesses, Google is trying hard to position itself as the obvious choice for productivity tools. And it knows that in a remote and hybrid world, productivity starts with communication.

Historically speaking, Google's messaging strategy has been somewhere between chaotic and totally incoherent. The original version of Google Chat eventually turned into Hangouts, before Hangouts was split into multiple products, Google Voice became a somewhat competitive thing, Google Fi showed up to compete with both, and at various times Google Wave and Buzz and Allo all made a run at messaging supremacy. (Didn't work.) When it comes to video, Meet and Duo both still exist, and Hangouts can do video calls. Google Messages has become a success as the go-to Android texting app, but Google has even tinkered with that to the point of confusion while trying to bring standards like RCS into play. In general, Google seems unable to make up its mind about how messaging is supposed to work.

While Google has struggled to solve this problem, others have done much better. Microsoft has quickly begun to build its entire Microsoft 365 suite around Teams, realizing that in a world of remote and hybrid work, a chat app is actually the closest available analog to the office itself. Salesforce bought Slack, and Marc Benioff said the company is rebuilding "all our technology, once again, to become Slack-first." Google, which was years ahead of the industry in thinking about work as web-based and collaborative by default, suddenly risks being left behind because it can't figure out chat.

Google readily acknowledges that it needs a coherent strategy. And at least for the moment, it seems to have one. It starts with Gmail, which is now both an email client and something of a Google-wide communication hub. Users can have Meet calls, respond to Chat messages, work in topic-focused Spaces and, of course, send email all from a single place. Because it's all unified under a single Google account, with a single system for setting status and getting notifications, Google's hoping that at the very least users will have to spend less time thinking about how many products Google has.

The tricky part for Google, Ahari said, is offering everything without being overly prescriptive. "We're not here to dictate what's the best way to collaborate," she said. "We're more of the belief that collaboration happens across these mediums. And we want to make it easy for everyone to choose the best medium for them." The team seems to see communication as a spectrum of timeliness and permanence: Email is permanent but not timely, Meet and Chat are timely but not permanent, Spaces is both timely and permanent. But every company, every team, is different, so Google sees its job as simply providing all the options in one place.

Working inside Google Spaces Spaces is Google's way of creating permanent, searchable chat a la Slack or Teams, but it exists inside of Gmail and Google Chat.Image: Google

That kind of flexibility is a running theme for the new era of Workspace. In an effort to make meetings more equitable for everyone, for instance, Google built a companion app for Meet so that everyone, even in the conference room, can participate in polls or share their video. It now offers a Workspace-wide status system that lets people quickly mark where they are and whether they're available. And Google's even opening up more access to third-party apps and integrations. "It's fine for people to have the habits they have," Soltero said. "We just have to kind of nudge them along … there's an elegance to doing this that actually connects them to the things Google is great at."

Google has been working on all this integration for the last year or so, as it takes Workspace from a collection of apps to a more unified, singular canvas. Users can work on spreadsheets inside of Gmail, or have Meet calls in the same tab as their slide deck. The most common criticism of the new-look Workspace is just that it's too many options, too many buttons, too much in one place. Google agrees. "I think one of the very first conversations we had when I joined," Ahari said, "was about the clutter." On a normal-sized laptop screen, there was just too much going on to be able to fully engage in any one thing. Ahari and her team focused on making it easy to quickly jump between things without making the interface overwhelming, and moving notifications out to the corner where they don't get in the way.

In general, Google faces the same broad challenge as every company making workplace software, which is that nobody knows anything. Soltero and Ahari both acknowledged that they don't know exactly how the future of work will work, and that there are likely to be a huge number of different ideas and experiments in the coming months both within Google and among its billions of users. Google, like so many others, is trying to make its tools simultaneously functional and flexible, able to adapt to every variation of hybrid and remote work without devolving into overwhelming chaos.

Few companies have a larger opportunity or responsibility in this space, though. Three billion users gives you a lot of sway over the future of just about anything. Soltero said he's spending his time thinking about access, security and making sure the future of work is both available for and optimized for everyone, no matter their situation. He has always said that one of the reasons he joined Google after a stint at Microsoft was because Google was so far ahead on helping people collaborate. With communication, he's playing catch-up. But he and Ahari seem to like their chances.

Power

Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But as always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

Keep Reading Show less
Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

Keep Reading Show less
J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

Keep Reading Show less
Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories