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Webex and walk: Mobile, intelligent collaboration for hybrid work

Youssef Saleh

Guest Blogger

Youssef Saleh is Co-Founder and CEO of Ava Robotics. Youssef is an entrepreneurial leader with a passion for turning ideas into profitable and growing businesses. Prior to Ava, Youssef was SVP and GM of the Remote Presence Business Unit at iRobot, where he was responsible for iRobot’s leading-edge autonomous robots for commercial applications. He also served as VP/GM of Telepresence & Vertical Solutions at Polycom.

Ava Mobile Telepresence is a SolutionsPlus Partner — now available on GPL

The time to bridge the gap between workplace expectations and conditions is now–and every day moving forward. The global workforce has never been more aware, and yet so uncertain. What we DO know is that every single business, to some degree, must account for hybrid collaboration. Regardless of whether it’s for our own employees, customers, partners, or clients, we must do more to enable and empower people to work how they work best. This priority has been past-due for many years.

Cisco’s 2020 Global Workforce Survey reports:

98% of the workforce expects future meetings will involve remote participants.

96% expressed a desire for intelligent collaboration technology.

How companies satisfy the desire, need and flexibility for access isn’t just a Covid-response success metric, its more; adopting and integrating more hybrid work processes and technologies will largely dictate overall viability and market leadership.

Ava Robotics and doctors sitting at a table

Ava and Cisco Webex evolve collaboration technology, together

Since the inception of Ava’s intelligent workplace robotics technology at iRobot, Cisco was identified as the best possible partner to advance workplace productivity. Not only because Ava was built with a full Webex integration for best-in-class video conferencing, but also because Cisco sets the industry standard for secure, trusted technology.

It’s not about wanting to meet. It’s about wanting to be. What happens spontaneously and organically before the meeting, or after the meeting, for example, has always mattered as much as the meeting itself. Cisco and Ava have shared a mission that empowers people to own where and how they collaborate, long before pandemic times. The need to improve the workplace with intelligence, inclusivity, and mobility is not new–but the receptiveness to this technology, is.

See how Ava + Webex expands sales capabilities at real estate leader SIGNA Group

As a member of the Cisco SolutionsPlus Partner network, Ava Mobile Telepresence allows Cisco customers to extend their collaboration capabilities, expanding operations and improving employee/customer experience.  

Ava Mobile Telepresence as a feature of Webex introduces limitless opportunities to expand collaboration for the hybrid workforce.

Global re-evaluation of budget, responsibility, and sustainability

Returning to the workforce survey, 77% of large organizations report that they will be increasing work flexibility. For each organization, “work flexibility” will have its own unique expressions and integrations within their existing technology and workflows.

No matter where a company may be along their return-to-work timeline, the new prioritization for agility, safety, and sustainability will endure. Corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives are no longer in the back seat. However, it’s important to also recognize heightened budget consciousness in these still-very-uncertain times.

Man on screen of a robot

What is so powerful about Ava + Webex, for both customers and Cisco representatives, is its accessibility and ease of use. Ava Mobile Telepresence fits seamlessly into what a business is doing right now. There is no extra framework or new IT resources (human or systematic) to introduce in order to get started.

Also related to new workplace priorities, emphasis on overall experience for both internal and external human resources, is literally changing the design of every workplace. The movement toward more human-centered design is visible across industry workspaces: factory floors, healthcare patient facilities, corporate offices, event venues, real estate properties, and more. And this design must address presence disparity, accounting for those on-site, as well as those who are virtually present.

Ava enables collaboration in Cisco global offices

For successful hybrid work, Cisco outlines three steps:

  1. Support remote employees
  2. Plan a safe return to work
  3. Deliver intelligent workplace experiences

As a feature of Webex, Ava Telepresence Robots deliver on all three of these steps by offering: meaningful collaboration experiences for remote workers, a socially distant, hands-free solution, and intelligent, fully-autonomous robot. In addition to promoting mobile, independent physical presence through our partnership, Cisco embraces and uses Ava technology in their own global offices.

