Cisco Readies Webex for a Return to the Office

Cisco Readies Webex for a Return to the Office

Cisco Webex Return to Office: Cisco’s October 2020 announcements prepare their suite of Webex collaboration tools for a return to the office for some, and for more flexible access for others.

For many, a return to the office still seems like a faraway dream, but some people will return to an office sooner than later. The Post-COVID office, however, will look and behave, very differently than the office most people remember.

Cisco’s October 6, 2020 analyst briefing included several announcements that position the company’s Webex and supporting products to help organizations rethink their return the office. 

The new Webex conference room experience

Several assumptions influence the design of the new Webex Room Navigator technology. Most notably, it reflects a need for people to monitor room use ahead of and during meetings—including enforcement of mask policies. The integrated sensors on the Room Navigator include:

Cisco’s Webex Room Navigator (in-room version). Image source: Cisco.
  • Presence
  • People count
  • Mask awareness
  • Ambient noise
  • Air quality (TVOC)
  • Overall noise
  • Lighting levels
  • Temperature
  • Room acoustics
  • Humidity

Note: some of the sensors will not be available until November 2020.

Room Navigator arrives with in-room and out-of-room versions. The out-of-room version offers digital signage, along with sensor reports on capacity, use, and availability. As would be expected, the in-room version includes meeting room controls, conference, and video integration, along with alerts that caution about social distancing and display cleaning schedules, along with more expected features like end of meeting warnings. Both tie into enterprise room scheduling systems.

The Control Hub Analytics for the Room Navigator displays realtime space use, average room occupancy, booked rooms not being used, environmental conditions, and notifications for loud noises and out of bound temperatures.

Webex Control Hub

The system supports ad hoc books, automated check-in, along with meeting reminders. Meetings can be extended by request for rooms with availability after a meeting’s end time.

While the systems support counting metrics and warnings for IT operations, the most important innovation comes in recognizing social distancing and mask adherence.

Investment in room scheduling systems and sensor arrays require a commitment to a platform. Facilities managers and IT need to evaluate options before committing. The worst outcome of new office management scenarios would be mixed platforms. Employees and guests would get more confused than they already are by conference room technology. Select a platform, install it, and then create training programs that support pre-meeting and in-meeting use so people can master the devices and their accompanying software.

Expanded WFH options

Along with the conference room innovations, Webex now delivers solutions that bring the video conferencing platform to the Facebook Portal. Alex Echo Show and Google Nest now support upcoming meetings, recordings, and playback.

Cisco Webex Return to Office screen
Simplified controls. Image credit Cisco.

The user interface has also been updated with better placement of on-screen controls and new tabs. The new tabs improve access to content during meetings. And Webex now supports a floating video panel.

Cisco Webex Return to Office new controls

Cisco Webex return to office: deskless worker solutions

Deskless workers require special consideration. Unfortunately, they receive technology, but it always appears a bit backward compared to information workers with their tablets and high-resolution notebook computers. In this announcement, Cisco brings out the DECT Voice over IP 6823 handset. This handset derives its design from what used to be known as the candy bar style, a thick rectangular slab with a display and keyboard on its surface. The 6823 supports phone calls, think troubleshooting, or customer care escalations, but not first-class collaboration beyond “calling in” to a Webex meeting.

Cisco Webex Return to Office Hirschmann Automotive
A Hirschmann Automotive employee using Webex Expert on Demand (read the story here).

Other deskless workers combine augmented reality with Webex to offer guided experiences. Webex overlays the real-world video feeds where the expert sees what the frontline worker sees. The expert uses annotation and guidance tools, like a virtual flashlight, to aid in diagnosis or repair.

The issue of annotation

Annotating documents continues to offer a low-entry point feature for several collaboration offerings. Over the last couple of weeks, Smartsheet and Box discussed annotation features in their platforms, and Cisco highlighted for Expert on Demand 1.6.

In mixed environments, the various annotation approaches may not be compatible. In other words, adding an annotation in one tool may not be editable in another. When evaluating annotation solutions, especially those designed for approval and feedback workflows, ensure that the annotations sit on a layer above the original content, that annotations appear when using different viewing tools, and that they can be removed in the tool of record for final publication. Many organizations use copies of content, which can mitigate the last issue, but missing annotations and non-editable annotations can create frustration. 

Versioning also plays a role in annotations, as different versions may include different annotations. Make sure the annotation tools understand versions and how the annotations work across versions.

What is the meaning of “10X Better Experiences”?

The tagline for this briefing started with 10X Better Experiences. Unfortunately, the briefing did not include any new measurement approaches or studies that offered a baseline for measuring improvement. Credibility on any quantitative target requires measurement of existing environments and then ongoing measurement to demonstrate improvement. 

Read How to Define Quality of Service for Meetings to explore thoughts about how what measurements help assess meeting success.

As we outlined in the post How to Define Quality of Service for Meetings, defining meeting experiences requires a thoughtful approach. Counting bits and events is easy. Understanding perceptions of meetings require survey work. The ultimate success of a meeting, however, isn’t about how well the video works or if people stay on the agenda, it is if the meeting achieved its goal. Goal measures may not be immediate. It requires perseverance and dedication. Meetings are processes, however, and they deserve investments in improvement as much as any other process. If Cisco really wants 10x better experiences, they need to create a framework for understanding the complexity of meetings, and a way of measuring all aspects of the experience.

Current pricing plans and features for Webex can be found here.

Cisco Webex return to office: looking forward

How long organizations will face COVID-influenced offices, remain to be seen.  A vaccination and general immunity, or the switch to seasonality or an eventual reduction in virus virulence, will influence how people think about shared meeting spaces and working from home.

However, what COVID teaches is that we just don’t know—and even the collaboration vendors who touted the scalability of remote work were caught off guard by the magnitude and timing of the WFH shift. Having been through COVID, as these Cisco announcements suggest, vendors are preparing for more than one potential reality—they are starting to play the long game through scenario thinking—and that means better agility in the future because their solutions will be designed not just for one future, but for any future.

For more details on the October 2020 Webex release, see their blog:

Did you enjoy learning about Cisco Webex Return to Office? For more serious insights on collaboration click here.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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