The pandemic has dramatically changed how we work—and how we feel about going back to our offices. According to a new global survey, 95 per cent of workers are uncomfortable about returning to the office given the current health crisis; 98 per cent expect future meetings will have participants joining from home; 53 per cent of companies are planning to optimise their office footprint, and 96 per cent want intelligent technology to improve work environments.

With that as the backdrop, Cisco’s collaboration group today announced innovations for both the remote and the in-office experience, to help teams stay safe and get great work done as companies navigate 2020 and beyond. With the goal of creating a 10x better meeting experience, innovations announced today are as follows:

Making remote work 10x better than in person experiences: Webex meetings
According to the survey, 58 per cent say they will continue to work remotely eight or more days per month even after the pandemic is over, so it’s critical that companies nail the video meeting experience. Webex is full of features to help users before, during and after meetings. Today, we add even more:

– Show up the way you want. Waiting in the lobby before you’re let into the meeting? Use that time to personalise how you’ll appear in the meeting. We’ve enlarged the view so you can clearly see how your background will appear, or select a virtual background. We’ve added more of those, too.

Stop searching for how to ____ (fill in the blank). Our new, elegant design puts controls in the most logical place without covering shared content or your video —and even adapts to your screen size. Want to chat with someone? Hover over them. Need to change your audio? Hover over yourself. Simple.

Make it yours. Hate it when your screen fills with a big gray box because the person who is talking isn’t sharing video? Now you can tell Webex to hide non-video participants. This is just one of many new customisable options. Customise once, enjoy every meeting.

– End the background noise. Distracting noise on Webex meetings is a thing of the past. By the end of this month, technology from our BabbleLabs acquisition will both quash the whirr of the vacuum and enhance the speaker’s voice so you can hear clearly. (Read related press release here.)

Technology to help workers safely return to the office—when it’s time
Whether you think a return to the office is three, six or even 12 months away, companies know they must prepare now since far-reaching changes are needed. Companies need to optimise their space, address worker concerns about sanitation and social distancing and plan how to communicate policies and information clearly. Cisco is giving customers the data and tools to make this journey back to the office. Specifically, we are adding:

– Even more environmental sensors in Webex devices
Cisco has pioneered the use of sensors in collaboration gear provide important environmental datapoints to users, IT and employee experience experts to ensure a safe and comfortable workplace. Previously, we announced sensors that detect ambient noise levels and count the number of people in a space. These existing sensors—and the data they collect—become even more important now as they can identify underutilised or overcrowded spaces. Additional sensors will now also collect data on room temperature, humidity, air quality and light. Plus, we’ve made our people counting capabilities smarter. Thanks to machine learning, Webex will help ensure compliance with room capacity limits, counting people whether they are wearing face masks or not —no matter where they are in the room. Quickly identifying workspaces with environmental roadblocks lets companies take action to improve productivity and the quality of the meeting experience, for both in-office and remote participants.

– Webex Room Navigator: New devices for inside and outside meeting rooms
Companies need a new approach to the meeting space to ensure safety and optimise use. Today we’re announcing two versions of the new Webex Room Navigator. These are purpose-built devices that contain all the sensors mentioned above. They sit either inside or outside the meeting room to provide intelligent, safe room booking for users and deep data for IT and facilities managers. The out-of-room model makes it simple to find and book a space to meet; it clearly shows when the room is free and changes the status to ‘booked’ when you enter. Activate it with touch or—to avoid touching a possibly contaminated surface—just use your voice. The in-room model provides alerts for social distancing, cleaning schedules, and more and allows you to book from inside the space, too. Both versions have a digital signage mode—so companies can use the screens to convey important information. Even better: built-in “no-show” technology automatically senses if no one shows up for a scheduled meeting and frees up the room for another team’s use.

– Webex Control Hub: Deep, actionable workplace analytics
Our survey highlighted that fewer than half of all companies can measure room utilisation, which means they lack the visibility needed to set proper cleaning schedules—a top concern of employees as they contemplate returning to the office. Webex Control Hub provides this much-needed visibility. Now, it will provide historical insights into both room utilisation and room environment metrics such as rooms booked but not used, median occupancy across all spaces, and ambient noise levels. These insights provide actionable information for workplace decision-makers to optimise real estate utilisation.

Partner Integrations: targeted value to protect employees even further.
We are announcing three integrations:

– Digital signage and team communications with Appspace. Integrated within Control Hub so it is super-simple to set up, Appspace gives companies dynamic and modern digital signage and team communications options, both in the office and at home for workers with Webex Desk Pros.

– Collaboration insights with Vypota. Gain deeper, actionable insights across people, space, and technology for both in-office and remote collaboration.  With Vyopta’s support of Cisco and third-party UC technologies, intelligently plan safe office returns and optimise collaboration experiences.

Wayfinding with MazeMap. If your meeting room hits its capacity for safe social distancing, our integration with MazeMap can help identify an additional nearby room that’s available and guide users to it, so your meeting can continue efficiently.

Commenting on the development, Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM, security and applications group, Cisco, said, “The future of work will be hybrid: people will work in the home and corporate office to varying degrees depending on the nature of their jobs. Our mission is to make the Webex experience 10x better than in-person interactions. And when people do have in-person interactions, we want Webex to make those experiences 10x better than before, with our deeply integrated collaboration devices and software stack. The innovations we announced today are a great step forward in providing seamless collaboration to empower remote work in a secure way while also enabling a smart hybrid work experiences to enable safe returns to work.”

Further, Ben Watt, information technology services, The James Hutton Institute, “Webex Room Navigator has a neat modern profile, which our colleagues will find intuitive and enjoy using – and can resist usage day in and day out. I can really see the value in the environmental metrics the Navigator provides, giving us new insights from its sensors that we didn’t previously have.”