Cisco has deployed Ava robots in San Jose (US), Toronto, Dubai, and Manchester (UK). These robots enabled hybrid work and operations for Cisco prior to the pandemic and continue to connect teams and welcome customers on-site for tours and events. Additionally, Cisco will use Ava Mobile Telepresence to apply their 3-step hybrid work approach in its own offices.

Walk through Cisco IXC Dubai with Ava:

Emerging stronger and smarter

Many businesses are confident that they will, in some ways, come out of these disruptive, uncertain times better than they were–whether it be faster, more open, more dedicated to their people, or, ideally, all of the above. As part of the Cisco SolutionsPlus Partner network, we intend on offering Cisco customers a useful, meaningful way to achieve their hybrid business goals.

To learn more about what Cisco and Ava are doing together, visit our Ava + Webex page, or send us an email at molly@avarobotics.com

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talkshow 3
Remote working in the new normal era: how do you do that?

Remote working will continue. The crisis has shown that far more is possible than we’ve ever imagined. It has significantly reduced the resistance to remote working. Many organizations are finding more ways to reinvent themselves because those who adapt to the new normal have the best chance of entering the post-COVID era with a head start. But how do you avoid returning to the old patterns?

Hybrid working already existed pre-COVID. An example of this is blended learning, an innovative mix of online and offline learning. In the financial world, video banking was on the rise. And in healthcare, people were already experimenting with video consultations. However, there was resistance to change, mainly because of the need for personal contact.

It has become evident by now that we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Many employees believe that they work much more effectively at home. The idea of being stuck in traffic again is a nightmare for many people. Going to the office remains necessary to ‘connect’ with colleagues, but this does not have to be every day. Many companies are anticipating this and are already disposing of office space.

A crisis: the right time to seize opportunities

Organizations that embrace hybrid working do so because they see opportunities to reorganize work and private life. Sometimes literally: by adapting their offices to meet the social distancing rules. Some have not wasted any time-transforming their business.

Others need a bit more time. Retailers are many of their physical stores but are now making more profit online. The reason is that companies came up with new opportunities. In the sports industry, brands succeeded because they developed and promoted a home workout app.

In care for the elderly, smart glasses are making a comeback. Wound care nurses use those so that experts in the hospital can watch and provide remote support. It saves patients a trip to the hospital, reducing the pressure on healthcare, where parties already struggle with staff shortages.

The event sector sees possibilities in the long term to reach a larger target group with, for instance, hybrid conferences. Both visitors at the location and people at home participate. Event organizers also can invite more (international) speakers if they are unable to travel.

Embrace the positive aspects and leave the past behind

Organizations discover through trial and error what does and does not work. The challenge is to learn from positive experiences and disregard the negative ones. Cisco is deeply committed to ensuring the well-being of its employees. It is important to provide good conditions and resources to ensure a safe environment for remote working, both digitally and physically. The use of video screens prevents employees from spending their days bent over their laptops.

Furthermore, Cisco pays attention to creating a good balance between work and private life. Attention to exercise and taking breaks. The aim is to ensure that the conditions are suitable for every employee to perform their job. At the office, at home, or on the road.

Digital transformation: it’s all about the content

The lesson learned by front runners in remote working is that digital transformation is not an end in itself but a chance. They benefit from new opportunities by putting content first and using technology to support this. An increasing number of people are becoming convinced of this.

Would you like to know more about the impact that the changing working environment has on business operations, work activities, and people? How to stay in touch with customers, students, or patients if you are increasingly dependent on online contact? Cisco has made a talk show about ‘The communicative connection,’ in which we talk to the experts Noreena Hertz, Jet de Ranitz, Francoise Wiedenhoff, Wilbert Mulders, and Kim Dijksman.

Click here and get inspired!

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Meeting fatigue? Aren’t we all experiencing it?

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Working remotely: 6 tips to maintain high involvement

In the new normal, working remotely is the norm. This triggered many positive effects. For example, people are often far more productive at home than at the office and experience a positive work-life balance. However, there is also a downside: the lack of personal contact with colleagues can lead to people feeling lonely. In this blog, we list six tips to help ensure that the positive effects take precedence.

