The hybrid work trend is taking off as employees balance working remotely and safely returning to the office. That’s why Cisco Systems has been strengthening the popular Webex platform, which quickly became a videoconferencing and collaboration favorite across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cisco’s been busy — to the tune of launching more than 1,000 Webex innovations in the last 12 months.
Customers are in the “third wave” of transformation since the start of the pandemic, which involves a mix of employees that will always be remote and those that are a blend of working in the office and at home. As such, businesses are thinking about how to properly address the new needs of their employees. Cisco sees this wave as a tremendous opportunity it plans to keep riding with the help of its partners, Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s executive vice president and general manager, security and collaboration business units, told CRN ahead of the WebexOne 2021 virtual event.
In support of the increasingly-hybrid workforce, here are ten new features, integrations, offerings and devices that Cisco unveiled at WebexOne.
The collaboration moment that many have been waiting for is here. Cisco debuted Webex Hologram, the industry’s first holographic meetings solution, according to the company.
Webex Hologram will make it possible to meet and collaborate in a more engaging way via a real-time, photorealistic holographic experience when meeting attendees aren’t in the same physical space. Webex Hologram combines 3D holograms with Webex’s meeting functionality, using augmented reality headsets. Using Webex Hologram, presenters can share both physical content and digital content to boost collaboration.
Webex Hologram is currently in preview stage, the company said.
Cisco knows that employees are adjusting to hybrid work, but why carry two separate phones for business and personal use anymore? Webex Go is an enterprise-grade Webex Calling feature that can be added as a dedicated business line to a user’s personal mobile phone. The product is currently in beta, which users can sign up for today.
In other calling news, Cisco extended European Coverage for Cisco Calling Plans for 10 countries in the European Union: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Sweden.
Webex Desk Mini
The newest addition to Cisco’s videoconferencing hardware portfolio is the Webex Desk Mini, which is making all the best features of the original Webex Desk offering available to hybrid workers in a portable format that they can use in their home offices, or even tote into their kitchens, Patel said.
Webex Desk Mini features a 15.6-inch 1080p display, 64-degree HD camera, full-range speaker and background noise removal mic array. The product comes in five color options, which will also be made available for the full-sized (24-inch) Webex Desk.
Webex Desk Mini is expected to be available to order in early 2022 for $1,695, or a cloud promo price of $999.
Just like users want both Netflix and Hulu for different shows, employees need a variety of tools, especially in a hybrid working world. Cisco has been working for the past year to boost interoperability of its offerings, Patel said.
The company announced that now, the latest version of the Webex Room operating system supports interoperability with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meetings to support an open and inclusive meeting experience.
Building off its popular noise cancellation feature, now Cisco is addressing the way location impacts volume in meetings, especially for attendees and those sitting farthest from a conference phone device.
Optimize for all Voices in Webex is a new feature that equalizes voices regardless of location. Speaker selectivity can go a step further and can differentiate intended speech from background noise, including others that may be speaking in the background, to remove other sounds.
Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 Headset
Another new hardware offering Cisco is bringing to market is a co-branded Cisco and sound company Bang and Olufsen luxury audio headset.
The Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 provides immersive sound for calls, video meetings and listening to podcasts or music, meeting the needs of both personal and business users, according to Cisco. The product pairs Bang & Olufsen’s comfortable design and sound expertise with Cisco’s integrated meeting controls, Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation and IT management capabilities for secure communications.
The Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 will be available to order in early 2022 for $549 and through Cisco partners.
According to Cisco’s first ever Hybrid Work Index released this month, only 48 percent of meeting participants on average speak during meetings. Many employees are also bogged down with the number of video meetings they’re attending on a daily basis.
Enter asynchronous communication like Vidcast, which Cisco first introduced in August. The asynchronous video solution lets users record and share short videos, watch, comment and react at their own pace. Cisco announced at WebexOne that Vidcast’s beta is now open to the public and is projected to be integrated in the Webex App in Spring 2022.
On the employee wellness side, Cisco has teamed with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, a behavior-change technology company aimed at helping workers avoid burnout and boosting human connection.
To that end, Thrive Reset for Webex is now available for Webex Suite customers. Reset lets users download pre-loaded topics or upload personal photos to help them focus on breathing, reflect on what they’re grateful for, reframe problems, stand up and stretch, or even just mentally reset for 60 seconds before the next meeting.
To address any performance issues that may arise, Cisco is tapping Meraki Insight and its recently-acquired ThousandEyes technology help IT teams proactively protect the Webex platform.
Regardless of whether on a home or enterprise campus network, IT teams can use Meraki Insight’s AI-powered root cause analysis to help determine the location of issues. With digital experience monitoring leveraging ThousandEyes Webex Agents, IT teams and channel partners can quickly identify, diagnose and resolve performance issues.
Increased Camera Intelligence
For the first time, remote workers may have it better than in-room meeting participants since they get their own dedicated square on screen during meetings. To improve the meeting experience for remote participants to better see who is in the conference room, and to add more engagement for each attendee sitting at the table, Cisco is rolling out new camera capabilities within its People Focus feature, which will be available in December.
The enhanced People Focus feature will provide give clarity and optimized visuals of in-room attendees’ facial gestures and body language. Webex device camera intelligence is expected to be enhanced in early 2022 to further improve the view of people in meeting rooms, including showing conference room participants in individual boxes on screen, regardless of which meeting service used, Cisco said.