The Google Apps Marketing team led a webinar July 20, 2011, highlighting the Google Apps innovations from the past two years that provide for better teamwork, productivity, and simplicity in the enterprise.

Jeremy Milo, Marketing Manager for Google Apps, began the webinar by explaining why Google’s continuous web innovation was superior to their competitor’s methods.

Google releases new innovations to Google Apps continuously throughout the year, and there is no down time required for these releases. Users are not overwhelmed by learning how to use the new features since they only need to learn how to use one new feature at a time. Google’s competitors in the Enterprise messaging and productivity industry, like Microsoft for example, release product updates all at one time in a package that needs to be downloaded, installed or patched. These changes are more disruptive to users and can decrease productivity while users learn how to use the new features.

Collaborative innovation

Milo then went on to highlight the latest Google innovations for Google Apps Business users that are designed for us by collaborative teams. When Gmail was first introduced it was a web email platform and only available to individual users. Gmail is now part of the Google Apps suite of products which includes Calendar, Docs, Sites, Postini, Groups, and Video.

The messaging innovation designed for teams includes the built in instant messaging, voice, and video chat. Users can seamlessly move from a text chat, to a voice chat to a web chat, and then back again. This feature is supported by all modern browsers and is accessible to anyone using a web cam or microphone enabled computer. The built-in chat also supports group chat (text only) and will hopefully soon support group voice and group video chat.

The ability to use Google Chat to call phone numbers is also a feature of Google Chat and is available for free throughout 2011. Although calling phones using VOIP is nothing new, having this capability built into Gmail and available for free, affords productivity and cost savings. Gmail users can save time by copying and pasting a phone number directly into their Gmail window to make a call, rather than having to login to another application like Skype or soft phone to place a phone all. Services like Skype also charge for placing phone calls to landlines in the United States.

The Gmail people widget is one of the latest additions to Gmail. Next to every mail message, users can now see contextual information about the people in the conversation including recent emails, shared calendar events and shared documents. Information listed in the company directory such as title or department will also be displayed. In large organizations this allows employees to quickly get biographical and organizational information about their email contacts without having to open a company directory. This also provides team efficiencies by allowing team members having an email conversation to access the most recent documents and events relating to the conversation.

This comprehensive view of relationships and communication is very helpful for people in sales and customer service positions who potentially communicate with hundreds of people each day.

The “quick connect” button also offers one click access to start a chat or email with the selected contact. Are connections to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks coming soon?

Teams don’t only rely on email for communication, but also on calendars to schedule meetings and events. Google Calendar allows user to overlay coworkers’ calendars on top of their own to find shared open appointment slots. However, scheduling an important meeting for multiple busy members can be challenging and it’s not always apparent from the calendar overlay when there is a free slot. The Smart Rescheduler lab allows a meeting organizer to enter the attendees, date range and meeting length and the tool returns meeting time options that fit the criteria. Using this lab prevents hassle and saves time.

The original Google Apps product only provided support for calendar delegation but it now supports calendar, email and contact delegation. This helps support the traditional administrative assistant and manager relationship. It can also support the team relationship were team members may need to respond to emails on behalf of a teammate, schedule an appointment for a teammate or manage a teammate’s contact list.

Milo’s presentation showed that the Gmail has grown up from a web mail application competing with Yahoo and Hotmail to a full grown communication and productivity suite designed for teams.

Editor’s question: Has the evolution of Google Apps changed the way you work and interact with your coworkers? Are teamwork and collaboration playing a more prominent role in your business now?