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Man in justice industry typing on a computer with Webex Legislate
What’s new in Webex: November 2020

Welcome to what’s new in Webex! This article highlights new Webex features and capabilities that we have recently introduced, as well as a preview of new features coming in November and later this fall.

MEETINGS

WEBEX TEAM COLLABORATION

CALLING

DEVICES

INTEGRATIONS AND INDUSTRY SOLUTIONS

CONTROL HUB, SECURITY AND EDGE SERVICES

MEETINGS

Remove Background Noise from Meetings and Events – Windows and Mac

Having drywall put up in another room or a dog barking to go outside? Filter out those noisy background disruptions before (or during) a call so that others only hear your voice. Just turn on the Remove background noise setting and you’re all set. Find this feature at Settings > Remove background noise.

Work your way: Introducing the Dark Theme

Reduce eye strain by choosing a theme that works best with your lighting conditions. Webex is expanding dark and light theme choices available for the team collaboration to meetings.  Now you can now choose whether you want to view the meeting window in the standard Light Theme or the new Dark Theme. You can select your preferred option from the View menu.

Darktheme

Automatic in-meeting mute warning

Whoops, don’t share your great idea while on mute.  We’ve been making a lot of enhancements to mute and unmute functionality in Webex to remove some of the common friction points in meetings. Soon, automatic notifications in Webex Meetings and Webex Events will let you know if you’re trying to speak while on mute. If you start to talk while your microphone is muted, Webex will automatically show you a notification so that you can unmute yourself to speak.

Automatic in-meeting mute warning

WEBEX TEAM COLLABORATION

We’re adding more intelligence to enhance team collaboration. Use BOTs to automate your workflows and provide proactive notifications.

Microsoft Outlook Bot

We’re making it easy to transition from traditional email to team collaboration.  Don’t miss an important email while you are working in Webex.  Now you can get alerts within your team spaces of email from your client, boss or related to key projects.  Use notification rules for important subjects and people.  No need to create separate rules within Outlook – use an adaptive card within Webex space.

Microssoft Outlook Bot

Confluence Cloud Bot—Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android

Get notified of important updates to Pages and Blogs in Confluence within your team workspace.   We’re making it easy to keep on top of changes to documented processes, release plans, or product requirement pages from Confluence.   Now you can quickly get updates for pages recently updated, watched, and even saved for later.

Leave a comment to a change on a page directly from any Webex space

Leave a comment to a change on a page directly from any Webex space

Birthday Bot—Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android

Celebrate your teammates and get in a party mood.  We’ve created a super easy way to keep track of and celebrate birthdays within your team with a new Birthday Bot! Once available, you’ll find it on the Webex App Hub.

CALLING

Webex Calling

Remove Background Noise

Continue communicating without noisy background disruptions. Filter out those noisy background disruptions during calls using the Webex app so that others only hear your voice.

You will soon be able to select a setting option to remove background noise.  Just as in the Webex Meeting experience, when the Remove Background Noise setting is selected, the unified Webex app will remove leaf blowers, vacuum, and other background noise, while enhancing your voice. This feature will be available in November.

Call queue availability

Business agents who are members of a Call Queue can set their availability to receive calls in order to make call routing more effective.  This feature makes working from home easier for the end user when you do not have a hard phone. Users can set their availability from the Webex desktop or mobile client call settings page.

Call Preferences

Update your contacts list from call history

We’re making it easy to add or edit your contacts, not only from Chat, but also from your call history.  Now you can right-click an entry in your Call History and have several convenient options at your fingertips. You can call the person back, add the person to your Contacts list, send a message, send an email, or even start a meeting.

DEVICES

Webex is continues to add features to enable common app and device experiences to support more hybrid work scenarios.

Remove Background Noise

Continue communicating without noisy background disruptions. Later this month, Webex RoomOS devices (Desk Pro, Board and Room Series) will support advanced AI to remove background noise and enhance human voice.

Mute Controls

New expanded roster view & mute experiences create more consistent experiences across app and device meeting experiences. Hosts and co-hosts now have more control over the audio in Webex Meetings directly from their Webex device.  New features include: Mute and unmute everyone, enable “Mute on entry” (all users are automatically muted when they join), and control if meeting participants can unmute, or if only hosts can control who is unmuted.

 

INTEGRATIONS AND INDUSTRY SOLUTIONS

Expanded Webex Expert on Demand features

Webex Expert on Demand lets frontline workers collaborate hands free with subject matter expert anywhere to be more effective. Webex Expert on Demand integration with RealWear HMT-1 continues to expand features. With the Expert on Demand 1.7 release in November, frontline workers will have: expanded group call features to show active calls or initiate group call, search and select space to place or join calls, advanced camera controls to adjust contrast and exposure as well as take HD resolution photos, enhanced shared content controls to zoom in on content, simplified login options via a companion app with QR code and expanded language support with the addition of Korean, Thai, German, French, Polish and Russian.

Webex Expert on Demand

Public Sector Options:  Webex Legislate

Webex Legislate is a purpose-built, complete collaboration solution that enables legislatures to vote and conduct hearings virtually, just as they would in personWebex Legislate is built and secured on the global Webex platform to enable high availability and reliability for institutions around the globe, and is customizable to meet the needs of federal, state and local organizations.

CONTROL HUB, SECURITY AND EDGE SERVICES

If you are an admin, Webex Control Hub places management, monitoring, troubleshooting, analytics, edge and hybrid services across all your collaboration resources in one pane of glass.

