There is only one sure thing about the ongoing competition between Microsoft, Google and the other productivity suites on the market, and it is that the ongoing development of these platforms provides a win-win situation for users.

You would be forgiven for thinking that once one releases a significant upgrade, the others do the same because it certainly seems that way. This time it’s Google's turn. At Google Cloud Next 2021, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company announced it is upping its digital workplace game with enhancements to Google Meet, Chat and Spaces. In a related announcement, the company detailed Distributed Cloud, a portfolio of solutions designed to extend infrastructure to data centers and edge hardware.

Explaining the thinking behind the upgrades, Javier Soltero, vice president and general manager at Google Workspace, pointed out that Google Workspace has rapidly evolved over the past year, from the first rebranding exercise last year and its launch for commercial markets, to its launch for nonprofits, governments and schools soon afterwards.

Then in June, Google Workspace was made available to everyone which, according to Soltero, saw the personalization of Workspace by many users and 4.8 billion apps installed in Google Workspace to date.

"Developers have been able to build applications that integrate with Gmail, Drive and Docs for years," Soltero said. "And today, we're announcing significant enhancements to the Google Workspace platform by making it just as easy for developers to build applications and integrate with Google Meet, Chat and Spaces."

Another significant upgrade is a new Jira integration for Google Chat and Spaces. This integration enables users to create new tickets quickly, see actionable previews, and monitor issues as they come into the space they’re already using for collaboration.

Finally, among other upgrades, Google also released a no-code development platform called AppSheet that they want to promote collaboration equity. The tool allows any team member to access documents and collaborate instantly with team members who are not in the field.

Google acquired AppSheet in 2020. At the time, Google Cloud said that the purchase would complement Google’s strategy to “reimagine the application development space” by “help[ing] [businesses] innovate” with workflow automation, app support and API management.

The updates come as organizations embrace digital collaboration, motivated by pandemic-related migrations toward remote work.  While it is still not clear how the remote work/office work ratio will stack up when things get back to normal, what is certain is that a lot more people are going to be staying at home to work than in the past.

Cisco Identifies Hybrid Workplace Sweet Spots

Related to hybrid work, San Jose-based Cisco has taken a deeper look at the subject. Earlier this week, the company unveiled its first Hybrid Work Index (HWI) based on data taken from millions of aggregated and anonymous customer data points.

The index, which Cisco says will be updated quarterly, examined how people’s habits and technology interactions have permanently reshaped work a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings show that not only will a lot more people expect to work in hybrid workplaces, but they will expect greater flexibility, accessibility and security, while businesses grapple with meeting these increased technology demands.

The data in the research uncovered a number of trends that are worth noting for the digital workplace moving forward, including:

  • 64% agree that the ability to work remotely instead of coming into an office directly affects whether they stay or leave a job.
  • An overwhelming majority of respondents agree that personal health and wellness, along with flexible work arrangements, are non-negotiables.
  • Pre-pandemic, people used mobile devices 9% of the time to connect to their meetings. In a hybrid work world, this number tripled and is now at 27%.
  • 82% of survey respondents agree that access to connectivity is critical to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Over 200% growth in usage of AI capabilities from July through September 2021 points toward people’s desire for improved meeting engagement.

Understandably, one of the other major themes that emerged was security. During the pandemic, malicious remote access attempts grew 2.4 times. In September 2021, the hybrid workforce was targeted with more than 100 million email threats daily. This underscores the importance of security infrastructures that keep work accessible to the right users and out of reach of fraudulent actors.

Interestingly, collaboration apps are now the most monitored application type globally. Collaboration apps have surpassed secure access and productivity application monitoring, which were more heavily monitored at the onset of the pandemic and the move to work-from-home.

Blue Jeans by Verizon Improves Video Conferencing

In terms of enabling remote work, it could be argued that video is the most important technology that enterprises need. This probably explains the ongoing development of Verizon Business and San Jose, Calif.-based BlueJeans by Verizon, who have jointly announced the release of several updates recently.

Learning Opportunities

The objective, the companies told the audience at their Enterprise Connect conference, is to maximize engagement in the hybrid world. The upgrades include:

  • BlueJeans Spaces: This is a new 2D/3D immersive workspace, digital hub and integrated virtual office for creating engagement and alignment. This collaboration platform was developed to provide a seamless virtual environment for teams to do their work from anywhere.
  • BlueJeans Events: Enhanced features include closed caption translation, simulation interpretation, multi-language support and up to 150,000 interactive event participants.
  • BlueJeans Rooms: In partnership with Poly, BlueJeans Rooms introduces a new Android-based version of BlueJeans Rooms running on the Poly Studio X series to enable customers to immediately transform how conference room-bound employees are able to participate in hybrid meetings.
  • BlueJeans for Google Glass:To empower hybrid and remote workers to do their best work, even when they aren’t located in the same region or time zone, BlueJeans is proud to announce a new native meeting experience for Glass Enterprise Edition 2 from Google.
  • OneTalk:For optimal workplace flexibility, One Talk pairs with BlueJeans Meetings for audio, video and web conferencing

According to a recent global survey by Momentive of more than 5,000 respondents, spontaneous conversations with colleagues is the No. 1 most missed aspect about the office, with 43.5% of respondents admitting their efforts at maintaining team culture as a hybrid team have failed.

Doist Rebuilds Twist, its Alternative to Slack

All of this feeds into the way we work both outside the enterprise and inside it. Remote work promised change, but a real-time, all-the-time way of working is not sustainable, particularly when an organization is operating in different time zones.

In response to this, Doist developed Twist, a communication tool designed for asynchronous workflows. First introduced in 2017 as an alternative to Slack, Twist is messaging built for asynch work. However, with the rapid rate of change in the market the company spent the last year rebuilding Twist from the ground up.

Last week, it launched a new and improved version with faster, more focused navigation, smarter search and a clean new thread view. While these kinds of upgrades always result in huge number of changes, in this case there are five improvements that are worth mentioning:

  • Important conversations can be kept at the top of the feed by pinning threads.
  • The ability to add context by linking to relevant conversations.
  • Options to block out noise and stay focused by muting threads.
  • Tagging the right people by setting the default participants for a channel.
  • Bringing a smile to people’s faces by easily adding GIFs anywhere.

Twist is now available globally either as a free option or with unlimited access for $6 per user/month.

ServiceNow’s New Integrated ESG platform

Finally, this week, Santa Clara, Calif.-based ServiceNow has announced a new, integrated ESG solution powered by the Now Platform. ESG, or Environmental, Social, and Governance platforms, use three key factors when measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a business or company.

According to ServiceNow, the new additions aim to tackle current problems with ESG efforts that are often ad hoc, siloed and manual, while the technology products currently available support discrete, disconnected ESG efforts, compounding the problem.

With its ESG solution, ServiceNow is taking a holistic approach to help organizations drive impact and build greater customer, investor and employee trust. Organizations can convert ESG goals into meaningful impact and create long‑term value by innovating processes and delivering sustainable outcomes. Key components of the new integrated solution include:

  • ServiceNow ESG Management and Reporting: Enables companies to document material topics, establish goals and KPIs.
  • ServiceNow Project and Portfolio Management: Helps build and maintain a company’s ESG roadmap, including strategy, planning and budgeting tools.
  • ServiceNow Integrated Risk Management: Provides core governance capabilities plus advanced risk assessments, continuous monitoring, AI, audits, privacy, automation and more.

These products work with ServiceNow’s low-code tools and solutions such as Business Continuity Management, Vendor Risk Management and Security Operations.