Enhancements to collaboration platform look to make remote work better and corporate offices safer
Cisco Systems is adding features to its Webex collaboration offering that will not only help improve the productivity of remote employees but also ease their concerns about when they have to return to the office.
The Lowdown: The enhancements come as a report by the vendor found that most people surveyed (58%) expect to continue to work from home at least occasionally after the COVID-19 pandemic passes and that almost all (95%) are uncomfortable with the idea of returning to the office due to the public health crisis.
The Details: The Cisco survey echoes the findings of similar studies by showing that the dramatic shift to remote working that the coronavirus outbreak forced will to some degree become permanent after the crisis lifts. In addition, the fact that it continues to rage in the United States and elsewhere is reinforcing people’s concerns about going back to places where there are a lot of people, such as offices.
The enhancements to Webex announced Tuesday include features designed to improve the work-from-home experience, such as:
> Appearance: Users have a larger view to better see how they and their background will look in the videoconference. Cisco also has added more virtual backgrounds to choose from.
> Design: Cisco has put controls in more logical places that don’t cover shared content or video and that adapt to the user’s screen size. The controls include the ability to hover over a participant the user wants to chat with and hover over themselves to change the audio.
> Customization: There are new options for customizing the experience, including the ability to hide non-video meeting participants. Users can customize once and the changes will stick with every meeting.
> Background noise: By the end of October, Webex will include technology from BabbleLabs – a start-up Cisco bought this summer – that will reduce background noises.
Cisco also is including technology that companies can leverage as they reopen their offices, including:
> Sensors: Webex devices already include environmental sensors that detect ambient noise and count the number of people in a space, all information that can be used to determine if spaces are underused or overcrowded. New sensors will collect data on room temperature, humidity, air quality, and light.
> Compliance: Machine learning techniques will make the people-counting sensors smarter, enabling them to count people in a room whether they’re wearing masks and to determine whether there are too many people in a room.
> Webex Room Navigator: Two new versions of the device contain the sensors mentioned above and sit either inside or outside the room. The device outside of a room can make finding a room to meet in easier by showing when it’s free and recording changes in status. It can be controlled by touch or voice. The in-room device provides alerts for such things as social distancing and cleaning schedules.
> Webex Control Hub: The device offers visibility into room use so companies can set cleaning schedules. It will provide historical information that includes when rooms are booked but not used, median occupancy across all spaces, and ambient noise levels.
The Impact: At this time of high levels of teleworking, cloud collaboration solutions like Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom have become critical tools for ensuring business continuity and productivity. According to the Cisco survey, 98% of workers said they’re frequently frustrated with video meetings at home and 97% said they want changes made to the office environment to make it safer. The newest enhancements to Webex look to address such concerns and dovetail with other improvements the company has made to the platform during the pandemic.
Background: In June, the company rolled out a host of enhancements to Webex around capacity, security, and management, important steps given that during the summer Cisco reported that Webex user volume had tripled since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Buzz: “The future of work will be hybrid: people will work in the home and corporate office to varying degrees depending on the nature of their jobs,” said Jeetu Patel, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Security and Applications Group. “Our mission is to make the Webex experience 10x better than in-person interactions. And when people do have in-person interactions, we want Webex to make those experiences 10x better than before, with our deeply integrated collaboration devices and software stack. The innovations we announced today are a great step forward in providing seamless collaboration to empower remote work in a secure way while also enabling a smart hybrid work experiences to enable safe returns to work.”