How to get the most out of new collaboration tools

Google introduced Smart Canvas last year to streamline the process of multiple people working on documents together.

Last year, Google launched Smart Canvas. This is an arsenal of productivity tools to help workers who want to collaborate with colleagues in Google Workspace.

With teams shifting to remote and hybrid working arrangements, it gave new ways to interact across Google Docs, Sheets and Slides with mentions, templates, checklists and more.

Earlier this year, Google added several new updates to Smart Canvas. Here’s how to use them.

AI generated summary generated by Google smart canvas GIF

GIF: Google

Users can now avail of automatically generated summaries of the documents they are working on in Google Docs. The tool is intended to help workers save time and skim the main points of a document without having to read the whole text if it’s not relevant to them.

Google’s built-in AI will suggest a summary, but summaries can also be edited manually. To do this, just click on the plus sign next to the summary box on the left side of the screen in Google Docs.

Also in Docs, Google has introduced a pageless format that lets users remove the boundaries of a page to create a surface that expands to the device or screen they are working on. This update is aimed at hybrid and remote workers in particular and is intended to make collaborating over screens easier. If a user needs to print a document or convert it to a PDF, they can easily switch back to a paginated view.

To convert to the pageless view, click on ‘File’ at the top menu bar and a drop-down menu will appear. Next, click ‘Page setup’, which will bring up a pop-up box with the option to switch between paginated and pageless views in a single click.

Google has also created some in-built shortcuts in its Docs and Sheets that could let users, for example, preview a Google Maps link directly from a document.

By clicking on the ‘smart chip’ – clickable objects that pull relevant info directly into the collaboration canvas – users can open up a preview of the Google Maps link in a thumbnail or on a side panel within the document. This means you don’t have to exit the document to view the map.

There’s also a people smart chip, which does something very similar: you can click on a person’s name and their information – such as job title and company – appears in the side panel.

You can pull this information into a document you’re working on by typing ‘@’. This action will make a drop down menu appear with the names of your Google contacts. You can select a name to pull up their information.

People who are mentioned in documents aren’t notified. However, you can give them access to the document by clicking ‘Share’ in the pop-up box that appears on the right of the screen when you click on their name in the document.

These smart chips are designed to provide more context to documents, and you can also use @ mentions to insert smart chips for files and meetings.

By typing ‘@meet’, a pop-up menu with a list of your meetings will appear. Selecting one will pull in pre-formatted information about that meeting, such as attendees, files and notes.

An example of how Google smart canvas can pull in meeting information into Docs.

Image: Google

“Supporting new ways of working has become a mandate for organizations across regions and industries – whether it’s for remote, hybrid, in-the-office, or frontline employees,” said Vishnu Sivaji, Google Workspace group product manager, in a blogpost published in February.

Workers are “looking to adopt technologies that reduce the friction of people switching between countless tools and tabs to make collaboration happen,” Sivaji added.

All of the features are available to Google Workspace users.

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