Cisco Live 22: Hybrid work is broken, but Cisco wants to fix it

The world is racing headlong toward a hybrid work future, but there are problems ahead—problems Cisco intends to solve.

So argued company executives in interviews and during the keynote session on day two of Cisco Live, the annual event for customers, partners, analysts and others held in Las Vegas. The hybrid work experience too often leaves employees and companies frustrated, they said.

“I live in constant fear that my cable modem will fail and I’ll be airlifted from an important meeting,” said Todd Nightingale, executive vice president and general manager of enterprise networks and cloud at Cisco. “And even when I call IT, sometimes they have trouble helping me because I’m not on their network.”

Even if Wi-Fi works well, what about the remote worker’s experience during a meeting where some or most participants are in a room together? “What’s the first thing people do when they’re in a room together?” asked Jeetu Patel, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco. “They start whiteboarding, and that means distant participants have no idea what’s going on.”

A survey of Keynote audiences found that 53 percent described themselves as “still figuring it out” when it comes to hybrid working, while another 12 percent were “just getting started.” Only 3 out of 10 self-identified as “hybrid work rock stars”.

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Employers are trying to build simple hybrid work experiences

As employers strive to create hybrid work experiences, many say they are looking to technology to minimize the “cognitive burden” on employees who are forced to adapt to multiple work environments, said Lorrissa Horton, senior vice president and General Manager of Webex Calling and Strategy.

“People don’t want to have to relearn how to work in the office if they only come in one to three days a week,” she said. “I’m getting used to my setup at home and when I walk in it’s like, ‘Ugh, I don’t know how to operate this room.'”

Though many technology companies are active in the collaborative space, Cisco has few rivals in terms of the completeness of its solution portfolio, which includes physical hardware, software, and increasingly smart building technologies. At Cisco Live, the company touted these solutions:

  • Hardware: Cisco’s portfolio of collaboration devices includes AI-powered cameras, meeting room kits, desktop devices that enable video conferencing, headsets, digital whiteboards, and more. The company offers all the hardware a company needs to equip a conference room, set up an office with hot desks or equip employees’ home offices.
  • Software: Cisco’s Webex collaboration platform is one of the most well-known brands in this space. The company has updated the built-in features to better support a hybrid workforce. For example, to improve the hybrid meeting experience for remote workers, the new Webex People Focus feature zooms in on individual faces of attendees in the office to create a video “box” for each person, making such meetings feel like remote-only meetings -Meetings appear video conferencing, which workers are already familiar with.
  • Smart buildings: Using proprietary and partner technologies, Cisco equips offices with smart technologies that enable administrators to do everything remotely, from controlling room temperatures to adjusting lights and more. Location analytics will provide insights into how people move in physical spaces.

“A lot of us have done hybrid work by hunching over our laptops all day, and that’s not a way to spend eight hours,” Patel said. “Just like the Kindle is a purpose-built device for reading a book, we have purpose-built devices to ensure you can engage in your work experience from home.”

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The whiteboard has entered the modern age

Of particular interest to some attendees was the advances Cisco has made in its whiteboard technology. Webex Board physical whiteboards integrate seamlessly with the whiteboard application within the Webex collaboration platform. As employees brainstorm ideas on the digital whiteboard hanging in their conference room, their remote colleagues on Webex can see what they’re writing in real time and add their own ideas.

“One of the problems we’re trying to solve is that people in the office often say, ‘Well, here’s what I’m trying to explain,’ and they just start writing,” Horton said. “But what if the person you’re explaining to isn’t in the same room? This is a fundamental challenge that occurs with any size team in any industry. And now you can bring that person with you and they can add to the whiteboard at the same time. If anything, it’s a little bit better than being personal.”

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