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How to enable a remote workforce using Webex

A single unified platform, which pulls together every communication medium, unites home workers and allows business to continue better than before. A conversation with Sri Srinivasan, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Collaboration

The way we work has forever changed. As social distancing measures have led the entire world to work from home, organisations across industries and sizes are learning in real time how to enable a remote workforce using unified communications. But let’s be frank – “unified communications” is a bland bit of jargon. But behind this phrase lies a universe of stunning developments that have the power to change the way we work. I’m talking about artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning. Even the power to silence a barking dog.

When I show people how they can transform their company’s entire work culture, their eyes light up. It begins with a philosophy: that however you work, and wherever you work, there should be continuity. Let me explain. In any given workday you may use your mobile first thing in the morning, then arrive at the office and work at a desk, collaborate with 15 colleagues in a meeting room, and maybe leave the office to visit clients. You’ll use dozens of apps and devices to get work done.

Right now, each act takes place in its own isolated world. Email is email. Voice calls are voice calls. And meetings exist in a parallel universe, with many being incredibly unproductive. In Silicon Valley, we have a “two pizza rule” to help keep the number of participants manageable: only invite as many people as two pizzas are able to feed. Even then, it’s quite possible that everything discussed in a meeting is quickly forgotten the moment everyone heads for the exit. And meeting notes are usually incomprehensible to anyone who wasn’t physically there.

There is a radical solution: a single unified platform. It pulls together every communication medium – calling, meetings, messaging and video devices – into one experience for everyone regardless of where they are located. Our tool is called Cisco Webex Teams. It is a platform designed to enable collaboration across communication media in a single, integrated, secure place. It is technology for the workplace of the future, which happens to be now.

One click initiates video calls to your colleagues. Want to add team members to the chat? Again, it’s just one click. Sharing documents? It’s all done through the same platform. This ends the obsolete concept of emailing out versions to attendees and hoping you are all looking at the same version.

And what about meetings? Something that annoys us all are those who hijack conversations, especially during a meeting that has both virtual and in-person attendees. They get to stand around a physical whiteboard and control the agenda; virtual attendees don’t get a look in.

We are helping companies improve and transform the way they work, while enabling business continuity during this unprecedented time

A single platform approach completely reinvents meetings. A digital whiteboard is now the centrepiece of discussion where all participants, virtual and physical, can see the same whiteboard with perfect clarity. It’s possible for everyone to contribute: to add comments, introduce new documents, even draw with touchscreen technology.

And a single unified platform guarantees continuity. All communications are captured in a perfect digital record. This means new team members can be added to the project and get up to speed super-fast. It’s an inclusive, ultra-productive way to work. When companies run meetings this way, they immediately realise how superior it is to the old-fashioned, analogue approach. There’s no comparison.

Of course, the modern work environment is complex. There are so many tools to consider, but your single unified platform needs to include them all. Cisco Webex Teams is built to work with an incredible array of third-party solutions that employees rely on to get their job done, such as Google Cloud, Service Now, Trello, Asana, Salesforce, Jira, Microsoft 365 and so many more. When the challenge is to bring the entire work world together no application can be left out.

So far, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Cisco is passionate about research and development, and we love offering busy professionals new secure collaboration tools to make their working life so much more productive. We use AI and machine-learning to optimise the working day. Our technology is able to learn the habits of each worker and make proactive suggestions such as which meeting room is free and suitable.

AI powers our voice assistant. Like Siri or Alexa, it understands instructions via voice or chatbot. Workers often use tools like this at home so the workplace should be no different. AI can even improve call quality. We offer the ability to mute background noises in a video call. That barking dog I mentioned earlier, woofing away in the background? Gone.

The proof of how companies benefit is found in the real world. One of my favourite examples is an Australian firm called Transurban that moved into a new purpose built office. Transurban runs toll roads around the world and used the office move to embrace digital collaboration.

Transurban now runs office life around Webex with more than 2,000 staff enrolled. Meetings take place using our virtual whiteboard, so physical staff can work with colleagues thousands of miles away. Transurban sends nearly a million messages a month through our platform, ensuring all information is housed in a single location.

Cisco infographic

Webex runs in the cloud, so staff can work from home or on the road using the same tools and apps and remain perfectly in sync with colleagues. Transurban even uses Cisco AI services, such as real-time translation and transcriptions during meetings. Overall, it’s a fantastic demonstration of how work life can be optimised.

We at Cisco use our own tools, of course, as we have a large employee base who work remotely. I can reveal Cisco Webex Teams has improved employee engagement by 16 per cent. We’ve realised $490 million in operational efficiencies and have seen $811 million in estimated value in incremental productivity. We’ve also been named the number-one best place to work in the world by research organisation Great Place to Work, out of 8,000 corporations.

