Can Google make bad hybrid meetings better?

Workers in the conference room can all join meetings separately with Google’s “Companion mode.”

A Google Meet highlighting Companion mode

Companion mode launched to all Google Workspace customers on Thursday.

Image: Google

The worst part of hybrid work right now might be the meeting. How do you bridge the gap between the people video calling in from home and the people chatting around the conference room table? There’s the dreaded video echo, the inability to chat through the conference room monitor and the general disconnect between the people talking in person and those stuck in the grid. One of Google’s answers to the problem of hybrid meetings is Companion mode, which launched to all Google Workspace customers on Thursday.

Companion mode brings features like chat, polls, hand-raising and screen-sharing to workers joining a call from a shared conference room. Instead of being at the whim of Google Meet’s hardware, workers can log in to meetings on their own devices and use these features (which have become standard within meeting software).

For now, workers using companion mode will rely on conference room hardware for audio and video. But Dave Citron, head of product for Google Meet, said the next step will be allowing workers in companion mode to use their own video feeds. “We heard a lot from our customers that one of the great equalizers of everyone working from home is that everyone is a tile,” Citron said.

For Google Workspace and its customers tackling hybrid work, the goal is “collaboration equity” — in other words, the ability to contribute equally no matter your location or device of choice. Though omicron has put return-to-office plans on hold, companies haven’t totally given up on the office. At the same time, they are reckoning with the fact that remote work is here to stay. At the bare minimum, remote and in-person employees need to be able to easily communicate with each other. This is where collaboration software and video conferencing hardware has become so essential. And chaotic.

The hybrid-meeting problem has created a mad dash among video software providers, and everyone’s approaching it a little differently. Zoom unveiled its “Smart Gallery” in December, which uses hardware and AI to isolate faces within a conference room and place them in separate tiles. Microsoft is experimenting with a new type of conference room, complete with a curved table and projected screen. Webex is investing in the home office.

Google rebranded its G-Suite workplace products as Google Workspace back in October 2020, and since then has positioned itself as one of the all-in-one productivity setups to beat. With our dramatic increase in usage of video software, Google Meet is one of the tools customers rely most on. Citron said he closely follows the changing ways we do our work.

He said workplace uncertainty is top of mind for his team, both as engineers and as Google employees (the company pushed back its planned Jan. 10 reopening). Flexibility is key. He wants to build products that allow for every possible way of working. “If we can continue to build products that enable work through all sorts of different flexible configurations, it helps inoculate the uncertainty and disruption,” Citron said.

Companion mode on its own cannot singlehandedly equalize meetings. As Google notes in its blog post, it’s still difficult for remote employees to weigh in when other employees are in-person. It might be hard, too, for in-person employees to resist side conversations. Fixing hybrid meetings goes beyond software. It will require a concerted culture shift and compromise from us all.


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It is very uncommon for coordinated disinformation operations to target private industry, rather than governments or civil society, a cybersecurity expert says.

Photo: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just when we thought the renewable energy supply chains couldn’t get more fraught, a sophisticated disinformation campaign has taken to social media to further complicate things.

Known as Dragonbridge, the campaign has existed for at least three years, but in the last few months it has shifted its focus to target several mining companies “with negative messaging in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities.” It was initially uncovered by cybersecurity firm Mandiant and peddles narratives in the Chinese interest via its network of thousands of fake social media accounts.

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Lisa Martine Jenkins

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James Daly
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Ripple’s CEO threatens to leave the US if it loses SEC case

CEO Brad Garlinghouse said a few countries have reached out to Ripple about relocating.

"There's no doubt that if the SEC doesn't win their case against us that that is good for crypto in the United States,” Brad Garlinghouse told Protocol.

Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said the crypto company will move to another country if it loses in its legal battle with the SEC.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

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Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well-established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

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In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

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