Support for Azure Conditional Access to Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint Online – Windows, Mac

If your organization uses Azure Conditional Access, you can now extend access to users to sign into Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint Online content management from within Webex Teams across Windows and Mac devices.  Uses Proof of Possession API to verify device in windows to seamlessly authenticate and use ECM-MS functionality.

Support for Azure

Expanded VDI Support

Webex is offering best in class VDI support for collaboration. Webex supports full featured collaboration and advanced features across meetings, calling, team collaboration and content sharing.  Media is optimized to support 720p video and eliminate content hair-pining.  Additionally, expanded experiences such as virtual background, video breakout rooms and Webex Meeting Assistant are supported in VDI clients so users get richer collaboration experiences even in virtual desktop environments.  Meetings app platform support will be expanded in November to include Citrix and Windows/Ubuntu/eLux Thin Client OS, VMware and Windows Thin Client OS.

Expanded VDI Support

Space Classification

Admins can now define Webex space labels based on data governance policies and enforce all users to classify the Webex team collaboration spaces they create by Public, Confidential, Highly Confidential, or Secret.  This prompts user awareness and compliance with data classification policies where sensitive and confidential content may be shared.  External access can also be restricted to spaces in adherence to your organizations Enterprise Data Classification policies via DLP controls.

Image13 Viewing a Classified Space in a Classified Team.png

Webex Edge Connect – PacketFabric option

Expanded private connectivity options to Webex for hybrid deployments now include PacketFabric. Webex Edge Connect service supports a dedicated private connection to the Cisco Webex Cloud; this option offers added reliability and security for those organizations who prefer not to use OTT connectivity at the edge. With hundreds of global locations, the PacketFabric option for Webex Edge Connect allows organizations to interconnect to Cisco Webex via their owned physical network port and managed virtual connections using a flexible subscription model to adjust bandwidth as needed.

New API options

Webex Control Hub now provides easier access to data via APIs for integrations, and automatic data access for quality data, aggregated trending data and detailed reports. Admins can now pull the data in Control Hub via APIs to integrate with other dashboards or use for further analysis.

For more information on all of these features and upcoming update to Webex, please visit the What’s New Articles for Webex Services.

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Explore the new Webex Legislate experience

Webex for Government 

Webex Legislate [Website]

Webex Innovation Keeps Governments Running Effectively and Securely From Anywhere

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Future of Government: Hybrid Workspace for Legislature [Live Class]

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Woman freelancer working remotely in a cafe
Security and compliance realities for remote financial services workers

Remote work challenges for financial service companies

This year, the pandemic required many workforces to stay and work at home. While the transition may have been hectic initially, many businesses and employees have since grown comfortable with remote working options.

However, many companies have industry-specific considerations that may make work-from-home arrangements difficult to pull off. The financial services sector is one such category of businesses with particular data security and regulatory concerns that can complicate remote working.

Yet not many good options exist to telework currently. Even physical trading floors have been shut down recently, as trading shifts increasingly online. Financial services companies must address the realities of remote work and prepare to ensure business continuity and compliance.

What remote work challenges do financial services face?

Businesses in financial services — like brokers, mutual funds, asset managers, retirement investment advisors, exchanges, and trading firms, among many others — have a number of regulatory and compliance obligations. As such, their telework arrangements have to be airtight.

Broadly, the challenges they face include considerations related to:

  • Cybersecurity: This is a chief concern for any business, but especially for financial services firms. The decentralization of technology presents particular risks. Employees without company-provided hardware must use personal devices to manage client accounts or access confidential information. This carries obvious risks, as personal devices and networks might not feature the same controls as on-premise solutions that were depended on before to securely store and access data.
  • Compliance: Financial activity is governed by a number of regulatory and oversight agencies. Many financial firms have entire departments dedicated to compliance, but COVID-19 likely threw many into disarray with the abrupt shift to telework. Even something as seemingly innocuous as taking a client call next to a spouse who’s also working from home can be problematic, as the conversation likely contains confidential information. Other compliance concerns relate to potential ethical lapses at home when oversight is more lax.
  • Real-time data: One other difficulty financial services firms may encounter is connectivity. Employees depend on real-time data, which they may have taken for granted in an office setting with an industrial connection. Working from home on the Wi-Fi could be troublesome if lag becomes persistent. For example, buying and selling stocks on price data that is outdated by even milliseconds can have a tangible, negative impact on strategy and trade execution.

What can businesses do to ensure compliance and continuity?

Despite the scale of these challenges, financial services don’t have many current alternatives to telework. Even as states reopen, the future of working will undoubtedly be influenced by remote arrangements.

In either case, there are some best practices business in the financial industry can take to safeguard their operations, employees and clients:

  1. Beef up security

This is the very first thing financial businesses should address. This responsibility encompasses not only assessing their security readiness for telework, but actively looking at ways to improve infrastructure and controls. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued comprehensive guidance for financial firms dealing with the COVID-19, including security tips like:

  • Ensuring virtual private networks (VPNs) and other remote access systems have proper security patches and updates.
  • Double-checking that system entitlements are current
  • Using multi-factor authentication for employees who access systems remotely.
  1. Implement necessary supervisory protocols

Even as more businesses adopted remote working policies, financial services firms weren’t as quick. This trend may be largely attributable to compliance obligations, including supervision of employees and associated persons. Doing so is much easier in a centralized office than it is with employees spread across disparate locations.

