Apart from regular video meetings and conferencing, one of the biggest challenges in the digital workplace over the past two years has been keeping events running. Meta, or more specifically its workplace product Workplace from Meta, just announced it is making virtual events easier in response to the number of companies moving to a hybrid work model.

Of course, the challenges of remote and hybrid working are more than just technical issues. They are also human. One of the major shortcomings of the hybrid workplace is the sense of isolation some workers feel and management’s failure to address that. In response, Workplace announced a number of new features it hopes companies will use to connect through events and broadcasts, no matter where people are working.

Workplace's new events product aims to make it easier for workers even in distributed companies to get together for major events and meetings. Among the improvements is a change in the way workers connect to these events. In sum, frontline workers don’t need a corporate email or calendar to discover and join events on Workplace, while hybrid employees can choose to join events in person or virtually, and have the option to view live broadcasts or watch recordings later.

There are other improvements, too. Organizations will be able to choose whether to broadcast a virtual event directly to Workplace, or set up an external link. If the organization decides to broadcast to Workplace, they will have a streamlined set up with Live Producer embedded in the event creation flow. Similarly, the live scheduling experience will create a virtual event, making it easier for organizers and attendees to know how to access content on the day.

Elsewhere, the simplified Live Producer user interface will let organizers create live events directly from their computer. When the event is finished, the organization will be able to get richer insights into how people engaged with the videos, including drop-off graphs showing how many people saw the videos.

It’s an interesting time for Meta. Most of the discussion about the company in the past few months has been about the metaverse and how the company has set its sights on becoming the top provider of this new way internet users will connect in the coming years. However, it clearly hasn’t forgotten basic organizational needs such as the tools to support onsite and remote workplaces.

The Workplace release addresses one of the major pain points in this respect, notably how to bring on-site and remote workers together for events. There is little doubt with its focus on broadcasting and visuals that this will ultimately feed into its metaverse plans, but for the moment it provides those who have invested in Workplace a way to keep their digital workplaces connected.

Google Workspace Improves Smart Canvas Experience

Meta is not the only one that is upgrading its workplace tools, Google has a number of improvements on the way for its Workspace suite of tools, which includes Docs, Sheets and Slides.

There’s no big surprise here, as Google announced last year at its I/O developer conference that new improvements were on the way. First and foremost among the changes are upgrades to the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's smart canvas, first released in 2021.

In a blog post about the upgrades, Google explained that while it launched smart canvas to drive the next era of collaboration in Google Workspace, it is releasing the new features to create a more flexible, interactive and intelligent experience by enhancing the content and connections that make collaboration possible.

When it announced the release, Google described smart canvas as a new product experience that delivers the next evolution of collaboration for Google Workspace. It also said at the time that over the months leading up to the end of 2021, it would roll out innovations that make it easier for people to stay connected, focus their time and attention, and transform their ideas into impact.

That meant enhancing Docs, Sheets and Slides. These apps were launched 15 years ago to enable people to work when and where they wanted, in contrast to legacy tools that were designed for an era of individual work on office desktops. Smart canvas was the next step in that evolution.

Now, Google is making it more flexible. Once the changes roll out over the coming weeks, users will be able to:

  • Add a summary to a document, giving readers a high level overview of its content. For some Google Workspace editions, users will see automatically generated summary suggestions in certain cases.
  • Create pageless documents in Docs, making it easier to collaborate on documents with wide tables and large images.

These new features will be available to all Google Workspace customers, as well as legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers, and started rolling out in the middle of this week.

The additions are superficially small ones. but this has been the story of Workplace and previously G Suite. Over the years, Google introduced a series of small but steady incremental changes to improve the user experience. These also make it easier to collaborate remotely with other people, which in itself is a major plus.

Smart canvas is more an idea than a set of applications or features so it is likely that this is not the end of Google's plans. More on this as it happens.

ShareGate Releases Home Platform

If your enterprise has been working with SharePoint for the past few years, it is likely you would have heard of ShareGate and its role and relationship to the Microsoft ecosystem. The Canada-based company has built its business since 2009 on providing migration to Microsoft 365 and Office 365 and has become one of the go-to companies for big migrations through ShareGate Desktop.

