Google on Monday announced a series of updates to Workspace, its productivity and collaboration platform, including a new subscription offering that makes the product more accessible for entrepreneurs.
The new Workspace Individual is designed for small business owners -- such as accountants, landscapers, or photographers -- who may be using a free Gmail account to communicate with clients. The subscription offering lets them preserve their existing Google account while providing them with a set of communication and collaboration tools that Google says can help them grow their business. That includes smart booking services, professional video meetings, and personalized email marketing.
"One thing that has been missing in our commercial offering is the ability to serve the needs of small customers... many of which are using our consumer products," Google's Javier Soltero told reporters last week.
Starting later this month, Workspace Individual will roll out to six markets, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, and Japan.
Workspace Individual is part of Google's ongoing effort to make its productivity suite more expansive and comprehensive. As workers merge their personal and professional tools and environments, in a new model of "hybrid work," Google is following suit.
The official Workspace suite -- which includes Gmail, Chat, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Meet, and other tools -- is now completely available to paying commercial users as well as consumer and education users. In other words, users will have the same set of tools at their disposal, powered by the same integrations, whether it's for personal, professional, or educational use.
Including commercial, consumer, and education users, there are now more than 3 billion active Workspace users, Google says.
In correspondence with its effort to revamp its set of productivity tools, Google in October rebranded G Suite as Workspace.
The new identity is designed to represent "less of a suite and [more of] an integrated set of experiences that represent the future of work," Soltero said.
Google is also trying to create a more integrated, useful experience within Google Chat by changing the Rooms feature into a new feature called Spaces. Rooms were designed to give users a place within Chat to share files and assign tasks.
Spaces allow for real-time collaboration across projects and topics, as well as across different modalities, including email, Chat, and Meet. A conversation could, for instance, start in email but move to a more collaborative space like Meet.
"We wanted to make it very easy to seamlessly switch across modalities," said Sanaz Ahari, senior director of product management for Workspace. "We need a better canvas.... for people to come together."
With Spaces itself, the canvas is going to be improved with features like in-line threading for conversations with subtopics. On the left rail, users will be able to switch across modalities.
In addition to its potential uses in a business setting, Spaces could also be helpful for people in their personal lives, Google contends. For instance, a parent may want to reach out to other parents via email and then use Spaces to organize an event with them.
Spaces will roll out this summer, and Google will be adding features and third-party integrations after that.
Google is also introducing updates to tools like Calendar and Meet that are designed to improve "collaboration equity" -- enabling all workers to have an equal spot at the virtual table, regardless of where they are working or on which device.
In Google Meet, the new "Companion Mode" will give all participants access to features like polls, in-meeting chat, hand raising, Q&A and live captions. Colleagues who are in the same meeting room together can enable Companion Mode on their personal devices to have their own video tile in Meet. Companion Mode will be available on the web and Google Meet's upcoming progressive web app in September, and it will be coming soon to mobile.
In July, Google is bringing new moderation controls for Google Meet hosts, such as the ability to mute and unmute participants. Meanwhile, in September, new interactive features like hand-raising will be enabled on all devices that run Google Meet, such as the Series One room kit.
In Calendar, users will be able to add their location when they RSVP to an event, indicating whether they'll be joining virtually or in person.
Lastly, Google on Monday announced new privacy and security features for Workspace. That includes the beta availability of client-side encryption for customers that have strict compliance requirements. Customers will have to choose a key access service partner -- either Flowcrypt, Futurex, Thales, or Virtru -- in order to ensure Google cannot access or decipher files. Alternatively, customers could build or integrate in-house key services using Google's key access service API specifications.
Next, Google will roll out the beta version of Trust rules for Drive, which helps control how files can be shared within and outside an organization. Similarly, new Drive labels will help customers classify files and apply controls to them.
Google is also adding new phishing and malware protection to protect against insider threats and user error.