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

Google Chat
(Image credit: Google)

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

In a blog post (opens in new tab), Google says it is bringing back the Idle status, denoted by an orange icon, ostensibly to make it easier to see which of your colleagues is really, truly around. 

"In Google Chat on web and Chat in Gmail, you'll see an orange clock badge for users that were recently active in Chat, but aren't currently active," the company says. "We hope this makes it easier to determine the best time to connect with your colleagues." 

Google Chat Idle

The Idle status appears after five minutes of inactivity, according to 9to5Google (opens in new tab). Back 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 sense, taking us back to the era of MSN status messages (opens in new tab) and all the fun that could be had. In a professional context, though, it might work out a bit differently than your mum booting you off the PC.  

A battle for the workplace 

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

Microsoft has made some big moves with Microsoft 365 and Teams, utilising its existing relationships with many large enterprises to cement its place as one of the core facets of all employees' lives.  

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

Still, Google has struggled to make its messaging apps – a famously complicated area (opens in new tab) for the company – stick and the latest change to Google Chat isn't likely to help, at least as far as employees are concerned. 

Max Slater-Robins has been writing about technology for nearly a decade at various outlets, covering the rise of the technology giants, trends in enterprise and SaaS companies, and much more besides. Originally from Suffolk, he currently lives in London and likes a good night out and walks in the countryside.