When the pandemic hit and the Work from Home Era officially began, Zoom quickly won the title of preferred video calling platform. But other major companies didn’t want to fall behind, so they started adding more and better features to their own conferencing tools. 

This is exactly what Google did with Meet, and the company has released a flood of functionalities over the past year. If it took the latest layout change for you to notice, maybe you need a walk-through of all the brand new goodies—and a helping hand to learn how to use them.  

[Related: Google’s new Green Room feature gets you camera-ready before video meetings]

Even though all users have access to Meet, most of the changes over the past few months took place over at Google Workspace, which is Google’s professional suite for companies. If you have a basic free account, you may have to wait to get these new features—if the tech giant decides to make them available for non-paying customers at all. 

New layout for Google Meet

The Zoom-esque tile view hit Google Meet last year, but the platform has built an even sleeker version of it. Now users get a dark background and the ability to unpin their own video feed from the tile view and see themselves in a floating window. 

The control dashboard changed as well. The red hang-up button is now on the right, whereas the ones to turn your audio and video on and off are on all the way to the left. This change is meant to prevent you from accidentally exiting the call instead of unmuting yourself whenever your manager asks you a question. 

Google started rolling out this new look for Meet in May and will continue to do so throughout June. When this feature hits your company’s Google Workspace account, you’ll see a banner announcing the latest layout before a call. Here, you’ll also find a link offering the opportunity to go back to the legacy experience—the old Meet skin—until a certain date. Once that date comes, though, there’s no going back.  

Polls, Q&As, Whiteboarding, and Breakout Rooms

Starting in September 2020, Google began launching various tools to help make pandemic work meetings more productive. 

It started with Whiteboarding, which is the only new activity tool currently available to those piggybacking on Google’s free accounts. It uses the company’s little-known—and often underappreciated—Jam platform. This is the virtual equivalent of having a big board in a meeting room to write down ideas and even doodle. To activate it, click on the Activities button—a triangle, a square, and a circle in the bottom right corner—go to Whiteboarding, and click on Start new whiteboard

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A Jam file will open in a new window and anyone in the meeting will be able to see it. Once the call is over, the file will automatically save to the host’s Google Drive, and all participants will have access to it. If you’re in a follow-up meeting, you can open an existing Jam file and pick up where you left off. To do this, click Choose from Drive after clicking on Whiteboarding.

Polls and Q&As work in a similar way, this time taking advantage of Google Sheets. Both tools are pretty much self-explanatory: the first allows the host to poll the audience with or without live results, whereas the second allows attendees to ask questions in an interface similar to that of Google Docs’ comments. The host has the power to vet questions before they appear publicly, and participants will only be able to see them after approval. In true message board fashion, queries can be upvoted by other participants and even deleted by the original poster.

When a call is over, both tools result in a Google Sheets file that compiles the results and records of every question asked during the meeting, which is available to all attendees. 

When hosting a meeting, get a pulse of your audience by clicking on Polls under the Activities button. There, everyone can also ask questions by clicking on Q&A.   

Finally, breakout rooms are a useful tool if you have a lot of people in your call. To use them, go to Activities and choose Breakout rooms. There, click on Set up breakout rooms. A new window will appear where you can create up to 100 smaller groups and give each of them a different name. You’ll also see a list of participants so you can distribute them in each group, but you can also hit the Shuffle button to let Google Meet do it for you. 

You can close your breakout rooms whenever you want, or set a timer to close them automatically. Whichever the case, users will get a 30-second warning before everyone goes back to the main meeting. 

Present directly from Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides

If presenting to an audience wasn’t stressful enough, Google Meet once required everyone to search for their files through its platform. Now, everyone with a Google account can bypass that nuisance and hit the present shortcut button directly from the tab where you’ve opened the file. 

You’ll see this option on any Google Doc, Sheets, or Slides file right next to the Share button in the top right corner of your screen—it looks like a rectangle with an upward arrow in it. When you click on it, you’ll see the meeting name if it is on your Google Calendar. If it’s not, you can always manually input the meeting’s code under Present using a meeting code

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If you don’t know the code, you’ll find it by going to the information button on the bottom right of the call tab, and copying the PIN under Joining info

Expiring meeting codes

Google Meet links worked for an inordinate amount of time after the date they were scheduled for, but that will no longer be the case. Now, no matter if you have a paid or free account, Meet links have an expiration date, but that shelf life depends on what scheduling platform the host used to create the meeting. 

If you use Google Calendar to generate the link, the code will be void 365 days after it was last used and only if it’s not linked to a future or recurringrecurrent event. If you use other platforms, like Gmail, Hangouts, or the Meet homepage, a meeting code will expire a year after the last person opened it.