How to activate and use Google Chat

Real-time collaborative chat, as exemplified by apps such as Slack, has become a common way to communicate between colleagues and friends, especially since last year when so many of us transitioned to working from home. Google has apparently taken note of this and is pitting itself against Slack by taking two of the features from its corporate Workplace app suite — chat and spaces (previously called rooms) — and integrating them into its standard Gmail app.

Google Chat allows you to hold chat sessions with friends and groups of friends either on an informal or formal basis. The former can be done just between two people or between several in what Google calls a group conversation. The latter is done via a separate area that Google currently calls a Space.

What’s the difference? According to Google, chat is simply a way for two or more people to chat together without any formalities — for example, if you wanted to quickly talk about where you were going to meet for lunch, you’d create a group conversation among your friends. Once the conversation is done, it’s done, and it will be deleted after five days (if you’re using a personal rather than a Workspace account).

A space, on the other hand, is for more long-term conversations. Each space has its own name, remains available for people to leave and rejoin, will send out notifications, and can share files. It’s for work projects, party planning, or any other activity where you want to keep the conversation going over the course of days, weeks, or longer.

If this sounds useful to you, then the first thing you need to do is activate Google Chat for your Gmail account. Currently, at least, you need to do it separately on your browser and on your mobile device.

Activate Chat on a mobile app

Tap the three-line icon at the top-left corner. Scroll down and select “Settings.”

Select your account

Scroll down to “General”

If you’re using an Android phone, check off “Show the chat and spaces tabs.” If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, toggle “Show the chat and spaces tab” on.

On the bottom of the screen, instead of just Mail and Meet icons, you’ll now also have Chat and Spaces icons.