Reimagining the workforce: How a powerful collaboration platform improves engagement

Vaughan Klein, Director of collaboration, CiscoWhen the coronavirus crisis began, people quickly looked for tools that would help them to continue collaborating with their colleagues. Most turned to video rather than voice for meetings and check-ins. In fact, we saw a 9,000 per cent increase in the amount of video utilisation on our Webex platform; and there’s a very good reason for that.

Put simply, video meetings are far more engaging than voice-only ones. You can see exactly how the other participants are reacting to what’s being said: whether they’re excited, bored or even annoyed. These non-verbal cues are an integral part of how we communicate, so it’s perhaps not surprising that we prefer tools that allow us to see them. We’re also far less likely to try and multi-task, or tune out altogether, when we’re face to face with our peers.

But while most of us are now happy to turn on our camera to collaborate, the equipment we use doesn’t always deliver the best experience. An ageing laptop or webcam, for instance, is unlikely to provide you with the kind of rich, interactive, high-definition experiences that make working from home a pleasure rather than a chore. But thankfully there’s a better option.

In a world where 54 per cent of the workforce want full-time remote work, our purpose-built personal devices, the Webex Desk Pro and the Webex Room Kit Mini solution, allow everyone to enjoy the same great collaborative experiences. And the cost of this equipment is typically offset by the savings it can generate. For instance, businesses that equip their workforce to work productively from anywhere no longer need a large real-estate footprint.

That’s something we know only too well at Cisco. Over the past few years, we’ve re-engineered our workforce for home working, allowing us to dramatically reduce our real-estate investments. Our people are now more agile, innovative and productive, and we’re no longer subject to the expensive overheads that stem from extensive amounts of office space.

You may hear a colleague’s children playing in the next room or see their dog pop up on the screen, and that’s OK

Of course, the office is unlikely to disappear completely, but it will undoubtedly change to suit the new world of work. People who want to minimise interruptions and maximise their productivity should be able to continue working from home once the current crisis ends.

But if they want to attend a meeting in person or physically see their colleagues, they will still have to head into the office. So while real-estate footprints will shrink in future, the number of meeting spaces may double to accommodate these new working patterns.

The technology inside these meeting rooms is likely to increase as well and much of it will be invisible. If you step into a space equipped with the Webex collaboration video device, the equipment will recognise the paired user. It will know from your calendar that you’re due to have a meeting and you’ll be able to start it with a simple voice command.

Cisco infographic

Once you’re back home, your phone will also pair with your personal video device for seamless collaboration across all the places you work from. And our Webex Assistant, powered by artificial intelligence, can even take meeting minutes and capture key points and action items, saving valuable time and increasing people’s productivity.

We hope to introduce more of these invisible tools in future. But we also recognise that it’s important to ensure the core video experience on our platform is reliable, secure and engaging. High-definition video experiences can vary depending on the bandwidth of the participants’ broadband connections.

When someone looks pixelated or freezes mid-sentence, it reduces engagement and increases frustration. But as a leader in networking for more than 30 years, we have designed our platform with a network-out approach, optimising the video quality regardless of the connection.

Overall, the shift towards home working will improve the work-life balance for many people and ultimately fuse both elements together. Indeed, managers and team leaders are already more tolerant of the more informal atmosphere that comes from the closer integration of our work and home lives.

You may hear a colleague’s children playing in the next room or see their dog pop up on the screen and that’s OK. These personal moments can create a wonderful sense of connection that more formal office environments sometimes lack. And connection is the key to greater engagement.

Webex’s all-in-one design means team leaders can easily reach out to these home workers, and office-based ones, even if they’re working across several different time zones. In fact, location is no longer a barrier to securing the best people for a project. With our single app and unified platform, teams can draw in talent from anywhere in the world, and collaborate seamlessly with our voice, video, messaging and virtual whiteboard tools.

Our single app and single platform approach means enterprises can easily extend communication and collaboration to their suppliers, customers and partners too. And we employ rigorous security standards right across the board, so your data and intellectual property is safe no matter who you’re communicating or collaborating with, which is something that can’t be said of consumer-grade solutions.

Secure and reliable collaboration tools are the foundation of the workplace transformation efforts the coronavirus crisis has accelerated. The enterprises that thrive in future will be those that build their operations around platforms such as Webex, which allow everyone to enjoy digital experiences that rival, or even surpass, those found in traditional office environments.

We call this a “better than being there” virtual environment. To use a sports analogy, being in the stadium when someone scores a goal is a great experience. But you could argue that the experience you enjoy at home is superior in many ways. There’s expert commentary, player statistics, instant replays and more.

Similarly, our intelligent tools can, for example, provide you with in-meeting information on the participants’ titles, work histories and company news. So while there’s a lot to be said for live in-person experiences, with Webex the digital kind can be just as productive, enjoyable and engaging.

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