Google's smart canvas is its next big idea for collaborating at work

It unifies all of Google's productivity apps in smart new ways.


Much like Gmail, Google's suite of online productivity apps quickly changed the way many of us work. Instead of staring at offline Microsoft Office docs, we got online apps that allowed for seamless collaboration with colleagues. Now, Google is taking its workplace productivity apps a step further by introducing smart canvas, a new feature that makes apps like Drive and Sheets smarter and more flexible. For example, it'll let you work on Google Sheets and Docs without leaving a Google chat room, or pipe a Meets call right into a Doc or Slide file.

"We have seen work transform in unprecedented ways, and it is no longer just a place," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said during the Google I/O keynote. Now, amid the pandemic, many of us are working from our kitchens and dining rooms, with pets and kids constantly interrupting. With smart canvas, Google is aiming to make online collaborating a bit more seamless, as if you were actually sitting with your coworkers side-by-side once again.

As the above video shows, smart canvas lets you do things like link to other documents, tag in coworkers, and quickly assign tasks without leaving a Google Doc. Easily accessible building blocks let you transform a blank document into something that could help you quickly manage a complex project. Alone, these aren't necessarily groundbreaking features, but they're the sort of things that could save a bit of time for teams that rely heavily on Google Workplace apps.

Personally, I'd love to be able to plug video calls in right alongside documents, especially when preparing for big events or reviews. That functionality won't be available immediately — Google says it'll directly integrate Meets into Docs, Slide and Sheets this fall — for now, you'll be able to present a file directly into a meeting.

You can think of smart canvas like an evolved version of Google's existing productivity suite. It's something that could potentially change the way you work in small ways — like offering better suggestions to avoid offensive language in Docs — to big ways, giving you a single doc that can effectively manage a large project. Google isn't working in a vacuum here, either. Microsoft has been pushing a new vision of online collaboration with Fluid Framework, which practically deconstructs the idea of a standalone document. Both companies have similarly utopian ideas about the future of work, but it'll be interesting to see which models workers actually adopt.