Easy annual planning for remote teams

 It’s that time of the year again! The days are shorter. The weather is cooling down. Family and friends are gathering for the holidays.

And your manager is asking to see your team’s 2018 plan ASAP.

When there’s a lot on your plate between work and home, staying productive and efficient is non-negotiable. Add in the logistics of coordinating a remote team and the stress can add up quickly. But those end-of-year deadlines don’t have to bring your team down. Follow this simple guide for streamlining your workflow to get that annual plan wrapped up. Hint: the key is collaboration.

Step 1: Create a work space

First things first, you need to assemble your key players together in one place. And I don’t mean a conference room.

To work together fluidly, you need a virtual workspace. Create a Cisco Spark room and include everyone who will contribute to the planning process. You can use it to chat about updates in real time, share documents, review feedback, and even add bots to help you with scheduling and project management. Label the room and ask your team to use it for annual planning only, so conversations stay focused and on-task.

Step 2: The kickoff

Next, schedule a WebEx session to kick things off. Share an agenda in advance to keep the meeting structured. Ask your team to turn on their video – having some face-time can go a long way in rallying everyone around a common goal and help ensure you’re all on the same page.

Consider preparing a few slides with an outline of the plan and share your screen during the meeting. Have everyone weigh in with initial ideas about what’s been working, what’s not, and what the priorities should be for the next year.

Before you close the meeting, be clear about the expectations and next steps. What should be included in the plan? What are the deadlines? Recap team assignments so everyone can divide and conquer.

Step 3: Sharing is caring

Now it’s time to get to work. After your meeting, share a recap in the Cisco Spark room to reinforce the next steps and deadlines.

As each member of your team fulfills their assignments, have them share updates and documents in Cisco Spark. It’s a lot simpler than searching through lengthy email chains to find attachments or links.

Collaborate in real-time via chat or call team members directly, all within Cisco Spark. Bouncing ideas around in as they come up will help move things forward quickly, and you can keep your team in-the-know if things change.

Step 4: Review and revise

Once your plan is drafted, it’s time to start editing. Set up another meeting with your team to review the plan together as a group. Ask yourself a few essential questions along the way. Does the presentation tell a clear story? Did we accomplish what we set out to do? Is our data presented in an impactful way?

Make edits in real-time during the meeting, and continue any follow up via Cisco Spark if you need to add finishing touches.

Step 5: The final presentation

This is where all of the team collaboration will pay off. It’s Showtime!

Schedule a meeting with your manager/stakeholders over WebEx. Have everyone fire up their video and share your deck (just be sure to share your application instead of your entire screen to avoid any distracting notifications). And don’t forget to record the meeting – you can send out a link so anyone who missed out on the presentation can catch up.

Step 6: Celebrate! And keep the conversation going

After you’ve nailed your presentation, congratulate your team and pat yourself on the back. Now that your annual plan is in place, you can keep the work moving in Cisco Spark. Create new rooms for individual projects and initiatives once your plan is approved, and check back in throughout the year.

Having the best collaboration tools makes a big difference when it comes to planning, and every team has a different style that works for them. How does your team approach planning and workflows? Tell us in the comments below!

 

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Keep your team conversations going

The weekly update. The customer presentation. The on-the-fly team meeting.  Every type of meeting has its own purpose, but how can you tackle them efficiently and effectively every time? The key is to keep the conversation going.

If you work remotely, you know this can be especially hard. When your team is spread out, you need a strategy to keep everyone connected before, during and after each meeting. And with the right tools, your projects can move forward and everyone can stay connected.

Not sure where to start? Check out our handy guide for using Cisco Spark and Cisco WebEx to keep your team collaborating, whether you’re giving a big presentation over video conference or sharing daily updates over chat.

Have your own collaboration tips and tricks? Share them with us in the comments below!

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Debunking Remote Work Myths

Work from home. Telecommuting. Remote workers. They’re all just fancy words for people that work in pajamas with dogs at their sides, right? Well, while my lab Fletch sometimes makes a surprise appearance on a video call, remote work is burdened with misconceptions that I set out to debunk:

Misconception 1 – “Are they even working?”

