Image: Google

It’s time for a change. Wednesday, Google Workspace announced innovations in Google Meet, designed to make meetings better and to accommodate hybrid and remote employees.

“Virtual meetings have been at the center of work’s global transformation this past year,” said Dave Citron, director of product management at Google Meet, in a posting on Google. “Long before the pandemic, they played a crucial role for distributed teams, but now they’ve become the glue that holds the work day together for countless teams and organizations that used to share a physical workplace.”

UI changes include automated live captions in five languages, engagement controls for educators and students, new mobile capabilities designed to keep team members connected no matter where they are. The new enhancements will go live next month and are a result of customer and user feedback, the company said.

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The new Meet updates video feeds, the viewing and presenting experience, as well as the bottom bar. Citron pointed out that Google wanted to address the reduction of meeting fatigue. “We’re giving you more control over how you view yourself in meetings. You can choose to have your video feed be a tile in the grid or a floating picture, which can be resized and repositioned. If you prefer not to see yourself at all, you can easily minimize your feed and hide it from your own view entirely.”

Google is also adding a setting that lets a user turn off their self-feed across all Google Meet calls.

Hosts no longer will feel they are either talking to fewer colleagues and can “better gauge reactions” through a change to the pinning and unpinning of content (unpinned, a presentation tile allows the host to see more people).

Changes will roll out “in the coming months,” explained Citron, these include being able to pin multiple video feeds for more flexibility in how a host combines people and content with an emphasis on what’s most important in the moment.

Google updated the bottom bar for easier navigation: All controls are now consolidated in one place. “Meeting dial-in codes, attachments, the participants’ list, chat and other activities are now at the bottom right to create more vertical space for seeing people and content,” Citron said. “The bottom bar is always visible so you’ll never have to miss out on captions or guess whether you’re on mute. We’ve also moved the leave call button away from the camera and microphone buttons to prevent accidental hang-ups.”

Citron continued: “To support video calls when you’re on the go, we’re launching Data Saver this month. This feature limits data usage on mobile networks to allow you to save on data costs, which is especially important for markets like Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia, where data costs can be high.”

Last year, a low-light mode was introduced “using AI” to calibrate participants’ video to make people in a dark environment more visible. Most cameras are challenged with too much light (the user’s in front of a window on a sunny day), so now Google Meet on the web can detect when the user is underexposed. It will enhance the brightness to improve visibility.

More tools rolling out include auto zoom for Google Workspace subscribers, which zooms in and positions the user squarely in front.

As follow-ups to last months’ roll out of background replace, questions and answers, as well as polls for Meet on Android and iOS devices, a new feature will be the ability to replace a background with video (choose from a classroom, a party and a forest, with more planned”).

Virtual meetings, Citron said, are the “hybrid model emerging as a core part of the future of work,” as participants need to feel secure, so the new user interface is more immersive and people-first.

After more than a year of variations in the workforce due to the global pandemic and the enterprises’ reliance on virtual calls, conferences and meetings, essentials to the actual software emerged. Citron explained that Google is “building on the innovations we’ve launched this past year to make meetings more meaningful, inclusive and safer.”