Google Workspace Elevates Collaboration by Focusing on the Task at Hand

on October 7, 2020

In July, Google gave us a taste for a more integrated collaboration experience when it brought Meet and Chat into Gmail. This week the metamorphosis continued as G Suite becomes Google Workspace. Back in July, I looked at the news from a communication vs. collaboration perspective, making the point that communication is really at the center of  Google’s collaboration strategy. However, this week, as Google talked more about Workspace and how it plans to deliver a more integrated experience across collaboration and communication, it seemed that content is at the center of the Workspace and att the center of collaboration.

With Workspace, Google is addressing some specific issues. First, the fact that due to Covid-19 collaboration has changed. Of course, we have all experienced that in one way or another and when we move past the hours of video analysis one aspect that really has changed is that you are likely to be collaborating more with people outside your organization. This is because those face to face meetings which would have been independent of the work to be done are now happening online. This means that the tools must be more flexible when it comes to sharing information and collaborating than they might have been before.

Second, Google wanted to address first-line workers by making them better connected with their own organization which is likely not in the same place as they are. This goal of connecting people to get the job done extends to reaching consumers, the final user of whatever product businesses are trying to sell. By doing so, of course, Google bridges the consumer and the business world by giving people (2.6 billion MAU) tools they are already very familiar with.

While we will eventually go back to an office, we will face a more heterogeneous work environment we did before the pandemic. This means that connecting people who are not physically together in a rich but simple way will remain a priority for a long time.

Workspace also builds on Google’s focus on delivering helpful technology. This has become the big theme that brings together the different areas of the company from the CEO Sunday Pichai to the Head of Made by Google Rich Osterloh. Helpfulness in this case comes from a simplified user experience by also from the intelligence that Google is able to offer on top. One of the features that better explain this balance between simplicity and richness is “picture in picture” which gives you the ability to hear and see people you are collaborating live with on a document. This featured was launched in July for Gmail and Chat and it will soon also include Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Not Just a Rebranding

I am sure, given there isn’t an actual new product, one could be tempted to see this as a rebranding exercise. But the new features that have been introduced and the way all the tools come together really speak to the direction Google is taking with productivity and the G Suite name no longer fitted with that vision. Workspace is no longer a bunch of apps that take care of the different tasks you need to perform, it’s an orchestrated experience empowered by AI. I wish there was a different name than Workspace, to be given to this hub especially considering consumers will have access to it as well. The name is often seen as a location, a landing place, which, although technically correct, fails to convey the active lift these tools deliver. Yet, it is certainly a better illustration of the experience Google wants to deliver compared to G Suite.

Google also introduced a new pricing plan that adds one level for medium businesses and now takes Workspace from small businesses all the way to large enterprises in a more granular way. Mostly the difference in price accounts for the number of users, cloud storage size, and security features. Not much has changed with the first two levels, Basic and Business still priced at $6/user and $12/user. The new tier called Business Plus edition offers enhanced capabilities for $18/user to those organizations that might be large in size (up to 250 users) but don’t need the entire enterprise-level offerings. I would argue this last one is the category where Google has a lot of opportunities and where organizations might have struggled in the past to feel their needs were properly addressed.

Betting on Content Rather than Meetings

There were two aspects of the announcement that I found particularly clever and I want to highlight.

One is that Google does provide the option not to sign up for the whole experience. Thanks to Workspace Essentials ($8/active user), which lets a business get started with video and collaboration without having to replace their current email or calendar systems. This can lower the barrier of entry considerably if you think about how much more effort and disruption migrating mail and calendar system represents for an organization. It might also help Google entering businesses dominated by Microsoft with a “land and expand” tactic. Our data points to a lot of crossover within organizations between Office 365 and Google Workspace especially for Docs that remain the preferred tool for collaboration. This is not a new offering but it is certainly one that has become much more relevant in the current environment when digital transformation is accelerating but also when IT professionals are already extremely stretched.

The second aspect that I believe will give Google an advantage long term is centering the Workspace experience on the content to be created or the task to be completed rather than the way in which one will do so. There are many collaboration hubs offered by the likes of VMWare, Citrix, and of course, Microsoft. Office 365’s Workspace equivalent is Teams where users are led to choose how they work together first. In other words, I get to Microsoft Teams to do a video call or a chat while I get to Google Workspace document or email and then decide how I communicate with others bout the task at hand. Albeit subtle, I think the approach Google is taking might better withstand the return to the office and a shift back towards face-to-face meetings when we will eventually be able to do so.

It will be fascinating to see how all these different hubs will drive value to users. Locking people in is never a good approach. Creating different points of entry and delivering value across the board will ultimately determine the success across a workforce that is probably the most varied in both age and skills than it has ever been.