Google gears up for a hybrid return to work

Google is betting on a hybrid working model when offices reopen, adding a number of features to its Workspace product to connect frontline and remote staff to office workers.

Workplace, which replaces G Suite and Google Hangouts, includes Google’s office productivity suite, as well as cloud-based storage, video conferencing, collaboration tools, and endpoint security and management controls.

In a blog post describing the new feature, Javier Soltero, vice president and general manager of Google Workspace, wrote: “Since we launched Google Workspace last October, we’ve heard from a lot of our customers – from global companies to small businesses – on the new ways they connect, create and collaborate, often across trade shows, time zones and continents. This response propels us in our mission to build for the future with a flexible, useful solution that inspires innovation.

The tech industry is bracing for a return to work that is likely to be very different from the work before the pandemic. A recent Gartner survey found that 90% of respondents plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time, even after the widespread adoption of the Covid-19 vaccine. This is reflected in the Technology trends 2021 report, which suggests that the work environment will be mixed, where people can work from home part of the time.

Retailer Toolstation switched to Google in February 2020, just before the first coronavirus lockdown. When the UK-wide lockdown was announced, it was only closed for a day to reconfigure operations from 80% in-store sales to 100% clicks and online collection.

“We have a fairly small management team and were able to transform the business model into 100% e-commerce within a day,” said Stuart McGrogan, chief architect at Toolstation. “It was made possible by using Google Hangouts to communicate with people.”

In McGrogan’s experience, the switch to Google was relatively easy as the head office in Bridgwater, Somerset had deployed MacBooks, which meant there was no ‘WinTel hangover’ , such as the complexity of having to migrate from Microsoft Active Directory. The company previously had 120 Office 365 licenses, but that number has now been reduced to 20, which are only used in finance. Everyone uses Google products for office productivity.

McGrogan said that using Google for collaboration has also enabled Toolstation to change the way it recruits staff. “We’re no longer limited to recruiting within 15 miles of the office, which opens up the talent pool. “

The company aims to expand the deployment of Google Workspace to 5,000 employees.

The aircraft manufacturer Airbus is another Google customer using the remote work functionality. “Airbus has spent the last year thinking about what it really means to return to work, and we are looking to support greater flexibility with Google Workspace in a leading role.

In 2020, we ran 5.6 million Google Meet sessions and now have over 70,000 Shared Drives where people collaborate. Google Workspace has changed the way people work at Airbus and this will continue as the solution reinforces the reality of hybrid work, ”said Andrew Plunkett, Airbus vice president for the digital workplace.

Discussing how this hybrid working model is being used at Google, Soltero said, “We are particularly interested in what we call the equity of collaboration, or the ability to contribute equally, regardless of the location, role, level of experience, language and device preference. We have been experimenting with ways to bridge the gap between face-to-face and “somewhere else” by pushing our technology and the physical spaces of our campuses to be more inclusive. We’re looking for ways to maximize attendance wherever we can – from personal office space to conference rooms to group collaboration areas.

Among the new features is Google Workspace Frontline, which will open up channels of communication and collaboration between frontline workers and business teams in a safe and secure manner. It includes Google’s communication and collaboration applications Gmail, Chat, Docs, and Drive, as well as professional support and endpoint security management.

Google has also made its voice assistant technology available in Workspace. Soltero said, “You can ask Google what’s next on your work calendar to quickly join meetings or send a message. Google Assistant is currently available for Google Workspace on supported mobile devices and is in beta for smart speakers and smart displays, such as Nest Hub Max.

Jose C. Birney