On day two of Google Cloud Next Online, Google announced a big redesign for its productivity suite that delivers a deeply integrated experience between Gmail, Chat, Meet and Rooms, whether on the web or on mobile. First available to the G Suite early adopter program, the new integration will roll out to a wider user set in the coming months.
It is hard to define what this new G Suite experience is. You are tempted to call it an app on your smartphone and a single tab in your browser, but Javier Soltero, the VP and GM of G Suite, calls it an “integrated workspace.” I think of it as my communication mission control.
I look at this redesign from two angles: the user and Google. From what I have seen so far, the promise of this new integrated experience will bring dividends to both sides.
Communication is the Start of Collaboration
From a user perspective, it is hard to deny that the way we communicate has become more and more fragmented. We use chat apps, messaging apps, video apps and good old emails. We do all of this across our phone and computer of choice which increases the complexity of managing all our conversations and our reliance on tools that synch properly across devices and sometimes platforms as well.
Despite the current narrative that would make you believe that only your grandparents now use email the data points to a different reality: email is indeed alive and well. A study that we, at Creative Strategies, conducted at the start of the sheltering in place period across 1000 American workers, found that 54% use Outlook every day and another 26% use Gmail every day. Fifty percent of the panelists also admitted to be using email to collaborate while on a video call.
Corralling other communication apps like Chat and Meet around Gmail seems like the right move, but not necessarily a magic wand that will make all our communication pains disappear. The team has taken the opportunity to use this new mission control to ease some of the management pain we all have when using so many different channels. For instance, you can now set a Do Not Disturb status across all the apps as you can mute all notifications in one go. Searching across Gmail and Chat will also now be possible as is joining a meeting right from your inbox. It is all about taking friction away from the experience.
When it comes to collaboration, Google is helping manage how we collaborate by guiding quick exchanges in Chat which now can include people external to your company or longer-term projects in Rooms where Google added the ability to real-time collaboration on a document and assign tasks.
Driving Value and Creating More Stickiness
As Microsoft started pitching the value of the Graph and organizing workflows more and more around Microsoft Teams, I started to feel that for Google, the power of G Suite of having two strong hooks in Gmail and Google Docs was starting to turn into a weakness. In other words, as a Gmail or Docs user you could be totally satisfied and never feel the need to try any other G Suite apps even if you have access to them through your corporate account.
Organizing the G Suite individual apps into this digital workspace offers higher discoverability by creating touchpoints throughout the workflows and has the potential to highlight the value of the suite in G Suite.
I am sure there will be a learning curve for users especially in the mobile experience, but there are a few things that will play in Google’s favor like the fact that users who rely more heavily on mobile are also those with a more positive attitude towards change. While I will know more once I use the new G Suite, it seems to me, that Google was very intentional in creating those touchpoints across apps while not altering the fundamental experience in Gmail. This will likely limit any frustration for users and avoid the feeling that other apps are being pushed into their workflows.
Both G Suite and Microsoft have now created an anchor for their productivity suites and it is interesting how they settled on different aspects of collaboration the former with mail and the latter in meetings. While at first, it might look like they took this approach based on where they see the cornerstone of collaboration reside, I believe it has more to do with a competitor risk assessment. Microsoft’s Teams started as a response to Slack and over time it ended up fending off Zoom and becoming Microsoft’s command center for collaboration. For Google, it is more about solidifying G Suite within organizations leaving no room for individual apps like Word or Outlook to take time away from it.
More to Come
One of the strongest values that G Suite has for me as a user, whether it is smart replies or the nudge feature in Gmail or the smart compose in Docs is that the more I use the tools the more they adapt to my workflow and facilitate it. Since COVID-19 the way we worked has changed so much that our workflows have had to adapt and many of these changes will stay with us in the future. Collaborating with others is done mostly digitally now, which means that as we move across email, chat, video, there is a lot to be learned from our behavior across all of these channels rather than just every single one individually. This to me is the biggest opportunity for Google going forward. The more G Suite is able to intelligently orchestrate my workflow the lower is the risk that I look elsewhere to replace one of these apps. There will be no question in the mind of a user that the value is coming from the Suite as a whole, not from any individual app.