However, these compliance obligations have not been relaxed in light of the pandemic. Companies that may become lax in this area can face real risks and repercussions down the line.

FINRA also addressed this topic in its COVD-19 pandemic, saying it expects member firms “to establish and maintain a supervisory system that is reasonably designed to supervise the activities of each associated person while working from an alternative or remote location during the pandemic.”

The onus is on financial firms to ensure they implement the necessary supervisory protocols so that FINRA expectations are met.

  1. Train employees

It’s imperative that businesses in financial services provide adequate support and training to employees. Many may be unfamiliar with remote working, especially as it concerns compliance or security. Having a codified set of policies is not enough, your leaders need to investigate ways to engage employees on these points so they can carry out their jobs compliantly and effectively.

Using video conferencing software to host team meetings is one way to teach employees and ensure high retention of information. FINRA also recommended that firms undertake regular education and other exercises that “promote heightened vigilance.”

Young Asia businessman using laptop talk to colleagues about plan in video call while smart working from home at living room. Self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine for corona virus prevention.

  1. Use secure communication software

Financial services firms have an obligation to monitor and preserve communications. When these conversations occur outside traditional channels, they must have a secure solution to meet their needs. The problem is many popular consumer-grade options don’t feature the controls these businesses require.

Businesses need to be sure they have communication and video conferencing tools that not only feature robust functionality, but also security such encryption and other measures.

Looking for a video conferencing solution that offers high performance and security? Consider using Cisco Webex for your financial services firm to preserve business continuity and maintain compliance.

Contact us today for more information, or start with a free offer.

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Video conferencing and technology enables cultural change within Citizens Bank

The confidence of security in team collaboration 

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Making a Good Impression on Video [Live Class]

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Adjusting to a new normal: The shift to remote work

Cisco Webex Research Blog Series

The Design Group at Cisco is a global team of Red Dot Award winning creatives who explore peoples’ needs through research and empathy to make the world a better place to work. This series explores their research and some best practices to make everyday interactions more effective. 

Read all the blogs in the series

Results of research on the transition to remote work and the effect on the future of work

In the past six months, there has been an unprecedented shift to remote working.. With little warning or preparation, workers around the world have had to learn how to navigate and adjust to a new normal- working from home.

The UX Research team at Cisco Webex wanted to learn more about this transition and how it will affect the future of work. In July 2020, we conducted a large-scale survey with 860 knowledge workers around the world who had earlier this year shifted from primarily working in the office to primarily working from home. Here are some of our key findings:

Only 5% of respondents want to return to the office full-time

In the future, the vast majority of respondents (78%) would like to work remotely anywhere from every day to a few days a week. This suggests a hybrid working model may be here to stay.

5% of respondents want to return to the office full-term

No commute, greater flexibility, reduced costs, and better work/life balance topped the list of advantages of remote working

The top advantages seen here suggest that a major advantage of working from home may be improved time management, whether it’s tied to a lack of commute or simply greater flexibility in people’s workday.

Distractions, connectivity issues, and missing colleagues were the most common challenges of remote working

No challenge was selected by more than 30% of respondents, suggesting that different people face different problems working from home, most likely influenced by factors such as working environment, job role, household, and seniority.

Since COVID-19, the usage of meeting tools increased by 123%, and the usage of messaging tools increased by 58%

The percentage of people who use messaging or meeting tools two or more times a week dramatically increased, signaling a large change in how workers communicate and collaborate with each other.

graph of messaging tools and meeting tools

Conclusion

At Cisco Webex, we’re working hard to address the challenges that users face in the new workplace. As a follow up research project, we’re also studying how office environments and behaviors are changing as people around the world begin to return to in-person working. We’ll also dig deeper into what unique challenges and advantages accompany a hybrid working model. Stay tuned!

We would love to hear from you. If you are a worker who has recently gone remote and would like to share about your experience, please email us at mailto:webexresearch@cisco.com

Connect with all of our blogs in the series here

About the Authors

Nishchala Singhal, UX Researcher
Nishchala is a UX Researcher at Cisco Webex. With degrees in Human Computer Interaction and Cognitive Science, she is passionate about using research to bring the user’s voice to the product design process. Her goal is to help create intuitive products that improve people’s everyday lives.

Kathryn Parkes, Senior UX Researcher
Kathryn is an experienced user researcher based in Dublin, Ireland reporting into San Jose. As a member of the UX Research team, she leads research projects across the Webex Suite working with various Cisco Collab teams in Ireland, US and across Europe. The team use a broad variety of research methods, including user interviews, usability testing and benchmarking studies, to get a deep understanding of Webex user needs.

Mani Pande, UX Research Manager
Mani leads the user research team in San Jose. Her team is responsible for understanding the needs of Webex users to inform product strategy and direction, and ensure that the software we ship is not only simple and easy to use, but also delightful. You can find her and her team members huddling with Webex users understanding how they use our software and mapping opportunities of improvement. In another life, Mani worked as a reporter for the Times of India, India’s largest selling newspaper, covering media and crime. Outside of work, Mani loves to travel, cycle, run and cook. She posts photos of food that she cooks and places she visits on Instagram.

Learn More

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Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Why remote work can be more productive work

Still Need Help?

Join a Webex online meeting

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

Take a live session on What’s New in Webex Meeting 40.12

Explore daily product demonstrations

Sign up for Webex

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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Woman pressing happy smiley face emoticon on virtual touch screen. Customer service rating concept.
Are you happy?

