The rush to update and release new tools to support hybrid work is picking up pace as the prospect of a return to the physical office looms. Case in point, Google, which recently announced a number of new capabilities in Google Workspace specifically aimed at improving meetings between remote and onsite teams.

In a blog post explaining the move, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company stated that creating a unified and cohesive meeting experience for everyone is the key to productive and successful video meetings. The majority of the updates concern Google’s videoconferencing platform, Google Meet. One of the updates causing a bit of a buzz is the introduction of in-meeting emoji reactions. According to the blog, this will bring “energy into the meeting and giving immediate feedback to speakers and other attendees."

Leaving emojis aside, other parts of the release appear more relevant for teams looking to collaborate. To this end, Google is bringing Meet directly to Docs, Sheets, and Slides in the coming weeks. With this, people will be able to start a meeting and bring it to a document, spreadsheet or presentation, and they can present this content to meeting attendees. Everyone in a meeting will have the ability to collaborate on the asset in real-time while still in the meeting, and all from the same tab.

Additionally, Google is bringing picture-in-picture to Meet running on Chrome browsers so presenters and multitaskers can see their audience while navigating different tabs and windows. The feature is due to roll out later this month. At that point, participants will be able to see up to four video tiles of meeting attendees in a floating window on top of other applications as you share content or send a message in Gmail. 

Google will also be rolling out an update to Google Meet which prompts solo meeting attendees to leave when no one else joins within the first five minutes. The functionality will initially be available to desktop and iOS users, with Android availability coming "soon." The same announcement also revealed a new, consolidated view of management controls for Meet hosts. The update will bring together all of the different meeting controls under the "host controls" menu. This update applies to desktop users only.  

A number of other updates are also worth a look. For large meetings, for example, Google is improving the livestream experience, which will strengthen an organization’s ability to broadcast a message.

Currently, Google Meet users can host meetings of up to 500 active attendees with the ability to livestream to audiences of up to 100,000 across trusted Google Workspace domains. Coming later this year, livestream attendees will be able to participate in Q&A and polls, matching the experience that Meet attendees already have access to. Finally, hosts will also have the ability to livestream meetings directly to YouTube from the Meet activities tab.

The real test of all these updates will be Google itself. After two years of mostly remote work it began its return to the workplace this week. That means that most Google employees are now expected to be in the office three days per week, with the rest of the time spent working remotely. We'll see what new functionality emerges from its own hybrid workplace experiment. 

Microsoft Dips Into Process Mining With Minit Buy

The digital workplace, however, is not all video conferencing and meetings. To incorporate the many new workplace technologies introduced in recent years along with the related data which make them work, processes and technologies to optimize process creation are increasingly important.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft responded to the recent interest in this area with the announcement of its acquistion of Minit. The Bratislava, Slovakia-based vendor develops process-mining technologies that identify ways organizations can improve their processes for operational efficiencies. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

The Minit acquisition fits into a bigger picture. While efficient processes are helpful, the real sweetspot is process automation and Microsoft is investing in Minit with this in mind.

A blog post about the buy reads: “This acquisition will further empower Microsoft to help our customers digitally transform … by creating a complete picture of their business processes, enabling every process to be easily and automatically analyzed and improved.”

According to Gartner's 2020 process mining guide, the objective of process mining is to discover, monitor and improve real processes extracting knowledge from event logs readily available in today’s information systems.

The consulting firm defines process mining as including automated process discovery (i.e., extracting process models from an event log), conformance checking (i.e., monitoring deviations by comparing model and log), social network/organizational mining, automated construction of simulation models, model extension, model repair, case prediction, and history-based recommendations.

Learning Opportunities

This isn't the first time Microsoft has made a play in this space. It bought Softomotive, an RPA software provider, in 2020 for an undisclosed sum to boost the low-code bot-building capabilities of Power Automate, formerly Microsoft Flow. Power Automate is an online tool within Microsoft 365 used for the creation of automated workflows between apps and services to synchronize files, get notifications, and collect data.

If anyone had any doubts about the importance of the process automation space, this should be enough to convince them. Microsoft has deep pockets for technology that it doesn’t have itself and this is clearly one of those spaces. Expect a lot more here in the coming months and years as the market for process mining develops into what Polaris Market Research suggests will be an $11 billion industry

Asana Research Shows Hybrid Workers Are Suffering

San Francsico-based Asana released results of its third-annual global survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers in its Asana Anatomy of Work Index 2022.

Conducted by Global Web Index (GWI) on behalf of Asana, the Index surveyed the behaviors and attitudes of 10,624 knowledge workers across Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the U.S. to understand what’s working — and what's not — in the new era of organizational agility.

The results are striking, if not surprising. The most notable finding is the many workers who said they struggled to manage their work over the year, with many reporting a considerable level of supplementary work needed to keep up with remote and hybrid models. Other notable findings include:

  • Strategy and efficiency declined this year: Time spent on strategy has declined to 9% (vs. 15% in 2021).
  • Working remote improved productivity but increased isolation: 50% U.S. workers said it is easier for them to concentrate while working remotely, but 43% of workers feel more isolated when working remotely. 
  • Hybrid work is here to stay: U.S. workers ideally want a near-equal split of time between the central office and home office.  
  • U.S. workers do not have a clear start / stop time: Almost two-thirds (63%) of U.S. workers are checking work email outside of working hours.
  • Rise in unproductive meetings: 43% spent more time on video calls compared to 12 months ago and 60% are multitasking during virtual meetings more than they did 12 months ago
  • Clearer processes = better productivity: The top thing U.S. knowledge workers said could improve their focus and productivity is clearer processes in the workplace. An estimated 5.6 hours could be saved per week.

While the results include many positive outcomes, there is also concern about the way people are working and the impact on their health and ultimately the enterprise. Between grappling with work and navigating never-ending pings and notifications, all within the context of an ongoing pandemic, burnout remains a persistent challenge for global employees. 

Overall levels of burnout have decreased slightly — from 71% to 63% — but the problem is pervasive among younger workers, with 84% of Gen Z reporting burnout in the last year. While it is difficult to manage this, or to reduce the amount of digital information workers use, managers will no doubt be aware of how much it costs to replace workers in the event of a burnout, if indeed, they are replaceable.

Crestron Expands Room-Control Offering

Finally this week, Rockleigh, NJ-based Crestron Electronics, has announced the expansion of its room control portfolio with key enhancements to Crestron VC-4 Virtual Control. Crestron develops advanced control and automation systems for the office, campus and home, and offers integrated solutions to monitor, manage, and control the multiple elements which comprise the physical meeting place, including audio, video, lighting, shades and climate.

VC-4 gives enterprise IT managers a broader range of choices for their in-room control platform, providing a scalable software control platform while maintaining support for existing hardware-based solutions. With VC-4, IT can design and configure a room’s UC, AV and control solutions, save those configurations, and then automate them in what the company promises will be a fraction of the time.

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