Remote workers are often accused of “phoning it in,” only half listening to meeting conversation as they surf the internet, watch television or answer other emails. The truth is, studies show remote workers report being more productive – 91% in one study – than their office-dwelling peers. Working remotely also encourages having more detailed communication with managers and team members to clarify objectives, which is not the mark of a lazy person.

Misconception 2 – “Is that even a real job?”

Just because remote workers are surrounded by the comforts of home when they work doesn’t mean that they’re not working a “real” job.

Cisco and many other respected brands, including Amazon, Dell, Apple and Wells Fargo, support remote work. And this trend is growing; a survey by Global Workplace Analytics found that 40% more U.S. employers offered flexible workplace options than they did five years ago.

Misconception 3 – “Do you ever leave your house?”

The beautiful reality of being a remote worker is that – well, we can work remotely from wherever our happy work spot may be.

I do have a home office and it where I work from most often. But tools like WebEx and Cisco Spark provide flexibility that gives me the freedom to hunker down in my favorite local coffee shop to work and even attend meetings.

Misconception 4 – “That must be really lonely.”

Though remote workers may be physically alone when they do their work, video conferencing enable us to become expert collaborators, connecting with teams in real-time.

Personally, I love the interactive drawing and whiteboard feature offered by Cisco Spark. Our team uses it to share graphics and outline concepts, all in real-time. And whatever devices we’re all using – cell phone, lap top, tablet – Cisco Spark allows us to share files and message one another and engage in occasional “virtual” water cooler talk. Again, all in real-time.

Misconception 5 – “You must find it hard to turn off.”

In the age of collaboration (rolling over first thing in the morning to check emails, anyone?), this is an issue that we are all working on. Regardless of your work environment, work-life balance is critical. Though this can seem like a challenge if your home is your office like mine, it’s not impossible. It’s all about pacing.

What works for me is creating barriers between “work-mode” and “family-mode”. For example, I don’t work during dinner time and I don’t check emails until I’ve dropped my kids off at school. For you, it may be designated a certain area of your home as a place you don’t enter until it’s time to work.

What do you enjoy most about being a remote worker? Share with our community on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

 

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Bringing Tech to the Classroom – 3 Strategies for 2017

Back to school doesn’t have to mean back to the same old classroom experience. The start of each school year means one more year of innovation has passed and our classrooms should evolve with our digital world. The days of all learning happening within the bubble of one room with just one teacher are gone; our connected world gives students access to learn beyond traditional boundaries.

Overcoming Concentration Hurdles

Distraction can feel like a losing game in the classroom (or in any interaction with students), but even more so in the screen-laden world of our children. That’s why teachers should meet students where they already are – 70% of children under 12 are using tablets and almost 40% start using mobile tech before kindergarten.

When kids walk into a classroom to see mobile devices, they are not only comfortable with the tech, but excited by the innovation. Any teacher knows when children are excited and comfortable, they are engaged in learning. It’s a “hands on” learning environment with a touchscreen twist, making abstract ideas tangible and within reach.

Visually Engaging with Video

We’ve all heard the term “visual learner,” but did you know all students retain visual information more easily than auditory info? Studies show students recall 65% of what they see but only 10% of what they hear. In a learning environment where 100% of the curriculum matters to make the most of a child’s education, teachers should take this research into the classroom.

Video conferencing and access to online videos can greatly enhance even the most established lesson plans. Through video, students from anywhere in the world can take a visual tour of the Great Wall of China or see inside the machines that make the Hoover Dam so powerful. Video conferencing opens the door to invite students from around the world into the classroom. Imagine students learning about a culture from students their own age living it every day. By tapping into our students’ visual learning skills, we can step outside the classroom and enhance learning.

Collaboration Beyond Boundaries

As our world evolves, so too does the profession of teaching and its importance. A Texas study showed that an effective teacher is 20 times more likely to boost student performance than any other factor. It’s essential, for students and teachers, that we give these teachers the tools to seek out the most current information for their students and connect them with leaders in the fields they teach.  Tapping digital collaboration tools is one way teachers can seek expertise beyond their own knowledge.

