Work from anywhere: How to help your workforce collaborate without compromise

With Cisco’s Webex platform, your people can work seamlessly anytime, anywhere and on any device, says Jeff Boslem, regional director for cloud and hosted collaboration at Cisco. But can the same be said of your current provider?

All around the world, people are discussing business continuity and how best to achieve it. Many of these conversations will explore not just how businesses should respond to the coronavirus crisis, but how they might operate once lockdown rules and social distancing restrictions are relaxed. So, what might the new normal look like?

As someone who works for a company where remote working is already the norm, I believe it will feature collaboration tools that benefit not just businesses and employees, but also their customers. It’s not possible to do every job remotely, of course. But as many of us have recently discovered, there are often other ways of doing things, and they might be more efficient, effective and enjoyable than we may have thought.

During the pandemic, Cisco’s employees have been working remotely via Webex, our single app and unified platform for meeting, calling, messaging and contact centre. We’ve also helped thousands of customers to continue operating successfully. In fact, Webex usage has increased dramatically, with a record 500 million meeting participants generating 25 billion meeting minutes during April alone.

More businesses will realise it’s not just meetings and working from home that need to be digitalised, it is your calling, messaging, contact centre and office too

We’re proud to have kept so many people connected during those early days of the crisis and to have played a part in ensuring enterprises, healthcare, education and governments were able to function properly.

But we realise many businesses simply reached for whatever tools were at hand at the time, just to keep the lights on. As we shift into the next phase of the pandemic, many of these businesses are starting to review the decisions they made at that time and this includes whether the collaboration tools they’re using now are the best long-term solution.

Webex brings together all your collaboration needs – meeting, calling, messaging and contact centre – on a single platform. It also brings together all your collaboration places – your desk, meeting room, huddle spaces, home and even your car – by securely integrating hardware, software and the cloud. This creates collaboration experiences that are simple and intuitive everywhere you work.

As more detailed reviews of remote-working setups begin to take place, more businesses will realise it’s not just meetings and working from home that need to be digitalised, it is your calling, messaging, contact centre and office too.

The current crisis should therefore accelerate business trends we’ve observed for several years. A Gartner review in March revealed that 74 per cent of CFOs surveyed will move more office workers to permanent remote work post-COVID 19.  With even more of them realising that with the right tools they can improve their work-life balance, be more available or simply work more productively than in the office.While working from home, all of us have strived to improve the home office environment. Some are lucky to have dedicated offices, others may need to set up on the dining-room table. But whatever scenario you find yourself in, Cisco is there to help. This could be by securely extending the work network to your home, connecting a noise isolation headset to block out the barking dog or adding a desk-based video device to enhance your meeting experience.

It’s also worth noting the remote-working environment is not limited to your home; you can join from your smartphone from a café, on a train or from anywhere else and enjoy the same great experience. And Webex can do this for up to 100,000 people anywhere in the world.

Once the current restrictions end, some people will naturally want to return to the office, which will change the experience again. Some users will be together in the office, some remote, some physically in the meeting room, some digitally in the meeting room. So how do you bring this diverse working environment together? Will your head office, satellite offices, home offices and mobile workers all get the same great experience? And how do you provide a seamless collaboration experience that blends physical and digital?

Cisco’s Webex devices bring your physical meeting rooms into the digital meeting. They are designed for better team collaboration, enabling you to conference, brainstorm and concentrate with ease. To meet the need of every office, we also have a device for every room, space and desk.

But no matter how smart it is, a communication platform that only works inside your business isn’t good enough. You need a solution that also allows you to connect with your customers and partners, those outside your organisation. So Webex not only delivers a great collaboration experience for those inside the organisation, but securely connects those outside it too.

In particular, it’s crucial that our contact centre employees have access to tools that will allow them to work from any location. They’re the first point of contact for customers who need help or other services. And if you can’t provide your customer with rich engagements when they need it, that customer could easily be lost.

Finally, security is without doubt the core of an effective collaboration platform. If you’re digitalising meetings where you’re making important strategic decisions, or sharing the intellectual property of your organisation, you need to be certain your solution is secure. That’s why Cisco is firmly committed to maintaining our leadership in cloud security and our single platform approach means we provide strong encryption, anti-malware and data-loss protection across all environments.

