Illustration: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

For people who use Gmail or Google Workspace, there’s no better chat tool than Google Chat. You may use Chat alongside Gmail on Android, iPhone, iPad and on the web. Or, if you prefer, you also can install the separate Google Chat app on Android and Apple mobile devices.

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Yet Google Chat on the web also now delivers more features than ever before–including the ability to autostart Chat when you sign in to your Windows, macOS or Linux system. Of course, you can set your status and adjust notifications. For teams, Chat spaces (formerly Rooms) help people find files and track tasks within Chat.

For all of the examples below, I recommend that you use Chat on a computer with the Chrome browser installed. Also make sure you’re signed in to Chat with your Google account. And please note that a Workspace administrator may manage how certain Chat features work. Check with your administrator if you have questions about your work or school Workspace account.

How to install Google Chat as a PWA

You may install Google Chat as a progressive web app, which allows Chat to function more like a standard installed app on a Windows, macOS, Linux or Chrome OS system. To do this, go to Google Chat. If it’s the very first time you’ve arrived at this site, the system may display a prompt with the offer to “Try the Google Chat desktop app” along with an install button (Figure A, left). Otherwise, after the site fully loads, a computer icon may display (to the left of the bookmark/read later star): Select the icon then choose Install (Figure A, right).

Figure A

The first time you access Google Chat in Chrome, the system may prompt you to install the desktop app (left). Or, you may do so later (right).

How to start Chat on sign-in

Once you have the Chat progressive web app installed, set it to start when you sign in. Open Chrome, go to chrome://apps to display installed PWAs. On the Chat app, right-click (Note: on macOS, ctrl-click) to access options, then select “Start App When You Sign In,” as shown in Figure B. Now, when you start your computer and sign in, Chat automatically starts, too.

Figure B

Once you have the Chat progressive web app installed, open Chrome and go to chrome://apps. Right-click on Google Chat and select the option to “Start app when you sign in.”

How to adjust your Chat status

Chat offers three default status options: Automatic, Do Not Disturb, and Set As Away (Figure C). The last two let you indicate your wish not to be bothered (Do Not Disturb) or signal that you may not even be online (Set As Away) at all. Automatic adjusts your status based on your activity. If you’re active in Chat, it sets your status as Available. If not, it indicates you’re Away.

Figure C

Google Chat offers three default status options: Automatic, Do Not Disturb and Set As Away.

You also may select the “Add A Status” menu option to set your own Chat status (Figure D). When you select this option, four additional options display: Be Right Back (30 minutes), Commuting (one hour), Out Sick (today), as well as Vacationing (this week). Or, add your own status in the text box above. Importantly, feel free to select the emoji indicator in the box and choose the emoji that best represents what you want to convey to your Chat colleagues. Then choose when to clear that status (30 minutes, 1 hour, 4 hours, Today, This Week, or a custom time) and select Done.

Figure D

You may add your own Chat status and emoji, as well as set the duration of that status indicator.

How to manage notifications

To receive Chat notifications in Chrome, first check that you’ve allowed notifications from Google Chat. Go to Google Chat in Chrome, select the lock icon (to the left of the site name), then make sure Notifications are set to Allow, as shown in Figure E. (If the Notifications option doesn’t display, select Site Settings, then review the list of options shown.)

Figure E

Chrome will need permission to allow notifications for the Google Chat site.

Next, within Google Chat you may adjust settings either for all notifications or for individual chats and spaces. To access overall Chat notification settings, select the sprocket (in the upper right). From there, you may choose whether or not to Allow Chat Notifications, as well as select a different notification sound (as shown in Figure F). Make your changes, then scroll to the bottom of the settings box and select Done.

Figure F

In Chat on the web, select the sprocket (upper right) to access Chat Notification options.

To adjust notifications for one-on-one, group chats or spaces, select the chat from the left-side of the screen. Then, select the name of the individual, the group or the space in the upper left area, below the search box (Figure G, right). This gives you access to several settings, which may vary by the nature of the group and roles of the people involved. Alternatively, you may select the three vertical dots to the right of a chat to adjust notifications (Figure G, left).

Figure G

Adjust notifications for chats and spaces (formerly Rooms) either by selecting the three vertical dots menu to the right of a chat, then choosing Notifications (left), or by selecting the name of a chat or space while active, then selecting Notifications (right).

Notification options vary. The simplest are either “Turn Off Notifications” or “Turn On Notifications.” For some internal groups, the system offers three Notification options (shown in Figure H): “Notify Always” (all messages), “Notify Less” (only @mentions or when someone starts a new thread in a space), or “Notifications Off,” which prevents all notifications unless you or @all are specifically @mentioned.

Figure H

Notification options may vary, based on the nature of the group and members.

How to turn a group Chat into a Space

Spaces are useful when you work with a set of people on tasks and files frequently. If you consistently chat with a set of people, the system might display a prompt to encourage you to turn your chat into a space. You’re free to ignore the prompt and continue chatting away. But if you do choose to convert from a standard chat to a space, participants in the chat will gain the ability to assign tasks to people, as well as the ability to more easily access all files shared within the group, as shown in Figure I. (Note: Spaces in Google Chat were originally named Rooms.)

Figure I

Turn a Chat into a Space (formerly a Room) to make it easier to find files and track tasks.

To change from a Chat to a Space, select the chat title (in the upper left area, below the Chat icon and search box), then choose “Turn This Chat into a Space” from the menu options, as shown in Figure J. The system will prompt you to name the space and (optionally) select an emoji for the space. Alternatively, you may create a new space and invite people to join.

Figure J

Unlike a standard group chat, a space (formerly a Room) provides three tabs: Chat, Files and Tasks.

What’s your experience with Google Chat?

If you use Google Chat, have you installed the PWA and set Chat to autostart? Do you rely on Chat’s Automatic status settings, or do you prefer to set your own custom status? Do you leave all notifications on or do you turn most notifications off? And, if you collaborate with a team of people, what do you think of Spaces (formerly Rooms)? Let me know how you use Google Chat, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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