I saw the power of collaboration outside the classroom in my own son’s excitement. As a fourth-grader, he was tasked to build a sandcastle – and not just any sandcastle. With the help of experts and engineers in San Francisco, he designed a sand-constructed roller coaster. Of course the project was fun – his teachers knew these beach-loving children would jump at the chance to work in sand, one of their favorite mediums – but the value added by the experts will last much longer than their sandy creations.

As I send my son on to his last year of elementary school, I’m hopeful that the passion of the teachers he’s had so far and the exciting tech innovations will make this 5th grade a year of engagement, excitement and, most of all, learning.

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3 Moments of Clarity through Video Meetings

Sometimes you get so used to things just working that you forget about the amazing convenience of the tools we now have at our fingertips. As part of the Cisco WebEx team, I experience that more than most when it comes to video meetings. On a daily basis, I collaborate with people located across town, across the country, and also across the world. Of course, with video, we’re able to connect face-to-face, which helps develop our relationships and we can make decisions faster – not to mention we cut down on travel costs. This is when I had a few moments of clarity – at the airport, where I was able to appreciate the tools at my fingertips that helped me look like a professional.

I was scheduled to return from a conference on the same morning that I was leading a quarterly project meeting with the global team.  While it would be a busy day, I should have had enough time after landing to get to the office and lead the presentation from one of the conference rooms.

As you may have guessed, that’s not how things worked out. My morning layover flight wasn’t delayed — it was cancelled. I knew I couldn’t reschedule the meeting — it had to happen that day. I knew I’d be fine, though, presenting from my mobile phone from the airport.

 

Moment of clarity number 1: Confidence in my meeting tool
It could have been a major setback. It would have been a major setback if it hadn’t been for the ease of using Cisco WebEx. I had zero anxiety about a situation that would surely be ulcer-inducing for most.

While I sat in the terminal, I noticed a man a couple of seats away who seemed to be having a work-related conversation. There he was, preparing to join a meeting from the airport. And he wasn’t using Cisco WebEx. Things went OK. His meeting got started a few minutes late because he couldn’t find the meeting codes, another participant had to download a plug-in, and he said he couldn’t share his video from his mobile phone, but overall it wasn’t too bad.

Moment of clarity number 2.  Makes me look professional
This guy was trying to position his new one-man design shop as an established, trusted company. It was almost time for my meeting to start, so I couldn’t stick around to find out how it went. As I went to find my own quiet space, I had a renewed pride that I get to work with Cisco WebEx. It’s a reliable product that comes with a reputation of professionalism, so I could depend on it.

Moment of clarity number 3. Simplicity – Started the meeting on time
I joined the meeting with a click of a button in my phone app — not just on time, but a few minutes early!  For my meetings with Cisco WebEx, I don’t have to worry about those issues. It just works.

One of our partners in London, Sheila, entered the meeting from her Skype for Business account, because Cisco WebEx meetings integrates seamlessly with the third-party solution.

Shameless plug: Cisco WebEx is built to provide excellent audio and high quality video, so — even though I was at the airport on my mobile phone — it felt like I was presenting in person. The team joining from the office was able to start my meeting in my personal room before I even joined because I gave them alternate host privilege. It was easy to see everyone’s expressions, so I could tell when I needed to provide additional detail or clarification.

While I didn’t enjoy the delay flying home, the experience allowed me to appreciate what I take for granted so often. Whether your team is spread across the globe or sitting in separate corners of the same city, an established video conferencing tool that provides reliable and secure service is important to look like a true professional. Cisco WebEx is simple. I connected to my meeting smoothly in a single click, so I could focus on what matters: Leading a successful meeting for my colleagues.

Learn more about Cisco WebEx video meeting capabilities.

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#CiscoChat: Lead Your Team into the Future of Collaboration

Business magic happens when teams have the freedom and space to bring their best work to life.  When you have great meetings, brilliant ideas are shared, plans are made, and work moves forward. That’s what we like to call #MeetBrilliant.

But to make all this happen, you need a strategy. During our @WebEx #CiscoChat on Twitter in July,  Cisco’s own Jens Meggers, talk about the future of business collaboration, shared tips on getting mobile meetings right, and discussed the importance of creating a great user experience for employees.

