Google's Gmail gets new collaboration tools in major redesign

The search giant also details new features for its Meet videoconferencing service.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google's Gmail is getting a facelift.

Angela Lang/CNET

Google on Monday announced a major Gmail redesign with a slew of new productivity tools that'll work across the company's other apps, like Docs and Sheets, aiming to turn the service into a hub for planning projects and collaborating with other people.

The idea is to bring Google's separate productivity apps all to one place, with Gmail serving as the command center. The update brings Gmail more in line with competitors like Slack and Microsoft Teams, which make popular collaboration software. But instead of targeting only office workers, Google is bringing the features to its consumer version of Gmail. 

The tools have been available since last year for paying customers of Google Workspace, the company's productivity suite aimed at businesses, but the search giant on Monday said it's making the tools free for anyone with a regular Google account. 

The biggest change is the addition of a feature called Spaces. The tool works similarly to Slack channels, which let people collaborate in real time. In Google's version, people can chat, swap files and edit Google Docs without switching tabs. The Spaces feature was previously called Rooms in the version for paid accounts. 


The Spaces feature in Gmail.


The announcement comes as countries try to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and offices around the world prepare for an environment where more people work remotely. As such, Google and other tech giants are redesigning their products for a world where people are doing more things digitally, at work and at leisure, like planning a birthday party or organizing a rally, said Javier Soltero, head of Google Workspace. 

"We are working, living and playing in often the same places," Soltero said in an interview. "There's a lot of convergence."

Bringing together Google's consumer and business products also means the company is combining their user bases. Google said Monday that it has more than 3 billion people using its productivity services -- including Gmail, Docs, Drive and Calendar -- as either free consumers or paying business customers.

The company also detailed a new feature for its Google Meet software, a videoconferencing rival to Zoom. A new Companion Mode, which Google previewed at its I/O developer conference last month, seeks to put remote and in-person workers on equal footing while they're in meetings together. For people attending a meeting in person, they can pull up Companion Mode on their phones so they can still have access to digital features on Google Meet, like hand-raising, polls and chat. Each person will also get their own tile on the meeting grid, instead of having all the in-person participants bunched up in one tile. 

Google also announced a new subscription service for smaller-scale entrepreneurs, called Google Workspace Individual. The plan is intended for individual business owners who've used Google products like Gmail or Drive to build their business but want to move up to access a few of the company's premium features, like customer support.