When the pandemic led to a wholesale switch to working remotely, many people suddenly discovered its benefits. No longer stuck in traffic jams and to be better focused. Many remote workers have found a better work-life balance because they now have more freedom to divide their time, now and then go for a walk or do some household chores.

Fatigue is increasing

However, in the meantime, many people who are working remotely are also experiencing remote working fatigue. Primarily through the lack of personal contact. Many people who work remotely feel lonely. Several other drawbacks are also becoming apparent. Some people have difficulty dealing with the boundary between their work and private life. They work longer at home and open their laptop again during the evening.

Man taking glasses off at computer with his head down and taking glasses off

Include welfare as part of a strategy

In the future, people will want to retain the benefits and not be affected by the drawbacks. It, therefore, looks like we are going to continue with hybrid working. This means working at home, on the road, and in the office.

However, ensuring that hybrid working can function in practice without compromising the welfare of people who are working remotely requires a strategy. Of course, no two organizations are the same, but a couple of tips are always helpful to increase involvement and avoid fatigue.

  1. Include moments to enquire how someone is doing. Ask if people have sufficient screen breaks and take enough exercise.
  2. Introduce a buddy system and form couples who keep an eye on each other.
  3. Create moments for small talk before a meeting or at the end of the week with a virtual Friday afternoon drink.
  4. Avoid that people working from home feel less included. Go out of the way to make them feel valued.
  5. Arrange for people to occasionally meet each other in the office without it becoming too busy. This ensures the much-needed variety.
  6. Organize workplaces in the office to meet each other at a distance to brainstorm, eat together or just chat. This results in renewed energy and dynamics.
  7. Find time for remote team building exercises. Connecting and getting to know teammates outside of meetings is important, too.

Gain experience and find the right balance

The new hybrid working is all about finding the right balance. It forces everyone to think about when a physical meeting is necessary and when a virtual meeting is better. Only one thing helps to identify what works: gaining experience.

Would you like to know more about how you can ensure that employees continue to work effectively? Or about which strategic choices are appropriate? Watch our talk show ‘The digital transformation’ in which we discuss these issues with the experts Noreena Hertz, Edwin Prinsen, Patrick van der Duin, Jan van Ginkel, Tim Toornvliet and Kathelijne Drenth.

Click here and get inspired!

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14 ways to refresh your collaboration experience

Introducing Collaboration Systems Release (CSR) 14 for the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) applications system

The feeling in the air this Spring brings a welcome sense of hope and promise, as our businesses and our lives gain a greater sense of “normal” after a year full of extreme chaos. I hope you feel it too. Which makes now a wonderful time for Cisco to introduce our Collaboration Systems Release (CSR) 14, for the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) applications system.

For enterprises and organizations, the importance of a digital strategy, one that elevates the quality of your “work from home / work from anywhere” initiatives has never been greater. This applies to all sectors, from government, education, healthcare, retail and everything in between.

Cisco recognizes the daunting challenge our customers’ technical leadership teams face. You have to reimagine your collaboration and applications strategy for the future, while continuing to deliver innovation, with security, across your network applications landscape. Part of this conversation invariably leads to the topic of cloud adoption, in terms of how broadly to adopt cloud applications, which applications specifically, when, and how will the cloud apps integrate with each other, as well as with the apps that remain on-premises.

UCM is an exceptionally versatile unified communications platform, in that it provides the most complete set of enterprise-class unified communications and collaboration features on the market. UCM supports these features across on-premises, cloud and mixed, hybrid deployments, on a global scale. This makes for a richly rewarding and desirable application for enterprise adoption.

CSR 14 builds value for our customers and partners by combining the Cisco development efforts across all the applications that make up a complete Unified Communications Manager system.

Which means there’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to share at least fourteen improvements we’ve made, to ensure users and administrators get a top-quality experience that serves their everyday work realities now.

Better resiliency for workforce mobility

(1) For mobile workers, CSR 14 supports the latest changes in the Push Notification Services used by the latest iOS and Android mobile OS. Users of the Webex or Jabber mobile apps need their clients to be at CSR 12.8, or CSR 14 to continue to make/receive calls and messages on their mobile clients.