Chelsea Miller & Maryam Tabatabaeian –  A data-driven framework for analyzing user satisfaction with Cisco Webex Assistant

Voice assistants are the user interfaces of our future. Voice user interfaces (VUIs) allow us to communicate in one of the most natural ways possible—talking, just as we would with any of our friends or colleagues. While VUIs once felt like a novelty and weren’t very robust (we can all remember the days when the response to just about any command was “Do you want me to search the web?”), today they’ve integrated into our routines, helping us check the weather, play music, and get directions. They’re even in our workplaces.

As the popularity of voice assistants grows, so do users’ expectations for seamless, human-like interactions. How do we evaluate if the assistants we build are satisfying our users? What does it mean for a user to be “happy,” and how do you even measure happiness?

On the MindMeld team, we’ve been investigating how to evaluate users’ experiences when talking with Webex Assistant, the first conversational assistant for the enterprise space. We answer the question “are users happy?” by developing a quantitative framework to address a historically qualitative user experience problem. We hope this investigation sparks interest in how we can think about measuring user experience online and in real-time.

Why is evaluating user satisfaction so difficult?

Evaluating user experience with artificial intelligence (AI) products is a difficult problem for a few reasons: AI systems are probabilistic in nature, natural language is variable, and user satisfaction is subjective. We expect the system’s output to be variable since AI is non-deterministic; deciding if the result of the system is expected variation or an error is one layer of difficulty. Not only can the output of the system vary, but the input from the user varies, too. People speak in different ways, using different words and sentence structures, so the system must be robust to understanding lots of natural language variation. Finally, how users are feeling is hard to understand, especially when you can’t ask them, and even harder to quantify. What satisfies a user can differ from individual to individual, and one user’s feelings can change based on the context and their expectations.

Previous research focused on understanding users’ experiences falls into two main categories: accuracy-based approaches and user studies & surveys. In accuracy-based approaches, accuracy is used as a proxy for satisfaction. If the system has high accuracy, the user is likely satisfied. However, these approaches often rely on single utterances and can miss the overall experience of a conversation. For example, if a user says “next page,” and the system identifies the query correctly and moves to the next page, this would be a success! But if the user says “next page” several times, this might indicate that they haven’t been able to find what they were looking for. That potential user frustration wouldn’t be captured when just looking at the single utterance accuracies. User surveys & studies provide a great window into user behavior, but conducting longitudinal user studies is costly in terms of resourcing participants and time spent on qualitative & quantitative data analysis. This approach is much harder, if not impossible, to use at scale. User studies don’t use real-time user data and take place in artificial lab settings, which might differ from real users’ experiences.

Our framework

We try to take the best of each of these approaches, while addressing some of their shortcomings. We want to create a system that captures real users’ judgements, focuses on the larger user experience at the level of the conversation, and uses real-time data, so our approach can be scalable and automatic.

At a high-level, our framework:

1. Captures interactions at the level of the conversation
2. Automatically classifies conversations based on their conversational goal and conversational end state
3. Automatically assigns conversations a satisfaction label

Capturing conversations

The first challenge we tackle is how to capture users’ interactions with Webex Assistant. This is especially important for conversational AI, where analysis can happen at many different levels of an interaction. We choose to focus on conversations. We define a conversation as an interaction initiated by a user or the assistant, which can have single or multiple turns, and contains one conversational goal.

To capture each conversation, we introduce a common ID to thread that conversation from beginning to end. We log an event, called the “trigger,” each time a conversation is initiated. The trigger event includes the conversation’s unique ID and the goal of that conversation. For us, conversational goals most closely map to use cases, like calling a person or joining a meeting. Any queries the user says that move them towards the completion of the goal of the use case count as part of that conversation.

The image below shows an example of what we consider a conversation. Here, we’ll take a look at the “call person” use case. The conversational goal of the “call person” use case is to, ideally, successfully call a person.

We capture all the turns taken between the user & the assistant. When the conversation ends, we log the final state with the same ID as the trigger event. Our common ID allows us to follow the course of the conversation as it unfolded in real-time. In our example, we would log all these queries as part of one conversation with the conversational goal of “Call Person.”

Conversational end states

Retrospective analysis of historical data uncovered patterns in how user’s conversations with Webex Assistant end. After manual analysis, we decided on four categories to capture conversational end states. Here are the possible categories we use to automatically classify conversations by their end states:

Fulfilled      the assistant successfully fulfills the user’s goal
Error           the assistant fails to fulfill the user’s goal
Exited          the user abandons the conversation or cancels
Modified    the user decides to change part of the request or restart the conversation

Here are examples from the “call person” use case:

Satisfaction labels

Now that the conversation has been captured from beginning to end and it contains a label for the conversational end state, the next step is to automatically assign a satisfaction label. The goal of the satisfaction label is to capture how users might feel after having a conversation. We wanted these labels to be user-friendly: high-level enough to understand at a glance, but granular enough to capture meaningful distinctions between users’ experiences. We use the following satisfaction labels:

Happy       the user’s goal was successfully fulfilled
Sad             the user’s goal was not met
Friction    the expectations of the user are not met

Again, here are some examples from the “call person” use case:

Results of our framework

To recap our framework, we’ve threaded utterances to create conversations, automatically classified those conversations by their end state, and then automatically assigned a satisfaction label to understand users’ experiences.
Now, we’ll take a look at the results of this framework and what it helps us do. We’ll consider data from a full week of user interactions with Webex Assistant for our three most popular use cases: “call person,” “join a meeting,” and “join a Personal Room” (data not representative of real Webex Assistant performance).