As Cisco’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for the Cloud Collaboration Technology Group (CCTG), Jens is responsible for managing Cisco’s cloud-focused portfolio of voice, video, and web conferencing that delivers a robust and scalable infrastructure to millions of customers.

Jens believes that great leaders understand that their job is enable their teams to be successful and produce great results, not the other way around. By adopting this new mode of thinking, leaders can bring their business into the future of collaboration. One where technology is seamless, automated and intelligent technology connects helps employees get their job done without getting in the way.

Check Jens’ unique perspective in his Two Minute Take video and catch the highlights from our #CiscoChat in the recap below! Have your own brilliant meeting tips? Share them in the comments or give us a shout at @WebEx on Twitter.

 

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Meeting Place. Workspace.

Project management is all about bringing people together to get things done. But when dealing with your collaboration technology seems like a separate job in itself, moving a project forward can feel impossible.

Thankfully, Cisco WebEx and Cisco Spark make the process of working together easier (and more fun). Project managers can make one space for teams to meet, collaborate and even whiteboard. That way, everyone can spend less time connecting to meetings and more time working toward the finish line together.

Ally Taylor is a project manager specializing in employee communication for IoT and apps at Cisco. In the fast-moving world of tech business, Ally has to stay on top of updates from multiple teams in real-time.  Go behind-the-scenes to see how this busy project manager rocks her work day.

 

Learn more about how Cisco WebEx and Cisco Spark work together.

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Work Smarter On-the-Go

Staying in the loop with work can sometimes be a challenge. And if you work on-the-go, it can be even harder to stay on top of email, attend every meeting, and get face time with your team. But if you have the right technology, being mobile doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

James Cho, our inside sales manager, gives his own Two Minute Take on how he stays productive when bouncing from meeting to meeting throughout the work week. He uses Cisco Spark and WebEx to connect with his team – with his pup Scooter in tow.

Learn how world travelers, commuters and remote workers can stay up-to-date with Cisco Spark from anywhere.

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How to Unplug on Your Summer Vacation

It’s a yearly tradition in our family. We pack up our camping gear and make one last frantic run through the local grocery store before we head into High Sierra Music Festival. Bring your sleeping bag and join our family to disconnect from your 9-5 responsibilities. Oh, and don’t worry about bringing your phone; you won’t need it out here.

I treasure this annual chance to disconnect, but I also understand the hesitation to do so. The business world is more connected than ever before. I know the feeling of not wanting to miss a thing, especially with how face-paced today’s work world can be – “What if I miss a cool marketing opportunity with my team?” It’s like work FOMO.

But the technology that tempts us to constantly connect also gives us the freedom to take a break:

  • Collaboration tools mean that I can trust my team to jump on any time-sensitive opportunities without missing a beat.
  • With the right tools, everything will be waiting for you when you return. Your teams can record meetings with WebEx so you can jump in without missing a beat.
  • With Cisco Spark, everything you need to catch up is in one place. Find where you left off and scroll down – it’s that easy to get up to speed.

It might seem like even if you can step away from work, your mind will always be at the office. Check out these tips to overcome the temptation to take the worries of work with you.

Before you go:

  • Communicate with your team. Let them know when you’ll be heading out and getting back.
  • Recap and fill your teams in on the status of your projects.
  • Leave contact information to connect people who may need to find the right resource.
  • Make a note about your trip in the Cisco Spark space associated with those campaigns. It’ll be easy to pick up where you left off.
  • Set your ‘out of office’ in email and in Cisco Spark. Be sure to include when you’ll return and a contact to answer any immediate questions.

When you get back:

  • Block off an hour of time to get caught up. Reserve time on your own calendar to read emails, scroll through Cisco Spark, and watch any recorded WebEx meetings.
  • Connect with your teams for any high priority messages.
  • Let your Cisco Spark spaces know you’re back and catching up. Use this time to ease back into work.
  • Keep your vacation photos handy! Take breaks during the day to remember the great times with your family.

Being able to relax, recharge and get a new perspective is going to help you a lot more than chiming in on small things during your time off. Be brave and don’t check email; maybe even turn off your phone!

