Google Workspace has been given a major update with Smart Canvas, a new product experience for its workplace software suite which aims to make collaborating in the cloud more flexible and interactive.

Smart Canvas isn’t a new product so much as it is a wide-ranging update to Google Workspace that more tightly integrates its many popular remote working apps and tools. Essentially, Smart Canvas is designed to be an all-in-one productivity template that combines various apps and tools into a single document – or ‘canvas’

The underlying idea is to make working with others in the cloud less of a headache for dispersed teams and enable customers to easily link files, people and meetings to a project without having to jump between multiple apps.

“Throughout the pandemic, millions of employees bridged the physical distances with their colleagues by making themselves more available, joining a deluge of virtual meetings, and leaning into a dizzying array of tools and applications,” said Erika Trautman, director of Google Workspace.

“With smart canvas, we’re building deeper connections across Google Workspace to transform collaboration anywhere it happens.”

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Smart Canvas is centred around three “interactive buildings blocks” – smart chips, templates and checklists – that can be easily linked to and shared with other collaborators.

Smart chips, for example, allow users to link recommended people, files, and meetings by inserting an ‘a’ mention. These people can then quickly preview linked files and documents from the web or by mobile, without switching tabs or being pulled out of whatever they’re currently looking at.

Similarly, Smart Canvas allows users to quickly insert checklists that can be used to assign action items to other people. These action items will show up in Google Tasks, making it easier for everyone to manage a project’s To Do list.

Table templates, meanwhile, offer topic-voting tables that enable users to gather team feedback and the ability to track project updates on the fly. A document template for capturing meeting notes will automatically import any relevant information from a Calendar meeting invite, including smart chips for attendees and attached files.

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Other updates to Google Workspace are designed to optimise the user experience across different device types and make it more consistent. For example, the new pageless format in Docs removes the boundaries of a page to create a surface that expands to whatever device or screen the user is working off – particularly useful when working with large images, tables or documents containing detailed comments.

Similarly, users can toggle between new views in Sheets to make it easier for them to interact with their data on web and mobile devices. Initially, this will include a timeline view that makes tracking tasks easier, and users will be able to organize their data based on whichever attributes best suit their project – by owner, category, or campaign, for example.

Smart Canvas features are also being integrated into Google Meet, with the aim of making in-meeting collaboration easier by allowing participants to pull documents and other content in conversations, and vice-versa.

Starting today, users will be able to present content from a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide into a Google Meet call with members of the same team. Tighter integration of Google’s video meeting and productivity apps is pegged for the Autumn, when users will be able to launch a Meeting directly from Docs, Sheets, and Slides on the web, allowing users to chat to each other in real-time while working together on a project.

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Google Meet will be getting additional captioning and transcription capabilities in the coming months, starting with English-language live captions translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, or German.

Also incoming to Google Workspace users in the coming months are new assisted writing features for Docs. These will, amongst other uses, flag when an author uses offensive words or language, as well as offer stylistic suggestion to help users tighten up their prose.

Similar intelligent recommendations are coming to Sheets, albeit in the form of formula suggestions that aim to reduce errors and make it easier for users to glean insights from their data.

Trautman said: “As smart canvas drives the next era of collaboration in Google Workspace, we remain committed to providing a solution that’s flexible, helpful, and that fuels innovation for organizations in every industry. On the frontlines, in corporate offices, and across the countless workspaces in between, Google Workspace will continue to transform how work gets done.”

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai announces updates to Google Workspace at Google I/O 2021.
Image: Google