To improve reliability for your mobile users, we’ve added high availability (2) to our Mobile Remote Access feature, using Expressway. In the event of a failure in the data center, users will be able to quickly recover to their back up calling servers. (3) We’ve also added fast failover support for Jabber IM&P clients.

CSR 14 is ready to support handover (4) between LTE and WiFi networks. As mobile users move out of range of their WiFi network, they will be able to automatically switch to their cellular network to maintain their call, without interruption or a need to call back.

UCM 14 provides higher server resiliency and scalability (5), with Tomcat containerization, to ensure web application and client stability. We’re adding the container model to our UCM architecture to bring a higher level of reliability to all your collaboration workloads.

Superior experience for end users

We’ve enriched the calling experience of using the Webex app with UCM, adding features end users will enjoy every day. For example, background noise cancellation on calls, so your callers are not impacted when you’re in a noisy environment. We’ve also brought in features to the calling experience, previously only available in meetings, such as using virtual backgrounds during calls.

All distributed workers will be glad we’ve done the groundwork in CSR 14 for (6) synchronization of UCM phone presence with Webex on the back end, so the presence state and DND settings in your Webex contact list accurately reflect the current status of your contacts.

nurse looking at results on a Webex DX

Beyond the addition of all the new Cisco endpoints and high-quality Cisco Headsets, with patented Clear Voice audio technology, we have added support (7) for the AV1 codec. The AV1 codec delivers high quality video in low bandwidth situations, which happens often in remote work situations.

CSR 14 offers unified messaging support for Google Workspace (8) and increases the scale for Office 365 users, so you can keep pace with your office suite choices.

Safety, security and reliability

We seem to be crossing the curve for getting the workforce back into offices. Administrators are keen to ensure their office environments are safe. Employees can now use their wireless Cisco headsets for touchless login to their shared workspace IP phones (extension mobility).

The new paradigm of mobile and remote users creates new demands from the security and compliance perspective.

We extended SIP OAuth for IP phones (9), to make it super simple to encrypt phones for signaling and media traffic and meet GDPR, PCI and other infosec requirements.

For E-911 compliance, Cisco Emergency Responder (CER) has been available, communicating with your switch infrastructure, to determine the location of your end user phones, to ensure 911 responders get dispatched to the correct location.  Now, (10) with CSR 14, the next time you update your switch infrastructure, CER will automatically migrate your configuration, eliminating the need for manual data entry. We’ve added “write” APIs to CER to simplify E911 management in your deployments.

CSR 14 is the best release to meet the new regulatory requirements around E911 call handling for phones.

For our federal customer base, UCM 14 is already FIPS certified and on path for full UCM DoD APL certification.

Cloud-connected control

One important area of our focus has been on building an effective bridge between cloud and on-premises systems and applications. As a result, last year, we introduced Webex Cloud-Connected UC.

Cloud-Connected UC offers many of the advantages of a cloud platform, while serving your UC systems, whether they reside on-premises or in the cloud. Cloud-Connected UC lets you connect one or more of your UCM clusters to the cloud, so you can enjoy a consolidated view of your UCM systems operations, through your own private Webex Control Hub portal.

The interactive operations dashboard in Control Hub delivers analytics with insights into the overall health of your UC deployment. This brings a broad set of metrics to your fingertips, including details about call quality and any call failures, along with insights into things like asset usage and endpoint inventory. You will gain useful background knowledge regarding feature usage, including mid-call features, and traffic patterns, so you can quickly identify any route optimization adjustments you may wish to make.

Look closer with Web Real Time Monitoring Tool

One way to extend the value of the analytics insight gained with Cloud-Connected UC (11) is through the Web Real Time Monitoring Tool (Web RTMT), which lets you drill-down deeper into the operations of your UCM network. If you see an issue in the operations dashboard, with a single click, you can investigate the details behind the alarm, discover the root cause and quickly begin your remediation process. The new Web RTMT is a browser-based console, with a fresh look and feel you will appreciate.

