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Google Hangouts Chat: The smart person’s guide

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Hangouts has been Google’s all-in-one app for chat and video, but that’s changing as part of an attempt to evolve G Suite to better serve the needs of enterprise teams. Two new apps, Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, deliver focused team collaboration features: Meet is for video meetings, and Chat is for text conversations and document sharing. The classic Hangouts app remains available for anyone to continue to use.

This primer details what you need to know about Google Hangouts Chat. We’ll update this guide as new information is available about the app.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s smart person’s guides

Executive summary

  • What is Google Hangouts Chat? Google Hangouts Chat is a communication app that provides enterprise teams with “rooms” to hold “conversations,” share and discuss Google Drive documents, and interact with connected apps.
  • Why does Google Hangouts Chat matter? Google Hangouts Chat expands the team collaboration capabilities of G Suite by adding a persistent place to discuss a team’s work, beyond collaborating within a Google Doc.
  • Who does Google Hangouts Chat affect? G Suite customers that work in teams benefit most directly from Google Hangouts Chat, since G Suite users gain a central hub to share and discuss as a group. Hangouts Chat may reduce the need for teams to turn to other tools, such as email or Slack, while working on projects.
  • When is Google Hangouts Chat happening? Per Google, “G Suite customers can apply to try Hangouts Chat through the Early Adopter Program,” as of March 2017.
  • How do I get Google Hangouts Chat? As of March 2017, you can use Hangouts Chat if your organization is accepted into the Early Adopter Program, and if the feature is enabled by a G Suite administrator.

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What is Google Hangouts Chat?

Google Hangouts Chat is a communication app for enterprise teams. Hangouts Chat conversations occur in “rooms,” and each room includes all the conversations held by a team. These conversations are threaded, so you can keep a conversation about lunch separate from a conversation about a project budget. New items appear at the bottom of the page. You can review all unread items. If a conversation started before you joined the team, you can still see the entire thread. All conversations are keyword searchable. You can filter your search by file type or person, too.

Hangouts Chat offers significant control over notifications. You can choose to receive all notifications for a conversation so you don’t miss a critical discussion; or, you can reduce the chatter and only get notified when you’re mentioned. When you no longer want to be notified of new items, you can mute a conversation, similar to how you might mute a Gmail thread.

Google Hangouts Chat deeply integrates with other Google tools, such as Google Groups and Google Drive. For example, you can quickly create a new room for members of a Google Group. And, when you share a Google Drive document in Hangouts Chat, all members receive access to the file, and Hangouts Chat automatically adjusts the access settings.

Hangouts Chat offers integration with other apps and bots. Mention a Google-built @meet bot to get help scheduling a meeting time for team members. Connect to an integrated app or build your own functionality with Google Apps Script to pull additional data in your conversation. Initial Google Hangouts Chat integration partners include Asana, Box, Freshdesk, Polly, ProsperWorks, Smartsheet, QuickBooks, Xero, Zapier, Zendesk, and Zenefits.

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Why does Google Hangouts Chat matter?

Speed and visibility matter in group collaboration. No one wants to take a lot of time adding users or configuring access permissions. Hangouts Chat makes it easy: mention another G Suite user to add them to a conversation or add a file from Google Drive to give everyone in the conversation access to the document. Discussions take place in threaded conversations in Hangouts Chat, instead of email messages in Gmail. Hangouts Chat makes these conversations and documents visible to everyone in a “room.”

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Hangouts Chat is part of Google’s effort to deliver tools for teams. Hangouts Meet supports live video meetings and screen sharing; Team Drive provides a persistent shared place for teams to share files; Google Hangouts Chat provides a persistent shared place for teams to talk about those files. (Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet launched in March 2017.)

Fast file sharing with a group is a key feature of both Hangouts Chat and Team Drives. When you add a file either to a conversation in Hangouts Chat or to a Team Drive, your team members get access to that file; however, you may still need to adjust access permissions if you share a Google Doc to third-party chat tools. This speed and ease of file sharing may give Google Hangouts Chat an edge over its competitors.

Additional resources

Who does Google Hangouts Chat affect?

G Suite customers that work in teams benefit most directly from Google Hangouts Chat, since G Suite users gain a central hub to share and discuss as a group. Hangouts Chat may reduce the need for teams to turn to other tools, such as email or Slack, while working on projects.

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Who are Google Hangouts Chat’s competitors?

G Suite customers that want to move conversations out of email and into a shared workspace will likely look at Hangouts Chat first; however, many companies now use Slack or similar group chat and collaboration tools.

Microsoft launched Microsoft Teams for Office 365 users; Cisco promotes Cisco Spark; Atlassian offers HipChat, and even Facebook offers Workplace as an enterprise alternative to consumer-friendly Facebook groups. There’s also an open source option, Mattermost, that an enterprise can download and deploy to a private cloud configuration. Some other possible options include: Salesforce Chatter, Convo, and RingCentral Glip.

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When is Google Hangouts Chat happening?

As of March 2017, if you’re a G Suite customer and you’re able to try Hangouts Chat in English, a super administrator may apply to Google’s Early Adopter Program to try Hangouts Chat.

How do I get Google Hangouts Chat?

Once Hangouts Chat is formally launched, a G Suite administrator will need to enable access to the app. Like most Google enterprise apps, Hangouts Chat may be enabled for the entire organization or for specific organizational units. Rooms can be created to correspond to existing Google Groups or for specific teams.

The Hangouts Chat app will work on the web and in Android and iOS apps.

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