Branding is a funny thing. The name “Google Home” doesn’t exactly scream “productivity,” after all — but Google’s smart speakers and their new Smart Display cousins can actually be quite useful in an office environment.
I’ve had a Google Home Mini on my own desk for months now and have been experimenting with using one of the new Smart Displays — basically the same thing, only with a screen attached — for the past several days. And I’ve gotta say: While Google may not be joining Amazon in making an explicit push for bringing its virtual assistant into the business world (yet), there’s something to be said for having this sort of device at your disposal during the workday.
It wouldn’t make sense for every office environment, of course; having such a gadget in a crowded cubicle farm would probably lead to more annoyances (not to mention mischievous co-worker interference) than anything. But if you have a relatively isolated space in which you work, be it your own executive suite (look at you!) or a more humble home office (like mine), you might be surprised at how handy a Google Home or Smart Display could be.
Now, is there a fair amount of overlap between what a Google Home or Smart Display on your desk can do and what you could already do with your phone? You’d better believe it. But performing a task on a permanent, stationary device can often be easier and more effective than futzing around with your phone. Using a smart speaker also doesn’t wear down your precious mobile battery, and the device’s standalone nature makes it better suited for certain types of tasks.
So if you’ve got a smart speaker sitting around or are thinking about picking one up sometime soon, keep the following productivity-boosting possibilities in mind:
1. Making phone calls (and video calls, too)
When I need to make a call — whether it’s ordering chow fun or performing Extremely Important Business Research (which may or may not involve broad noodles) — I don’t lift a finger, hunt around for my phone, or stop whatever else I’m doing. I just say “Hey Google, call…” followed by the name of a contact or business or even just a number. I can listen to my voicemails that way, too (well, in theory, anyway), by asking Google to dial my own digits.
The internet-based call quality is often noticeably better than what you’d hear through a typical cell phone. And you can opt to have calls show up as coming from your regular number — once you’ve verified it with Google — or just have them show up as “private,” if you’d prefer. It’s a ready-made speakerphone, no phone service required.
The Smart Display adds in the ability to make video calls via Duo — something I’ll admit I haven’t done yet but that seems like it could be beneficial in the right circumstance. (Remember, you can now make Duo calls to most Android phone owners, even if they don’t have the Duo app installed.)
2. Keeping tabs on your schedule
Checking in on the ol’ calendar is easy as can be with a virtual assistant at the desk:
- “Hey Google, what’s my next meeting?”
- “Hey Google, where’s my next appointment?”
- “Hey Google, do I have any events on Friday?”
- “Hey Google, when am I scheduled to gallop around the quarry with Steve Guttenberg?”*
The Smart Display has the added advantage of automatically showing upcoming appointments and reminders right on its home screen as well, giving a nice visual overview of the day ahead.
* If that specific command returns results for you, please seek immediate help.
3. Managing your agenda
When something new comes along for the ol’ schedule, a Google Home or Smart Display can handle it: Just tell ’em to add to your calendar or create an appointment — either including the details as part of your command or staying vague and waiting to be prompted for further info — and the deed will be done.
4. Setting and managing reminders
Google’s cross-platform reminders system is fantastically useful, and having a Google Home or Smart Display on your desk puts it front and center in your work environment. When a task pops up that you need to remember — calling someone back at a certain time, refreshing a website after a couple hours, or whatever the case may be — simply say it aloud: “Hey Google, remind me to do [this] at [that time].”
Google Home will sound a chime and inform you it has a reminder when the time arrives, while the Smart Display will actually go a step further and pop up a full-screen visual with all the info. And if you happen to be out of your office when the reminder hits, fear not: You’ll also get a regular notification about it on your phone.
Speaking of your phone, another handy option: You can use your desk-based virtual buddy to send yourself notes or reminders that’ll show up as attention-demanding notifications. Just use this IFTTT applet and, when setting it up, put in your own phone number as the target.
5. Remembering specific things
One of Assistant’s coolest off-the-beaten-path functions is its ability to remember anything you tell it — and then spit the info right back atcha when you ask for it. Say you don’t want to forget the name of an important client’s kid, for instance, or the name of the hotel where you put people up in a particular city.
Whatever it is, just tell it to your desk-dwelling Assistant: “Hey Google, remember that Rick Springfield’s kid’s name is Jessie,” or “Hey Google, remember that the L.A. hotel is the Westin Bonaventure.” Then before you call Rick or ask someone to book a room, just ask your Google Home or Smart Display: “Hey Google, what’s Rick Springfield’s kid’s name?” — or “What did I tell you about the L.A. hotel?”
It’s like having an infinite memory — or so it’ll seem to everyone around you.
6. Taking down notes or lists
The Google Home and Assistant Smart Displays still don’t play nicely with Google’s own Keep note-taking app, amazingly, but they do allow you to take notes through a variety of other venues.
With a little help from IFTTT, you can speak a simple command to create a new Evernote note, add something to an existing Evernote note, create a new Trello card, create a new Todoist task, create a new Wunderlist item, add a note into a Google Drive spreadsheet, or — one of my personal favorites — add something to a running daily digest that you’ll then receive via email at the end of each day.
7. Setting alarms and timers
Maybe you want a gentle reminder to get up every 20 minutes to stretch. Or maybe you want to make sure to wake up from your, ahem, “productivity nap” in time for the afternoon meeting. Either way, no problem: Just tell your office Home or Smart Display to set a timer or alarm for the appropriate amount of time. (And don’t worry: Your midday power-nap secret is safe with me.)
8. Sending quick messages
When you have something you need to share with a specific Slack channel or contact, try this IFTTT applet. It’ll let you configure commands for sending messages wherever you need, simply by speaking to the nearest smart speaker — no window switching or finger moving required.
Another helpful IFTTT applet lets you text anyone on demand via voice, so long as you set up the command in advance.
9. Finding or silencing your phone
Asking a Google Home or Smart Display to “find my phone” has obvious appeal, especially if you’re someone who tends to thrive in phone-hiding clutter.
A lesser-known possibility allows you to silence your phone via your digital assistant device. All you need is this IFTTT applet and 90 seconds to activate it.
10. Giving you background noise
Some people work best with silence. Others prefer music. And then there are the folks who need some manner of white noise to cover up other people’s music, chit-chat, construction noise, or snoring. (What, you think you’re the only one taking those midday naps?!)
This may not be the smart speaker’s most high-tech feature, but good golly, can it be valuable: Just tell your device to play any of the following when you need a little ambient (but not overly distracting) audio:
- Babbling brook sounds
- Fireplace sounds
- Forest sounds
- Nature sounds
- Ocean sounds
- Oscillating fan sounds (yes, really!)
- Rain sounds
- River sounds
- Thunderstorm sounds
- Water sounds
- White noise
Personally, I’m still holding out for “angry feral cat squawks” and “Gilbert Gottfried harmonies” — but hey, you’ve gotta start somewhere, right?
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