Not only is the workplace transforming, it is also evolving. By 2025, three quarters of the workforce will be millennials and 91 per cent of millennials say they expect to stay in a job for less than three years. A remarkable 82 per cent say workplace technology would influence their ability to accept a new job. In other words, if you don’t offer a modern collaboration experience, you risk losing the war for talent. The return on investment for modernising the workplace is superb. Research by MIT shows the payback of investing in the employee experience as profits increase by 25 per cent and customer satisfaction is doubled.

This is why I choose to work in this field. We are helping companies improve and transform the way they work, while enabling business continuity during this unprecedented time. Individuals become teams, able to collaborate across time zones and geographies. Projects move faster and meetings are productive, no matter how many people participate, or how complex the subject matter. That alone is worth celebrating.

The tools to enable your remote workforce are ready and waiting to be deployed. The real hurdles to overcome are mindset and the cultural shift that goes with it. Companies that are still running separate, isolated applications are now understanding why that is not enough. I urge you to listen to companies that have made the leap and join them. Once you experience what is possible, there is no going back.

For more information please visit webex.com/UK-remote-work.html

Q&A: Expert tips on remote working

Lorissa Horton

Lorrissa Horton, vice president and general manager of Webex Teams, advises on how work is what you do and not where you go

Q: What are you most passionate about?

A: I am passionate about enabling people to work anywhere and anytime. In today’s world it’s actually possible to get just as much done with a globally distributed team as a group of people who physically work together in the same office. Mobile devices and the app ecosystem have changed our expectations of what we can do from the palm of our hand. I now expect to be able to do anything from my phone that I used to only access or accomplish at work from nine to five. With the help of new devices, my team is able to do distributed whiteboarding sessions and engage in such high-quality audio and video interactions that we don’t feel the need to be in the same physical location, instead we all connect from the comfort of our homes. When our daily lives are back to a new normal after COVID-19, mobile apps can help us get so much more done while we’re in transit, like in the car, on the way to the airport, in the airport and even on the plane. Work becomes what you do and not where you go, and that’s a real game-changer.

Q: What are the benefits of remote working?

A: Clearly, there are several benefits, but I’ll start with the most relevant ones given the global crisis of COVID-19. When employees cannot physically go into the office due to illness or the spread of the virus, remote working creates a safe and flexible option to get work done. It keeps work moving outside the walls of a corporate facility to ensure business continuity while also becoming a huge competitive advantage. Jon Townsend, chief information officer at the National Trust, says: “It’s important that our people have that same seamless experience wherever they are, if they’re working at home or in partner locations.” A healthy workforce and culture are essential for a thriving business. Speaking of wellbeing, there is the added benefit of work-life balance that can be achieved from remote working. For me personally, remote work empowers me to do what I love in life. I lead the global organisation that is responsible for Cisco’s Webex Teams. At the same time, I’m a wife and a dedicated mother of two young children. One of the biggest advantages of remote working is the vast expansion of the talent pool that is now available for you to hire across the globe. As a leader I no longer have to compete for local talent, I can seek the best talent around the world and quickly integrate them into my team. As you can see, there are multiple benefits of remote working for both the organisation and employee.

Q: Is Cisco doing anything to help businesses respond to COVID-19?

A: Yes. As the global leader in meetings and video solutions, we have put together several programmes that enable businesses to quickly expand their collaboration footprint for remote workers for free. We also developed a Cisco Webex Business Continuity Resource page to support them in the process. These resources help IT admins quickly set up remote work, and end-users easily transition to remote work and the new way of operating from home. All this information is readily available on Webex.com.

For me personally, remote work empowers me to do what I love in life

Q: Aside from COVID-19, what are other drivers for remote working?

A: As the millennial workforce has continued to grow, we are finding the deciding factors for being able to hire the best talent is not only based on the best salary, but the companies that will enable workers to produce their best work in the most flexible ways possible. Being ready for remote work means you have the infrastructure to ensure anyone can get their work done, at any time, from anywhere, making it easier to attract this talent pool.

Q: What can businesses do now to enable remote working?

A: First off, believe that productive remote work is possible. Prior to Cisco, it was hard for me to imagine getting as much done in my home office as the office I commuted to every single day. To enable this remote productivity, you need to make an investment in the right applications, devices and platform that will set your teams up for success. It’s absolutely necessary to invest in laptops, high-quality audio and video-conferencing, messaging and good headsets. The tools need to be easy enough to use that users don’t need a lot of support, while still providing the compliance and security needed to run your business. Another important aspect of remote working is taking the time to build comradery within your team so you can build trust and overall a high-performing team. When you don’t see each other every day in person, it’s necessary to communicate things that were previously easy to see like, being out for lunch, busy on a call or just taking a quick break. Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments as a team, even if you’re not altogether. At the end of the day, it’s about modernising the work experience so employees can get work done anytime and anywhere, making work what you do and not where you go.

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