Enjoy the show, enjoy the music. You literally earned it.

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Faster Collaboration for Global Teams

When an opportunity presents itself, great teams know that collaboration is essential to bringing the best work to life. But when your team is located across the globe, staying on the same page can feel like an uphill battle.

Nate Franklin, a product marketing manager, works with an integrated global team on cutting-edge, fast-paced projects. In his Two Minute Take, Nate talks about how the right technology tools keep work-streams moving quickly, and his team’s unique culture alive.

Learn how to bring teams closer together with real-time connections through Cisco Spark and WebEx, so you can work seamlessly with people across the world.

 

Learn more about how Cisco WebEx and Cisco Spark work together.

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Small Changes, Big Productivity

If your team needs a big boost in productivity, you don’t have to overhaul all your tools to get results. Finding small changes in the way you collaborate and communicate can make a big impact.

In her Two Minute Take, technical adviser Mackenzie Guy shares simple advice on combining your collaboration apps to keep everything in one place. Instead of spending time learning new skills or replacing entire systems, your team can focus on work and let the app do the heavy-lifting.

A few simple tweaks can go a long way when it comes to productivity. Cisco Spark lets you keep what works, and unify your collaboration experience.

 

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The future of digital teamwork: 5 ways to get ahead

Work teams that once huddled together in conference rooms are now meeting in virtual settings from multiple locations around the world. Employees are also sharing information through various messaging platforms and social media tools. The right unified communications (UC) systems can create real business value for organizations.

The latest team collaboration tools should offer searchability, a well-designed user experience, easy integration with business applications, and easy access to the most relevant information.1

Organizations can gain the type of on-the-go connectivity they need through the use of secure cloud-based business collaboration solutions. Cisco Spark is a cloud-enabled UC service that provides the accessibility and security that teams need to collaborate via a single platform.

Here, we explore five ways Cisco Spark helps businesses maximize the benefits of digital teamwork:

1. Remain in control with end-to-end encryption and security.

Think about all of the data, files and sensitive communications that companies exchange throughout the workday. There’s no question that digital technologies have helped unlock information barriers. But who holds keys to a company’s cloud security? Typical business messaging platforms compromise security by directly accessing an organization’s content. So what’s at stake?

Consider this: 40% of organizations have online team meetings that involve financial data.

In addition, one-third of organizations have meetings where employees share private customer or patient information, and approximately one in five organizations have web meetings that involve trade secrets.3

When it comes to security, companies can’t take shortcuts. Cisco Spark offers several key security features, including:

  • HTTPS to encrypt data in transit between devices and servers, which protects the identities of the senders and receivers of the encrypted content.
  • Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol for all media, such as voice, video, and desktop share.
  • Data that stays encrypted when it’s in transit to cloud servers, when it’s in use, and while it’s in storage.
  • Encryption of all content using dynamic keys from the key management service (KMS).

2. Seek a solution that grows with you.

Why invest in technology if it’s not easily adaptable to your growth or expansion plans?

For example, 66% of executives “have felt that limitations of their software programs have negatively affected their company’s growth.”4

Unfortunately, delivering digital collaboration capabilities using premises-based infrastructure can be very challenging because they lack the flexibility your company needs as it grows. Cisco Spark moves all of this complexity to the cloud, so businesses can quickly connect via phone, video, or messaging wherever they’re located. Cisco Spark also includes customizable plans that allow companies to easily upgrade from plans that offer video calling to plans that also offer video conferencing.

Plans offer the ability to: 

  • Meet with up to 25 people.
  • Instantly initiate meetings with a single click.
  • Join a scheduled meeting from any device.
  • Schedule meetings in Outlook by using @spark or @webex tags.

Video conferencing plans offer the ability to:

  • Meet with up to 200 people.
  • Join on any device, Cisco phones registered to Cisco Spark, Microsoft Skype for Business endpoints, third-party standardsbased video endpoints, and more.
  • Access to a personal room for each user with his or her own meeting URL.
  • Schedule meetings within the platform (no integrated, hybrid system needed).
  • Add @webex to an Outlook invitation to automatically populate the body of the invitation with information to join a WebExpowered meeting or add both @spark and @webex to the location field. A flexible, customizable collaboration solution frees IT resources to work on projects that are more innovative and growth focused.

