When the pandemic began, video calling software suddenly became much more important, and people flocked to the likes of Zoom, Skype and (briefly) Houseparty in their droves. Google Meet was an alternative, and indeed went free for all in April 2020 to help people stay connected in lockdown, but it was a barebones offering, with a deliberately simplified feature set that some users found limiting.
Seeing that remote work is very much here to stay, Google has announced a series of upgrades to Meet that will make it a more appealing proposition for the long haul. Presented as a way to allow “hybrid models to become the sustainable norm,” Google unveiled a whole host of upgrades that should make Meet more fully featured, especially to those signed up to Enterprise accounts.
First up is in-meeting emoji reactions, which are coming next month. In short, it’s a way of reacting to what’s being said in real-time without having to unmute and potentially disrupt the flow of a meeting — something that’s all too easily done in the slightly disconnected medium of video calls. Google has gone to great pains to ensure that they feel like a human connection while at the same time not feeling too distracting — you can read more about the research that went into the feature in a separate blog post.
Next up, “in the coming weeks” is integration with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. After Starting a meeting, users will be able to quickly bring up a document, spreadsheet or presentation alongside the grid of faces in the meeting, allowing better and more personal collaboration on files.
Alternatively, if you need to multitask beyond Google’s stable of productivity apps, next month you’ll be able to do that too with picture-in-picture mode. This is only for Chrome, but will allow you to pop out up to four video tiles into a floating window, letting you get on with other stuff on your main browser window.
Later in the year, Google Meet will expand its livestreaming reach, allowing users to stream directly to YouTube. The existing livestreaming feature set will be enhanced too, with attendees able to take part in Q&A sessions and polls as if they were part of the regular Meet session.
Next up, there’s a security update for more sensitive chats: in May, Google will roll out optional client-side encryption, and this will be followed up later in the year with an end-to-end alternative. “Together, these enhancements strengthen the foundation of security that help make secure, hybrid collaboration happen at scale,” the company explains.
Finally, users of the best webcams and hardware that have been certified to work with Google Meet will benefit from noise cancellation to block out the distracting sounds of keyboard clicking and unwanted noise from the neighbors. This has started rolling out now, apparently, so you may already have benefited.
It’s a welcome set up of improvements, and should help to bridge the gap between office-based and remote workers that bit more cleanly. “With a unified approach to communications and collaboration, you can build a sustainable hybrid work model that gives employees the ability to deliver their best from anywhere,” Google concludes.
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Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.