 

At a glance, we can see how users feel when using Webex Assistant features—which are driving user happiness, and which might be causing the most difficulty. If “call person” shows a spike in “friction,” for example, we could investigate just those conversations. We might find that all the “friction” conversations happened on devices in Thailand, where users natively speak Thai, not English. We might hypothesize that the assistant had difficulty understanding Thai names.

Knowing how well each feature is performing in real-time allows our product team to track the real-time satisfaction of each feature and quickly identify & investigate issues. Depicted in a live dashboard, these valuable insights help us ask the right questions and directly impact the product roadmap.

Verifying our framework

We felt confident that these labels captured user satisfaction since we based them on user data, but we didn’t stop there. To be sure that the predictions we make about users’ experiences actually capture how users feel, we asked human annotators to label the data using the same satisfaction labels that our system uses: “happy,” “sad,” and “friction.” Annotators were instructed to put themselves in the shoes of the user and ask themselves, “how would I feel after this interaction?”

 

There was significant agreement between the human-labeled and system-labeled data (75% agreement, κ = 0.66). This comparison gives us confidence that our algorithm captures a realistic picture of user satisfaction. We feel confident that our framework successfully predicts user satisfaction that’s consistent with what real humans are feeling.

Takeaways

With this approach, we’re able to quickly get a snapshot of what users experience when using different Webex Assistant features. We’ve taken something as subjective as users’ happiness and broken it down into quantitative labels that can be automatically applied based on the conversation, end state, and conversational goal. We offer this as an attempt to think about how we can quantify user experience and shift the mindset of understanding users’ happiness to include quantitative methods.

About the authors

Chelsea Miller is a Data Analyst on the Webex Intelligence team at Cisco Systems. She holds a Master’s in Linguistics from UCSC, where she conducted research investigating how humans process language in real-time. Post-grad, her interest in how we understand each other, specifically how machines do (or don’t!), led her to work on conversational assistants. As a Data Analyst, she tackles problems like conversational analysis, how to securely & representatively collect quality language data, and voice interface usability. 

Maryam Tabatabaeian is a Data Scientist working with the Webex Intelligence team at Cisco Systems. Before joining Cisco, she finished her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science, doing research on how humans make decisions. Her passion for studying human behavior, along with knowledge in data science, made research on voice assistants a fascinating area to her. She now designs metrics and data models for evaluating user interactions with voice assistants. 

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account. 

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Cisco Webex and Microsoft Azure Active Directory – better together

As more employees access applications via their home networks, the corporate network perimeter is disappearing, making identity the control plane for effective and secure access across all users and applications. Thanks to integrations between Cisco and Microsoft, our joint customers can achieve seamless and secure access to Cisco Webex with Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is Microsoft’s enterprise identity and access management service that helps organizations manage and secure access to critical applications, data and resources. Thousands of organizations use Azure AD to enable secure and seamless access to the applications their workforce needs, including Cisco Webex.

active users and numbers

With Azure AD our joint customers can take advantage of capabilities such as:

  • Single sign-on to simplify access to all their apps from anywhere
  • Risk-based adaptive access policies that safeguard access to applications.
  • Identity governance to ensure only authorized users have access to the right apps.
  • Unified identity management that centralizes management of identities and applications across the cloud or on-premises.

Secure collaboration with Cisco Webex and Azure AD

Using standard protocols like SAML 2.0, OAuth 2, and SCIM, we’ve built integrations with Microsoft so that identity-related information and data can flow between Azure AD and Cisco Webex Identity Services. This can help ensure secure access to Cisco collaboration tools like Webex Meetings, Webex Teams, Jabber, and more.

Logos of Azure AD and Cisco Webex, with Webex Meetings, Webex Teams, Webex Calling, Jabber, Webex Devices and Contact Center

With the Cisco Webex and Azure AD integration our customers can enable scenarios such as single sign-on and automated user provisioning.

Single sign-on

3 gold people heads with a lock in front

Cisco Webex Identity Services can deliver single sign-on to all Cisco Webex collaboration tools using Microsoft Azure AD as the identity provider. End users can seamlessly sign-in to Cisco Webex collaboration tools alongside Office 365 with the same credentials.  And admins can secure access to Cisco Webex collaboration tools by setting adaptive risk-based policies. For example, admins can set conditional access policies based on the user, location, device, and application to determine whether access to Cisco Webex should be allowed, limited, or blocked.

Automated user provisioning

three gold people heads

Using the SCIM standard – System for Cross-domain Identity Management – our joint customers can use our provisioning integration to automate the lifecycle of user and group accounts for Cisco Webex. With our provisioning integration, you can quickly deploy Cisco Webex throughout your organization and keep user data up to date. With automated user provisioning, you can eliminate manual processes when it comes to creating, updating, or disabling employee user accounts within Cisco Webex based on changes in Azure AD.

Office 365 integrations

3 gold people heads and check mark

Many organizations rely on Microsoft 365 as their main productivity tool to get their work done. With our Microsoft 365 integrations, you can connect your calendar and files with Cisco Webex collaboration tools. The Enterprise Content Management integration with OneDrive and SharePoint allows you to view, edit and share files directly in Cisco Webex. You can also connect your Outlook calendar to quickly schedule, start, and join Cisco Webex meetings.