That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but I don’t have the money to invest in new tools right now. We completely understand, which is why we’ve set up a business resiliency programme that allows our customers and partners to defer 95 per cent of payments until 2021. That means you can still acquire the solutions you need for the long term, but without any short-term financial repercussions.

There’s a lot to consider when selecting a collaboration solution. But as the pandemic recedes and communication becomes more of a blend of the physical and the digital, those businesses that make the right choices now will not only be well prepared for any future crises, but for the future of work itself.

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Five questions your collaboration provider needs to answer

Now the initial crisis has passed, business leaders should review their collaboration tools and ensure they’re fit for the future, says Craig Decker, managing director of cloud and hosted, worldwide sales at Cisco. But what questions should they be asking?

1. Is your solution secure?

When the first wave of lockdowns hit, every business focused on making quick decisions and that was absolutely the right choice. They took action to help their people work from home and used whatever tools necessary to get the job done. But given that lockdowns and social distancing may be around for some time, they now need to ask: “Am I ready for what comes next?”

Evaluating the security of your collaboration tools is the first step in this process. If you’re using a consumer-grade solution, for instance, your intellectual property and other valuable data could be at risk.

That might not have been your chief concern while you were trying to keep the business up and running, which is completely understandable. But now it’s time to address these security issues by deploying an enterprise-grade solution such as Webex, which offers multi-layer security covering everything from participant authentication to content sharing.

2. What devices and experiences does it offer?

As distributed workforces become the norm, people will increasingly rely on the collaboration device they have in their home office. Odd camera angles and outdated equipment are a barrier to engagement. But with a partner that covers the entire collaboration ecosystem, from hardware to software, you can ensure all employees enjoy the same great experience.

A device with a large, high-quality touchscreen and an excellent camera and speakers, for example, offers a far more engaging experience than an outdated laptop or webcam.

Webex desk devices provide just this kind of experience. Their unified communications features can replace a desk phone and users can interact with digital whiteboards and annotate shared content. Every device also includes cognitive features such as virtual backgrounds, Webex Assistant, facial recognition and noise suppression, providing a superior, frictionless meeting experience.

It’s time to think ahead. How will you be handling calls and meetings six months from now?

3. Is it based around a unified platform?

Since the crisis hit, many employees have been using their mobiles for calls and conferencing, including internationally. But that’s a costly stopgap solution rather than a long-term one.

It’s time to think ahead. How will you be handling calls and meetings six months from now? And does your collaboration platform set you up for success in a world where more of your people are working from home? These are the kind of questions you should be asking now.

A stitched-together system that needs to be replaced further down the line, causing more disruption to your business and employees, simply isn’t good enough. But with a unified solution such as Webex, you’ll have a platform that covers all the devices, security features and collaborative tools you need to thrive.

4. Are you supported by a strong partner network?

We recently launched a $2.5-billion business resiliency programme that will help our 60,000 trusted partners navigate the financial impact of the coronavirus. One of the reasons we’ve done this is because we know how important our partner network is to our business and our customers. Because without these experts, it’s incredibly difficult to take an enterprise on the kind of transformational journey that leads to more efficient, reliable and secure collaboration.

Our partners are the people who will help you understand what your human resources, finance, sales and marketing teams need to perform at the highest level, no matter where they’re working. And they’ll ensure the solution you choose offers the kind of continual improvements and longevity you need to succeed in today’s world.

5. Do you understand the need for digital transformation?

Before the crisis hit, workforces were all over the spectrum when it came to their use of video, meeting and collaboration tools, as well as their understanding of how to work effectively remotely. But now every business is on a transformational fast track.

As lockdowns ease, you’ll need to decide whether you want to slow down or speed up this journey. And while you may not decide to have everyone continue to work remotely, you’ll need to retain that ability, not only so you’re prepared for future crises, but so you’re prepared for a future where people can work seamlessly from anywhere.

What comes next will also be as much about the human element of digital transformation as the technological one. For instance, what kind of training will you offer your staff to ensure they’re getting the most from their collaboration tools? And does your partner have the kind of longevity that allows you to build your training programmes around them? At Cisco, we’re constantly thinking about these issues. Are you?

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