Cloud migration readiness

Another way to use knowledge gained from Cloud-Connected UC analytics, is in discovering your organizational readiness for a cloud migration. Whether that means a migration from Jabber to the Webex app, or migration from UCM to Webex Calling, there will be a wealth of information available to help make your migration process smoother. You will want to employ our new (12) Migration Assistant tool, to help you navigate the migration process and avoid complex and costly mistakes.

Now it may surprise you that you can get everything I’ve just described in Webex Cloud-Connected UC for free as part of your UC subscription. That’s right. Cloud-Connected UC is currently offered at no charge. So talk to your account team about how you can start using it.

Administrative simplicity

Beyond what I’ve already covered, system administrators will see these additional improvements with CSR 14. First is a substantial reduction in the number of certificates to manage (13), and a reduction in service restarts needed for certificate updates. Plus, you will get centralized certificate management, with a single point of control – Webex Control Hub.

We’ve increased cluster scale (14) and density by 25%, so you’ll be able to configure more users per cluster, thereby reducing cross-cluster management overheads. Customers who have increased their mobile worker count in the past year will see value, as they can use the additional cluster capacity to support more roaming Webex app or Jabber clients and Extension Mobility Cross-Cluster (EMCC) users in their network.

Plus, it is now easier to refesh your clusters on a new data center, on-premises or in the cloud, with UCM 14 support of native tooling (15) for data export and import, during installation. One last point for administrators, we’ve made it even easier for end users to self-manage their own desk phone refresh process.

Ok, so maybe that was more than fourteen, but as you can see, there’s a lot of value packed into CSR 14, designed to improve the collaboration experience for everyone.

To learn more, please talk to your Cisco account team and visit our CSR 14 webpage.

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7 breakout sessions tips from K-12 and higher ed educators

Foster inclusive and cognitive presence in your classroom with Webex

Virtual and hybrid learning during the pandemic has put many educators to the test. While most in-classroom activities don’t necessarily translate to virtual learning quickly, some schools have discovered different approaches to push the same in-person engagement strategies in their virtual classrooms with Webex breakout sessions.

Participants in Webex

Tips to getting remote learning right

Five educators share how to integrate pre-pandemic methods into distance learning:

  • Host trade symposium – High school students who haven’t be able to attend in-person events can learn from working professionals in various fields, such as construction, electrical, plumbing, project management, automobile maintenance, and other professional trades. With multiple breakout sessions running, students can get detailed information about the job skills and educational requirements and tips on what skills they can gain in high school to prepare for the workforce.
  • Organize team competitions – Our school runs a “Battle of the Books” where students learn how to work together to leverage each other’s best reading and memorization traits while engaging volunteers from local military bases and retirees. Students compete based on facts they remember from 15-20 books they have read in the past school year. They meet in one room at their site and join as a group at the beginning of the day. After reviewing the rules and schedule, they’re assigned breakout rooms with 2-3 teams per room. A judge and scorekeeper lead the breakout sessions by asking questions and keeping score. The top two teams in each grade level compete against each other to determine the winner for that grade level.  Kathy New, Colorado, USA
  • Focused group sessions – Our students discuss interview techniques to simulate and practice different management interview styles with multiple interviewers in a COVID-safe, remote way in breakout sessions. The professor separates in-room participants into smaller physical groups and remote participants break out into smaller virtual groups. All participants can return to the meeting at any time. An educator can use a separate personal device connected to the same session to quickly check on virtual groups and provide encouragement and support as they would for in-room participants.  David Arnold, Wollongong, Australia 

Breakout session

  • Foster connections – Break large-setting conversations into individual 1:1s for students to explore ideas they may be hesitant to discuss with the whole classroom. Alternate your students to teach them leadership skills, gradually build their self-confidence, and help them feel connected and empowered during these times. Of course, teachers can visit or remain outside the room to facilitate healthy conversations.  Elane Kalavrias, Ontario, Canada
  • Student choice – Create as many opportunities as possible to empower your students to own their development. Break out your class into topics of interest or project choice to drive a more interactive group work environment during class time. Subject-based breakout sessions can become part of your classroom cadence while your students are learning at home.
  • Prepare with your support staff – Use paraeducators to answer questions or advance ready learners. They can work with small groups in a virtual setting while still being connected to the entire class. Laura Hamill, Michigan, USA
  • Mentoring and coaching – Create a space in every session for private conferencing with students during class time. This space can give students a chance to take a breath and conference with you about a behavior issue, test results, and more. Individual sessions are good for morale and can help you gauge how students are doing emotionally so you can follow up with those who need your support. Breakout sessions can also be helpful for peer review before and after a formal presentation or when students hear the study from a subset of their class. Mary Schlegelmilc, Nebraska, USA

What’s next?