What’s next?

Handsome man and attractive woman are working in data centre with laptop. IT engineer specialists in network server room. Running diagnostics and maintenance. Technicians examining server.

In the coming months, we’ll also be releasing Microsoft Intune support and single sign-on with Azure AD for our mobile apps across iOS and Android.  Soon customers will be able to apply device based conditional access policies such as limiting or blocking access to Cisco Webex on an uncompliant device.

We’re excited about bringing these integrations to customers to help increase security while keeping users productive.

To learn more about setting up Cisco Webex with Azure AD, review our single sign-on and provisioning tutorials, and check out our sociallive.

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Still Need Help?

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We listened and we delivered! The new Webex App Header is here
Your launchpad to collaborate! The new Webex App Header is here

Shift in demand for real-time collaboration

This year has brought about a dramatic shift in the way we get our work done and collaborate as a team. The rapid change to remote working has made the demand for real-time collaboration greater than ever before; with team collaboration solutions becoming the new digital work hub. Not only essential for business continuity, but also for maintaining workplace connections – catching up with a colleague, having a virtual all hands and so much more.

With our Webex user base growing faster than ever before, Cisco realizes the importance of our solution in continuing workplace normality; and how essential it is to continue to listen to the voice of our customers. Your feedback is a key influencer in our development and planning to create a solution that helps you work faster and smarter.

After months of careful design, building, and feedback analysis, we can finally unveil the sleek new App Header coming to Webex Teams on September 29th, 2020.

New App Header

new App Header for Webex Teams streamlines your everyday experience

The new App Header for Webex Teams streamlines your everyday experience by pulling together all your commonly used actions into one convenient and always accessible place. This new header is persistent across all tabs.

Let’s explore the new App Header step by step.

Settings & Preferences

Your avatar menu has a new home in the App Header. Click your avatar icon to instantly access the settings & preferences menu.

Quick access to Custom Status

The newly located custom status bar makes it easier than ever to keep your status up to date and relevant to your current workflows. If you have a Custom Status set, it will always be visible in the App Header, and updating or clearing it is now just one click away.

Quick access to Customer Status

People renamed to Direct Messages

With this update, you will notice a new term appearing in your app. If you have space tabs enabled, you will now see a tab called ‘Direct’, which replaces ‘People’. The preference option in your space list filters drop-down will now read ‘Separate DMs and Spaces’, instead of ‘Separate People and Spaces’. The plus button, where before this update you would have found the option to ‘Contact a person’, will now read ‘Send a direct message’.

The functionality has not changed, this is simply a rename effort of People to Direct Messages. This change is to line up with the status quo of other apps and to make it easier to understand for our users.

Create a Space & more

The plus button now includes additional features to enable quicker communication, such as the ability to make a call or add a local contact. You will still find your options to send a direct message (originally contact a person) or create a space in this menu.

Create a Space & More in Webex Teams

Search for People & Spaces

The search box has moved to a new location in the header of the app. Here, you can search for people, spaces, and contacts as normal. As you type, the search drop-down will appear with a list of results, ordered by your most recently active spaces. To see more results in a category, simply click ‘Show more’. You can also right-click on any search result – people, space or contact – giving you quick access to additional options such as ‘Open in new window’. By hovering over a search result, you will see the call/meet button option appear.

To start a search quickly while you are working in the app, you can use the standard shortcut ‘Control + F’ on Windows and ‘Command + F’ on Mac. With this update, the header will persist throughout the app, meaning you always have quick access to search.

Search for People and Spaces in Webex Teams

Search for Messages & Files in ‘Advanced Search’

Sometimes, if we are looking for a specific message or file, we want to perform a more in-depth search. With this update, to search for messages or files, you must select the very top item in the search drop-down result list which reads: ‘Search all spaces’. Clicking this expands the search box to the left, giving you access to ‘Advanced Search’, where you will find all message and file results.

In this view, you can browse through results with single clicks to find what you are looking for, with results appearing on the right as they are clicked. Refinement options (such as ‘With:’) can also be found here. You now have two methods to use these search refinement modifiers in the new App Header. You can simply type them into the search bar itself at any time or you can select ‘Refine’ in the ‘Advanced Search’ view. For quick access to ‘Advanced Search’, simply use the keyboard shortcut ‘Shift + Enter’ while focus is in the search box. To remove yourself from the ‘Advanced Search’ view, click ‘cancel’, double-click to select a result or switch tabs.

Search for Messages & Files in 'Advanced Search' in Webex Teams

Dial a number & make a call

Enter a phone number directly into the search bar to open calling options. Here you can decide to make a voice or video call.

Connect to a device

This feature remains the same just with a prominent new location in the App Header. You are still able to search and seamlessly connect to local devices.

Dial a number & make a call and connect to device in Webex Teams

For more information on this new App Header, visit our dedicated help page here.

Learn More

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Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

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Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

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Father and son on the sofa, working from home and learning from screen.
Working from home with kids

Working from home — whether by necessity or choice  — is increasingly common for professionals across the country and the globe.

Whether you’re a full-time remote worker, telecommuting for part of each week, or temporarily fulfilling your work responsibilities from home, having kids at home at the same time can make your workday more complicated and less organized. While successfully balancing time between work and your children requires some careful thought and planning, it’s by no means impossible. Consider this advice for creating a more productive and harmonious environment for your kids and yourself.

