Google Project Starline photo showing a woman and man talking via video

Google Debuts 3D Chat, Amazon Tackles Mental Health & More News

May 24, 2021 Digital Workplace
Stephanie Vaughn Freelance Writer
By Stephanie Vaughn

Dissatisfied with the state of telepresence and video chats, Google engineers have been busy at work on a new prototype for face-to-face meetings. And they debuted what they've been working at Google I/O 2021, the company's annual developer conference, held virtually this year from May 18-20.

Google's Project Starline is a video booth that uses Google technology to create what the company calls a "magic window" through which you can see another person, life-sized and in three dimensions. Without getting too technical, Project Starline uses computer vision, machine learning, spatial audio and real-time data compression to create a realistic 3-D imaging model that gives the feeling that a person is sitting directly across from you in real life.

"One of the things we are most proud of is that as soon as you sit down and start talking, the technology fades into the background, and you can focus on what's most important: the person in front of you," wrote Clay Bavor, vice president, Google AR/VR, in a blog post.

It's a long ways from replacing that Zoom meeting or Google Meet, though. Project Starline is currently available in a few Google offices because it is highly reliant on custom-built hardware, and won't be available, if at all to enterprises, for several years, according to a report in Wired.

Google Workspace's Smart Canvas Weaves Docs, Tasks and Meet Together

In other news, Google is launching a number of new features for its Workspace productivity suite according to a keynote presentation at Google I/O 2021.

Smart Canvas, a new collaboration tool in Google Workspace, will use a tagging feature called “smart chips'' to connect Google Docs to other products with an "@ mention" feature. This will create specialized links inside docs that reference other files or meetings, in addition to adding people to the document.

It would be safe to infer that Google is working to make every single part of its Workspace suite of apps interconnected. As it continues to expand the integration of Workspace, users will be able to start a Meet video chat directly within Docs or share a Doc directly into a Meet call with a button.

Other updates include emoji reactions in Google Docs in addition to traditional comments, a new timeline view in Google Sheets for improved project management, and a new “pageless” view in Google Docs that does away with the assumption that a document is meant for an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. It dynamically resizes the doc to the size of a web browser the way a web app ought to, reported The Verge.

Google is also adding assisted writing features to Google Docs, ranging from warning users about offensive language, wordiness or non-inclusive language.

Amazon Introduces Mental Health Benefit for Employees and Family

Amazon has launched a new mental health benefit, Resources for Living, with the intent to provide every U.S. employee and their family or household with personalized, confidential support for mental health and daily life assistance. Services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and include access to free counseling sessions in-person or through phone, video or text.

Mental Health America, a nonprofit group focused on promoting mental health, stated that more than 26 million adults went untreated for mental health concerns in the U.S. in 2020. And according to the American Psychological Association, 48% of parents have more stress in their personal lives now than before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

The Resources for Living program will provide access to:

  • One-on-one counseling, up to three sessions per person, per topic
  • Access to in-person, phone, video or text counseling sessions
  • Self-care programs, including self-assessments, and a stress resource center
  • Crisis and suicide prevention support
  • Access to a self-paced therapy app and mindfulness resources

“It is critically important that employers like Amazon evaluate and expand their programs and put a more significant focus on the mental health and mental well-being of their employees, especially as we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and begin to re-enter the workplace,” said Daniel H. Gillison Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in a press statement. “Employers bear a responsibility to ensure access to and provide adequate mental health services to their employees. It is good for their workers and it is good for business.”

Stoke Talent Aims to Make Onboarding and Offboarding Freelancers Easier

Stoke Talent, an on-demand talent management platform based in Palo Alto, Calif., is launching customizable, automated workflows for onboarding and offboarding non-payroll workers such as freelancers, contractors, consultants and agencies.

The goal of the company's Onboarding and Offboarding Workflows is to give legal, finance and IT teams the ability to set up policies that can be enforced throughout the entire company. Legal teams can define which legal documents are needed and finance can ensure tax documentation is submitted and that appropriate checks are done prior to a contractor starting work. The IT department can define the process for granting non-employees system access and providing hardware equipment. When an offboarding process is later triggered, it ensures contractors will not continue to have access to sensitive materials.

"As the freelance revolution moves forward, companies need to be able to manage freelancers at scale," said Shahar Erez, CEO and co-founder of Stoke Talent in a press statement. "Onboarding and Offboarding Workflows are critical when it comes to scalability; it determines the 'time-to-value' of the freelancers and may also put the company at risk if not done properly."

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Launches Gaia-X Solutions to Accelerate Data Value Creation

Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a Houston-based platform-as-a-service company, announced new services to help organizations monetize their data with the HPE Solution Framework for Gaia-X, a federated data infrastructure supported by more than 300 organizations globally.

The HPE Solution Framework for Gaia-X supports the capabilities required to both provide and consume data and services in a decentralized, federated environment. The goal is to give HPE customers the ability to create value from data, tap into distributed data pools, and strengthen sovereignty over their data-driven business model.

The framework is based on a reference architecture which leverages components of HPE’s software portfolio, third-party software, and the Cloud28+ business platform, a marketplace for the monetization of data and services. Individual solution components and entire solution environments are available as a service via HPE GreenLake cloud services.

HPE has also announced the HPE Roadmap Service for Gaia-X which helps customers assess their Gaia-X readiness and develop a roadmap.

Workplace Aggression Rises as More Return to the Workplace

As the U.S. slowly makes its way back into workplaces, employers are dealing with an alarming trend, according to a recent news report from Cleveland.

“Companies are coming to us and asking us ‘Can you help us with this transition, during the transition, when we do encounter negative, violent, aggressive people?’” said Tim Dimoff, a national security expert and business consultant to News 5 Cleveland.

Dimoff said 10 years ago he would get around three calls a year from employers asking how to handle workplace aggression, but since COVID-19 that number has skyrocketed. “We are now averaging seven of those types of calls a month,” he told News 5.

Joanna Mannon from the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Lake County, Ohio said she is also dealing with more patients who are struggling with their workloads and work environments.

“People who have never experienced a mental health condition before now are having some symptoms of maybe episodic depression or episodic anxiety,” Mannon told News 5 Cleveland. “Something that anxiety does is it causes us to not be able to pay attention as well and perform at a high capacity or the highest capacity that we would normally perform at, and so job performance may be affected as well as relationships within the job.”

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