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Cisco’s Blueprint for the Hybrid Workplace

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Javed Khan, Cisco Collaboration Group GM and SVP addresses the crowd at Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo

COVID-19 hasn’t come with a playbook, and really nothing could have prepared us for the last several months. But now it’s time to gear up for the next normal: a hybrid workplace.
 
Toward that end, Cisco has been busy drawing up a blueprint that focuses on empowering the remote worker and paving a safe return to the office. It includes touchless technology and collaboration tools that enforce social distancing guidelines while keeping both types of workers connected, as Javed Khan, GM and SVP of Cisco Collaboration Group, summarized this week during his Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo session, “Cisco and the Future of Work for the Next Normal,” (available on demand for registered attendees; register here if you haven’t already). He shared four steps that Cisco recommends enterprises take to help transition to this phase:
 
  • Make remote workers feel like first-class participants by empowering them with personalized and engaging experiences.
  • Ensure a safe return to the work environment for employees by providing touchless and intelligent capabilities.
  • Guarantee that customers can reach you during challenging times, but also have the ability to deepen that relationship.

 

Have one tool for managing and gaining insight from the collaboration environment, because “IT is key for supporting this transition,” Khan said. First and foremost, make the workplace inclusive regardless of its location. In other words, employees who work from home should have the same experience or an even better one than those in the office, Khan said. “How many meetings have you been in [where] the presenter is talking, and is completely unaware that no one can see their presentation until someone alerts them? ... or they’re sharing a confidential document that no one was supposed to see,” he said. “You don’t want to be that guy,” he added.
 
During the presentation, Khan highlighted various ways in which Cisco is working to improve the Webex Meetings experience. “From a single pane of glass, you can manage all of your calls, meetings, messages, users, workspaces, and devices, at a granular level,” he said.
 
Last month, Cisco introduced virtual backgrounds for Webex Meetings to stay abreast of its videoconferencing competitors. To keep the conversation’s focus on the individual rather than visual background distractions, for example, Cisco allows users to blur their backgrounds or use virtual backgrounds in Webex Meetings, Khan said. Users can select a preset default image, apply their own by tapping an icon, or choose the blur option.
 
Other capabilities are aimed at reducing the stress around keeping track of meeting content. Sometimes, Khan admitted, he goes from meeting to meeting and can’t remember all of the action items he accumulated throughout the day. But with Webex Assistant for Meetings, he doesn’t have to, he said. The tool will take notes and record action items, so users don’t have to jog their memories. Another feature of Cisco Webex Meetings that Khan highlighted is that users can automatically transcribe audio from their conversation and turn the file into an MP4 format. As the recording plays, the transcript appears, and an individual can scan the text to verify whether something has been said. “Even better than whiteboarding, our ideas our digitally saved for the next session, so you can pick up where you left off,” Khan said.
 
Returning to the office is a gamble for everyone. Some employees will reenter the office once able, while others may wait longer. Because we should all feel safe and protected when that day comes, Cisco added touchless and intelligent workspaces as part of its blueprint for the hybrid workplace. Touchless device controls will help enterprises promote safe office practices by addressing hygiene concerns over shared devices, for example, while voice-controlled room booking capabilities will let employees find a collaboration space without having to leave their desks. In addition, enterprises will be able to use digital signage to provide room capacity alerts in real-time. Using sensor data, IT and facility managers will be able to conduct advanced analytics on room occupancy and other metrics. These workspace offerings are generally available.
 
To strengthen and develop customer relationships — even virtually — Cisco has enhanced Webex Contact Center with upgrades meant “to make it easier to get up and running,” Khan wrote in a related blog. Webex Contact Center now includes a quick-to-deploy PSTN calling solution for agents; enhanced search, usage and threshold reports, and other Analyzer enhancements; and workforce optimization tools for quality management, scheduling, and analytics.
 
Many customers have scaled from eight office buildings to 8,000 home offices, Khan said. So, in order to “make IT hum,” Cisco has developed a toolset, available in Webex Control Hub, to facilitate business continuity. An Active Directory integration allows IT to automate and control rapid rollouts and deactivation of employees from within Control Hub. For VIPs, like the CEO, IT can set up live meeting notifications and alerts should problems arise, Khan said. And, a new workplace insight tab, IT can manage shared spaces and get a real-time visual notification if a meeting room is over-capacity. Lastly, to heighten security measures and help enterprises manage challenging situations, Cisco offers mobile device management, file-sharing restrictions, and the ability to block communication with external domains.
 
Khan closed with a friendly reminder to attendees: Make employees feel like first-class participants, and provide a safe in-office environment with touchless and intelligent collaboration tools.

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