Finding a balance between alone time and togetherness

There are many times where a little background noise or chatter won’t harm the end result of your work. And there are plenty of other scenarios when you simply need a quiet space to focus and pay close attention to the task at hand. Finding a happy medium between the two can help you work from home more successfully when your kids are also at home.

If you have simple, small tasks or similar work planned for part of your day, consider using that time to sit together with your family. A sense of togetherness, even when everyone is focused on work or school, is valuable. And you can dedicate more time to being fully present with your kids before and after the workday is done, as well as during lunch and other breaks.

You’ll also need a way to create a separate working space for times you really need to focus, or when using video conferencing solutions to connect with colleagues, supervisors, clients, and other stakeholders. With kids old enough to supervise themselves and understand their parents’ need to sometimes buckle down during their workdays, this often isn’t an issue, to begin with.

For younger children, you can consider putting up a reminder when you really need some time alone. Making a color-coded sign with green and red sides can be a quick and fun crafting project with your young ones. Remind your kids that you’re there if a true emergency occurs and make sure to occasionally check-in even when it’s time to put all of your attention toward your work. Parents.com pointed out that nap time for younger kids is also prime time for adults to devote some undivided attention to their work.

Building a plan with spouses and other family members

Finding a balance between work and the needs of your children is much easier when multiple family members are involved. Your partner and any other adults in the house, as well as your older teenage children, can help you split this responsibility during the workday. Start a conversation about your schedules and who is available at a given time to supervise the kids. Your younger kids will get more facetime with family members, and the adults involved will have more time for conference calls and other tasks that demand your full attention and a quiet environment.

Create a schedule that works for you

Taking the time to create an effective schedule will pay off when you – and everyone else – have a clear picture of when you’re free, busy, and somewhere in between. Clear time for major projects, critical deadlines, and other intensive work well ahead of when it needs to be done whenever possible and let your kids and other family members know you can’t be available during those times. Similarly, set aside time for your kids, whether it’s overseeing an activity or getting a little bit of quality time in during the day.

While you can’t always control when a client or vendor will need to talk, blocking off your calendar will encourage your colleagues and supervisors to work with your schedule. If needed, have a discussion with your direct manager about flexibility in your workday. Explain how, for example, you’re happy to work a little later into the evening or get an earlier start, if needed, to ensure you can spend a full hour of family time with your kids at lunch or assist with complicated homework assignments. Look for ways to compromise that respect both your employer’s needs and your own as a parent working from home.

Save some personal time, too

Working from home along with kids and the rest of your family can make it difficult to prioritize your own basic need to relax, unwind, spend time on hobbies or simply take a break.

If there’s more than one adult in the house, you can work with each other to prioritize some “me time” for everyone involved. That could mean having one parent make dinner or start the process of putting the kids to bed while the other catches up on their favorite TV shows or fits in a workout. Here are some more ideas on How to have fun, virtually.

Even if you’re the only adult at home, you can still find a little time to reward yourself for effectively balancing parenting, work, household chores, and your many other responsibilities. Consider relaxing or finishing that project after the kids are in bed.

Having the right tools to connect with others when working from home is vital for building an effective schedule and making sure your family, your work, and yourself all receive the attention they deserve.

 Get started with your free Cisco Webex plan today.

Learn More

6 tips for working from home with kids

Webex Meetings integrations let you work and play from wherever you are

What’s new in Webex: October 2020

Resources

Download your free Cisco Coloring for Kids pack

Still Need Help?

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.

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UI Meeting grid with many faces on a 5 x 5
What’s new in Webex: October 2020

New features and capabilities you can use to be productive anywhere and enable safe return to the office

Welcome to what’s new in Webex! This article offers a great summary on new features and capabilities that we have introduced, as well as a preview of new features coming in October and later this fall.

MEETINGS

We’re introducing an all-new Webex preview and in-meeting user experience, making it much more intuitive and easier to use, allowing you to be more productive anywhere you work.

Simplified Preview

The larger, optimized Audio/Video Preview window makes it easier to look your best and find the settings you need before joining a meeting. A new larger video screen lets you see exactly how you will appear in the meeting. Select a virtual background from one of our 9 preloaded options, use a blurred background, or add your own customized picture.

woman wearing glasses loking at screen

Simplified in-Meeting Controls

Meeting controls are now clearly labeled and easy to locate at the bottom of your meeting window, which means you’ll always have them in sight, without covering up shared content or video.

Clearly labeled buttons and menus mean fewer menus and clicks. Audio settings and camera settings can now be conveniently accessed in the menus at the right of their respective mute and camera buttons. Consolidated panel controls (like Participants, Chat, and Q&A) can be found towards the right, where the panel opens.

floating panel on computer screen and another graph showing redistricting projections 2021 with colored graph

And when you are sharing content, we’ve also made the experience simple and seamless.  Now you can float the participant panel, placing controls where you want them.

Throughout the month of October, we’re continuing to add more features to make your experience with Webex Meetings even more powerful.

More work-from-home options with Webex

Webex helps users work from anywhere on any device. Soon Facebook Portal users will be able to leverage their Webex Meetings app directly from their device! The experience will match what currently exists in the Android app, with audio, video, and content share enabled with the Facebook Portal device.

Webex meeting app being used directly from a hand-held device sitting on a table

Users of Amazon Echo Show or Google Home Hub Smart Display devices will be able to use Webex Meetings on these devices, as well. Amazon Echo Show devices will be able to display meeting and recording lists, as well as play back recordings. Google Nest Hub devices will be able to display meeting and recording lists, play back recordings, and schedule meetings. For more details on using Webex Meetings on experience Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest Hub Devices click here.

