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


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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.

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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