3. Move quickly between communications tools and devices.

Today’s on-demand economy keeps employees on their toes. They’re constantly moving from one device or communication tool to another.

In fact, 49% of small and midsize businesses say they need to be available at all times to meet the demands of today’s digital economy.5

Having access to multiple communications tools helps team members get better work-life balance, stay on top of project deadlines, and respond quickly to customer needs. How do companies increase accessibility to these collaboration tools?

Cisco Spark acts as a bridge between mobile and the office, freeing the workforce to:

  • Receive calls that are identified as business related. This helps maximize that users are prepared for business calls if they’re answering a phone outside the workplace.
  • Switch quickly from one device to another during a meeting— advantageous for users who need to leave a meeting early, but want to remain connected. With Cisco Spark, users can turn a phone call into a virtual meeting with one tap, or move a video call from a conferencing room to their mobile phone and then to a new meeting room.

4. Consolidate project files and communications in one space.

Anybody who has worked on a project knows how hard-to-find files and miscommunication between team members can impact project goals. Sometimes individual team members choose their own filesharing and collaboration tools without checking in with IT or even each other.

For example, 90% of organizations collaborate using Dropbox, Google, Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social networking sites.6

This can create confusion and inefficiencies if key team members miss relevant conversations, messages or document updates. Features to consider in a collaboration suite include the ability to:

Download the messaging app on a phone or tablet to remain connected while away from the office, including access to video calls and shared screens.

  • Create an unlimited number of team work spaces as needed.
  • Name work spaces based on specific projects, teams, or even a specific sales territory.
  • Get creative with whiteboarding or annotate existing documents. These features are particularly valuable for business units or groups within an organization that are working on specific projects. They also ease the pain of new-hire onboarding and training because organizations can keep all of their hiring documents in one easy-to-access place.

Keep existing systems with third-party integrations and support.

If you’ve already invested in a number of tools and communication systems, you may want to know how you can bring everything together and get more value out of your investments.

Your question makes sense: Modern business projects or work tasks that required two or three systems in the past now can take place over five to 10 applications or more today.7

Cisco Spark integrations bring together the tools organizations need—including those they may use outside of Cisco Spark. Other key features to consider include:

  • Self-enabled integrations, bots, and APIs that can be customized to existing processes and work streams.
  • The ability to integrate with Dropbox, Google Drive, Sameroom, and other apps.
  • A system that’s “open” and works with many developers for access to integrations and bots. (Bots can send automated notifications, respond to questions, and even be an in-app assistant.)

To learn more about how Cisco Spark brings together the digital tools organizations need in a secure, mobile environment, visit www.webex.com. If you’re interested in a free trial, visit: https://www.webex.com/pricing/free-trial-DG1.html.

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Does Your Team #MeetBrilliant?

Leaders understand their teams better than anyone and that business magic happens when they have the freedom and space to bring their best work to life. When you have great meetings,  brilliant ideas are shared, plans are made, and work moves forward. That’s what we like to call #MeetBrilliant.

Now, we’re pairing WebEx Meeting Center with another powerful tool, empowering your teams to create, share and do more whenever and wherever inspiration may strike.

With the addition of Cisco Spark to WebEx Meeting Center, teams now have access to secure, reliable workspaces in the cloud. With the power to meet in personal workrooms with unique URLs, teams can now join work sessions, message one another, upload files and even engage with interactive “whiteboarding” to visualize new concepts. All while still using the crystal-clear video and audio of WebEx Meeting Center.

Imagine all of the possibilities when work moves at the speed of your team. When ideas can be shared in real-time and feedback can be instantaneous. When you can simply answer a phone to join a meeting without the hassles passwords and access codes. When your teams can count on Cisco security, reliability and service.

It’s time to move beyond imagining and embrace the realities. Take advantage of our 30-day free trial of Cisco Meeting Center with Cisco Spark and give your teams the tools and space they need for brilliant meetings.

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