At this point, there’s no escaping the reality of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that is spreading quickly and causing all sorts of mixed emotions. From mass panic to general malaise, there is a wide span of reactions to this outbreak, but I’m not here to discuss who’s right, who’s wrong or even my personal thoughts on the matter (though the basics like disinfecting your devices and washing your hands are always good advice). Instead, I’d like to talk briefly about Google’s response and how it highlights one of the benefits of living in the time that we do.
First up, let’s talk about Google’s offering in this time of potential wide-spread isolation for us all. The writing is on the wall and as more and more businesses and schools choose to keep people from large gatherings where COVID-19 could spread even faster, there are clear hurdles that need to be overcome. We simply can’t shut everything down and wait it out, so communication and collaboration need to continue.
In seeing this, Google is offering upgraded features from G Suite to all users, free of cost until July 1st 2020. Those features are all part of Hangouts Meet (the enterprise version of Hangouts that allows for face-to-face meeting via web apps and traditional apps) and include advanced features like:
- Larger meetings, for up to 250 participants per call
- Live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain
- The ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive
These features usually require the more-expensive Enterprise Edition or G Suite Enterprise Edition for Education in order for users to access them, but Google is allowing all these features for high-level meetings and collaborative efforts completely free of charge. You still need to be a G Suite customer, of course, but these advanced features will be necessary for larger groups to continue working and educating in a way that keeps things moving forward. You can read more about all this in Google’s post both here and here to get the specifics if these features could help your organization in this trying time.
That Silver Lining
While this will remain a scary and uncertain time in our collective history, I think there is a very present silver lining around this dark cloud. Consider the implications of a virus like this in a different time than our own. The biggest threat COVID-19 comes armed with is the fact that it can go completely undetected without tests for up to a week in some individuals. That means infected people can walk around spreading the virus and not even be aware they are doing so. With most things of this nature, we feel the symptoms almost immediately and can take actions to distance ourselves from others so that we don’t unintentionally spread our sickness around. That’s just not the case with COVID-19.
So, our best bet in beating this thing back is isolation for infected individuals. But, how do you identify the virus in someone before they spread it when it can be undetected for so long? You take precautions by relative isolation across the board. This means avoiding crowds that are not completely necessary. Packed office buildings, classrooms and lecture halls are some of the places that can temporarily get replaced using the technology we have available to us right now.
Just a handful of years ago, that wasn’t the case. Video chat apps were divided, contained to particular apps, particular hardware, and particular operating systems. Now, with tech like Hangouts Meet, all you need is a web browser and you can be connected with small groups, large groups, and classrooms with relative ease. That just wasn’t the case a decade ago. The cloud-based tech we have at our disposal right now is more advanced and accessible than at any time in our history, and by using it, we may be able to help slow the spread of a potentially deadly virus.
Is something like Hangouts Meet the silver bullet to kill coronavirus? Of course not, but things like it can collectively make a big dent in the way we come together as a society and decide we’re going to take active steps in helping one another get past this thing. I live in a small town and work in a building with only a handful of individuals, so there’s not a ton of affect this is all having on me right now. But I’m glad that for the people this affects right here, right now, there are options available for teamwork, collaboration, and learning to continue even if we have to temporarily abandon the more traditional ways of doing them.