In the intervening period, Microsoft continued to build its productivity offerings and pulled its communication tool Teams into the heart of Microsoft 365, offering anytime sharing and an ever-growing amount of content to control. ShareGate has mirrored that progression, and as a result launched ShareGate Apricot to manage enterprise Microsoft tenants, and more specifically Teams, and give enterprises visibility over how it is being used.

This week it took the next step in that journey when the company announced that it is pulling ShareGate Desktop and ShareGate Apricot together to make managing Microsoft 365 easier. The new offering comes with a new look and feel, as well as features aimed at making it easier to manage daily tasks like migration and content management, reporting, automation, permissions management and provisioning.

The result is ShareGate Home. Home is a platform where users can access the tools they need for big migrations and everyday Teams and SharePoint operations. Once in the platform, users can access the migration tool or the Teams management features by selecting Migration or Teams management from the menu.

Another advantage is that there’s no need for a global admin to consent again in order to access ShareGate Home, the migration tool, or the Teams management module. Finally, Home comes with a visual redesign aimed at providing a unified and simple experience at every touchpoint.

From an engineering perspective, the new ShareGate platform will enable the company to deliver some long-awaited capabilities. The product and engineering teams’ main focus this year is to tackle one of the biggest headache-inducing issues for organizations: making sure users use the tools they’ve deployed the right way.

Learning Opportunities

ShareGate said it is only getting started and that organizations can also expect more cloud-based management features, like reports that offer rich data about tenants and automation so that users spend less time scripting and more time analyzing and problem solving. It will also introduce new cloud-based Teams migration capabilities and continuous improvements to its downloadable migration tool supporting new workloads.

Microsoft Re-opens Offices as COVID Surge Recedes

And we’re back to the return-to-office conundrum again. With the COVID omicron surge receding and workplaces no longer posing the health hazard they were even four months ago, it seems at least some tech companies are rethinking their policy on returning to the corporate office.

Take the example of Microsoft. Microsoft is preparing to re-open its Washington state worksites, which include the company's Redmond headquarters, at the end of this month. That news came from chief marketing officer Chris Capossela.

In a blog about the move Capposela wrote: “Based on this approach and improving local health metrics, our Washington state work sites will move to our sixth and final stage of the hybrid workplace model, effective Feb. 28, 2022. From this date, employees will have 30 days to adjust their routines and adopt the working preferences they’ve agreed upon with their manager.”

He also said the company's Bay Area sites in California will open at the same time, and that the company expects its other U.S. offices to follow as conditions allow.

Capposela added: “Our approach to hybrid embraces schedule flexibility as standard for most roles and provides employees with the opportunity to determine how and where they work best, while making sure an individual’s plans align to the team agreements set with their manager.”

Elsewhere, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Meta has mandated COVID-19 booster shots for employees returning to the office and set March 28 as the office reopening date.

However, there is a word of warning in Gartner’s 2021 hybrid work employee survey of more than 2,400 knowledge workers, which noted that "forcing employees to go back to the on-site environment could result in employers losing up to 39% of their workforce.”

All of this is speculative, however, and it remains to be seen what actually happens in reality. It will also be interesting to see what the other major tech companies decide in the coming weeks.

DuploCloud Raises $15M for Low-Code/No-Code Development 

Finally this week, San Jose, Calif.-based DuploCloud, which develops no-code/low-code infrastructure automation and compliance, announced the company has closed a $15 million Series A funding round. These funds bring the total capital raised to date to $17.5 million.

Driven by the increasing skills gap for DevOps engineers, DuploCloud’s DevOps-as-a-Service platform is aimed at supporting startups and mid-sized businesses, as well as others migrating applications to the cloud.

Built by the original engineers of Microsoft Azure and AWS, DuploCloud’s no-code/low-code platform has been designed to meet the cloud infrastructure needs of growing companies, from infrastructure provisioning and application deployment to security controls and alerts.

While the amount of money is not the biggest round this week, it does show the growing interest in no-code/low-code offerings. This is reflected in the 270% year-over-year revenue growth the company said it experienced over the past year.

The new funds will be used for product improvements and to expand the sales and marketing teams to grow the company’s global footprint, company officials said.

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