Kathy Gibson reports – The last year has brought more change than people could have anticipated, and some valuable lessons have been learnt.
As we approach one year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, Jeetu Patel, senior vice-president and GM: security and applications at Cisco, points out that businesses have done well in adapting to corporate communications, but spontaneous communication has suffered.
Digital fatigue has become a real issue, he adds, with back-to-back online meetings taking an unexpected toll on users.
What the pandemic has shown, however, is that more people than we thought possible can work digitally, and geography is no longer a major issue when hiring talent.
The future will be hybrid, Patel believes. “Sometimes they will work at home, sometimes in the office.”
People still don’t feel safe returning to the office, so companies have to put a lot of effort into ensuring that people remain protected at work, he says. “We are working at helping people when they are working remotely; but also making sure people can have a safe return to the workplace.”
In future, 100% of the people in a company will not be in the office all the time – that is one fundamental shift that Covid-19 has brought about.
Patel points out that, in the past, the people working remotely were considered “second class citizens”. “We need to make sure there is a level playing field and everyone has a voice in a meeting.”
One upside of the situation is that the collaboration market has boomed, with just about everyone now using at least one collaboration solution.
Patel points out that the market has evolved immensely. “It used to be a nice to have solution/ Now we see it has become fundamentally essential for your employee an customer experience. If you don’t have the right tools, you wont be able to offer the same experience.
“There has been a fundamental shift. Companies like us are doing well, and you are seeing a lot of venture capital funding going into developing new solutions.
“In our own company, if Webex is down, business comes to a halt.”
Systems like Cisco’s Webex have grown massively over the last year, which has brought new challenges, Patel says.
The first phase of this was just ensuring the customers’ businesses were running – this time last year, the focus was to keep the business up.
Then there ere a lot of small areas that started annoying people. For instance people didn’t know how to use the systems they didn’t have IT support, so we had to make sure it as streamlined.
Now we need to look at the possibilities for where the technology is going. We need to make it more immersive, and there is going to be a fair amount of innovation taking place.
Some ways that this could happen include recording, features that allow all participants to have an equal voice, more inclusive and immersive meetings and more
The biggest challenge has been that as we get the technology to be more functional, you need to ensure that the technology doesn’t move beyond people who might not be so technically adept.
“People used to talk about one click interfaces – we want to get to the no click interface,” Patel says. “The challenge is to keep simplifying, and never be satisfied.”
Going forward, he says there will be a wealth of innovation going into collaboration tools.
Patel believes there will be a lot of innovation in user features, particularly in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, privacy, frictionless security and integration.
Cisco will launch a number of new features in its Webex tool next week.