Google Chat may tell on you when you’re slacking off

Google Chat is reintroducing a small tweak that could help your boss keep tabs on what you’re doing and when.

In a blog post, Google says it’s reverting to inactivity, indicated by an orange icon, apparently to make it easier to see which of your co-workers are really, really there.

“In Google Chat on the web and Chat in Gmail, you’ll see an orange clock badge for users who were recently active in Chat, but are not currently active,” the company says. “We hope this will make it easier for you to determine the best time to connect with your colleagues.”

Google Chat inactive

The Idle state appears after five minutes of inactivity, depending on 9to5Google. In 2020, Google introduced Away (denoted by an empty circle) and Do Not Disturb (red circle), making it easier to show what you’re doing.

The update is very nostalgic in a way, taking us back to the era of MSN status messages and all the fun one could have. In a professional context, however, it might work a little differently than your mother boots you from the PC.

A battle for work

Google is currently in an intense battle with Microsoft, Slack and other workplace communication apps, especially as remote and hybrid working looks here to stay.

Microsoft has made great strides with Microsoft 365 and Teams, using its existing relationships with many large companies to cement its place as one of the essential facets of every employee’s life.

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But Google has been quietly working in the background, improving its suite of Google Workspace tools. The fact that Google Docs is available for free is also a big bonus, especially for students.

Still, Google has struggled to keep its messaging apps — a notoriously complicated area for the company — sticky, and the latest change to Google Chat isn’t likely to help, at least as far as employees are concerned.

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