Your students were born in the technology age. Giving them control and the space to show their learning style in real-time will spark their creativity and curiosity to learn more. With breakout sessions, you can seamlessly foster engagement in your physical and virtual classroom. Download the guide to start engaging your students.

Want to share your story? Visit the Webex Community to share and read about others’ successes

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About the author

Vanessa PhilogeneStoryteller. Digital experience strategist. Vanessa is obsessed with psychology and human behavior. She leverages empathy to humanize Webex endpoints and features across industries. On the Digital Experience and Enablement team, Vanessa delivers experiences that enhance customer-facing solutions and drive ongoing engagement.

 

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Talkshow with hybrid working using Cisco technology
Hybrid working: three tips to keep it safe, healthy and productive

The future of work is hybrid. We currently no longer need to join the daily traffic jam and can work more remotely. Offices will still exist but will function more as meeting places. This transition demands extensive digitalization, which provides opportunities but also presents many challenges. After all, people have to work safely and without affecting productivity. In this blog, we provide three tips to make a success of the new way of working.

The transition to a hybrid model of partly working remotely and partly at the office was already underway, but this was greatly accelerated by COVID 19. Hybrid working is here to stay. Organizations are now searching for a strategy, a blueprint for the future. Here are three tips to achieve the most significant benefit from the new situation:

1: Facilitate people who are working remotely

Make sure that people can easily connect. Many organizations quickly implemented a digital platform at the beginning of the crisis, to continue to work. They did not bother to check whether it was the best option. For good cooperation, there must be is high-quality image and sound. Additionally, people must also quickly join meetings without having to bother about pin codes and login codes. It must be easy to share a screen or apply a virtual or blurred background. Smart features, such as the automatic transcription of videos and audio files, save users a lot of time.

A good IT infrastructure provides people working remotely with a better user experience and increases security levels. This aspect is essential now as many organizations worry that an increasing amount of digital activity occurs outside the office environment, which was considered secure. With the right connections, a well-equipped network keeps threats at bay and forms a sound basis for data-driven working. This is one way to make better and informed decisions.

2: Ensure a safe return to the office

It is sometimes necessary to meet in person at the office for a brainstorming session or just a project kick-off. It must be possible to make this concerning rules for hygiene and social distancing safely. Much can be achieved by just taking practical measures, such as creating one-way walking routes or reducing the number of desks per square meter. Technical solutions such as the non-touch operation of elevators and smart cameras that check whether there are too many people in a single room can help also.

Man sitting in office with face mask spread apart from the next cubicle

3: Promote personal welfare

Many people thrive on working remotely since they can work undisturbed and with total concentration. But some people take fewer breaks at home or who extend the working day until late in the evening. It also happens that people working from home feel less included. Or that they are too shy to speak up during a busy video meeting. Managers must have the skills to keep people who work remotely involved and give attention to personal welfare. A chat before starting a video meeting slightly softens the lack of contact with colleagues. Technology can also eliminate concerns. For example, smart software that ‘sees’ that someone has raised their hand and informs the moderator that someone has a question or wants to respond.

Would you like to know more about the impact of hybrid working on the future? Please watch our talk show about ‘Hybrid working,’ with experts Noreena Hertz, Kim Grondsma, Ger Baron, and Jacco Saaman.

Click here to watch the video and get inspired!

Learn more

Bridging hybrid classrooms with the Cisco Webex Board

What’s possible when the worlds of sports and technology play together…

Your guide to sensors and analytics in Webex Devices

Still need help?

What’s new in Webex: April 2021

Join a Webex online meeting

Learn more about Webex, join one of our upcoming training sessions

Explore daily product demonstrations

Sign up for Webex

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance

Read more