Manage classes more easily in Webex Education Connector

We’re expanding capabilities for instructors with Webex Education Connector to include a new recordings library, attendance management, and the ability to edit recurring class sessions.

Webex Education Connector is making it easier for instructors to record their class sessions beforehand and share those recordings to any class they teach in current or upcoming semesters. Additionally, instructors can view, rename, and delete their own recordings. Instructors can take attendance in each class, indicate excused absences, and assign a grade for students based on their attendance. Instructors can also edit their recurring class sessions. Learn more here.

WEBEX TEAMS COLLABORATION

Global App Header

We’re adding a new header in the app that gives you a quick and easy way to get to your common actions like create a space, add a contact, edit your status, and know your device connectivity without needing to go into any specific tab. See Webex Teams | New App Header

Voice Clips iPhone, iPad, and Android

No time for a phone call? Working remotely or on the fly and no time to write a message? No problem, now you can send voice clips on Webex Teams for mobile.

Example of using Webex Teams and send voice clipsMeeting and calling experiences — with virtual backgrounds

Love the virtual background or blur features? Use virtual or blurred background in calls and meetings, no matter where you work. And now you can personalize your background by uploading up to 3 images of your own… just make sure your administrator has enabled this feature for you.

Simplify complex tasks and interactions with one-click access to embedded apps

Bring important websites and web apps into the conversation. In your Webex Teams spaces, you can add a website URL as a tab and everyone in the space has access to the website with just one click. A new tab format simplifies layout and accommodates up to 10 tabs per team space. Embed a website, a BI dashboard, or a cloud document to keep work flowing quickly. This feature will be added to the Webex Teams later this month.

A layout of a Trello board within TeamsCALLING

Webex Calling

Multiline support within teams — Windows and Mac

Are you looking for an easier way to manage multiple phone lines? Now you can use Webex Teams to manage work group environments such as boss/admin, support group, or contact center all within one app. With Webex Teams you can support up to 8 phone lines and leverage advanced calling features on each line such as call forward, transfer, hunt group, shared lines, and voicemail. You can also assign different ringtones to each line, making it easier for you to know when calls are coming into certain lines. And your administrator can turn on presence for shared lines so that line status is displayed.

Multiple phone line use in Webex Teams, list of phone numbers with pastel colors to indicate different lines such as front desk, break room, and conference roomVirtual extensions

Virtual extensions allow organizations to include non-Webex Calling locations in their dial plan. Administrators can assign virtual extensions to users that aren’t on their network. Dialed Virtual Extensions are translated to routable numbers and then sent to the dialing user’s PSTN connection for outbound handling.

Unified CM

UCM Cloud Migration Assistant

For Cisco calling customers looking to take their Unified Communications Manager systems to the cloud, we now have a streamlined path to get you there, with the UCM Cloud Migration Assistant.

The Migration Assistant can automatically extract users, calling features, and system settings from your on-premises UCM and replicate them in UCM Cloud. It’s powerful enough to let you customize your migration data and optimize for cloud deployment. With the Migration Assistant, you have the flexibility to schedule your migration on a site-by-site basis and perform synthetic call testing to validate all the call routes and features are working correctly.

Migration Assistant and platform showing call routes

DEVICES

Webex is creating more intelligent solutions for the hybrid work environment. See how we’re helping organizations make returning to the office safe and productive.

New integrated sensors provide insights 

We’re integrating more sensors in Webex Room devices to monitor environmental conditions and help IT and facilities provide a safer, more comfortable working environment as they reconfigure office spaces for return to work. Expanded sensors capture not only the number of people to support social distancing, but will soon identify environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, air quality, ambient light, noise, and room acoustics quality. Analysis from intelligent sensors monitors comfort and helps improve workplace satisfaction.

New options for intelligent workplace and smart room booking

As organizations return to the office, it’s time for a more intelligent way of optimizing shared spaces. Introducing Cisco Webex® Room Navigator – an intuitive, touch panel that offers instant connections to video conferences, room controls, content sharing, room booking, even digital signage when not in use. Designed to work inside and outside the meeting room, it provides intelligent, safe room booking for users and deep data for IT and facilities managers. See it in action:

Expanded mobility options for deskless workers

Some of your most important workers are constantly on the move. Without time to get to a desk, important calls could be missed. The new Cisco IP DECT 6823 VOIP phone provides a great calling solution that enables deskless workers to stay connected with the range, mobility, and security features. Stay connected to your organization, regardless of where you are: in the field, in the warehouse, at the nursing station, on the shop floor, or in the hotel lobby. Whether it’s a quick text for information, a call for help, or even a conference call, the DECT series offers simple all-day use. Learn more here.

INTEGRATIONS

Expanded Webex Expert on Demand features

We’re working hard to make frontline workers even more effective. With the Webex Expert on Demand 1.6 release with integrated RealWear headset, frontline workers and remote experts can annotate images for even more powerful troubleshooting and real-time collaboration. The hands-free experience is improved with remote controls to zoom camera, control volume, or use a ‘flashlight’ to better see what matters.

Mechanic working hands free using controls from an eye device attached to his hat and leaning over under the hood of a car

CONTROL HUB & SECURITY

Workspace metrics in Webex Control Hub

Webex Control Hub workspace tab provides IT much-needed visibility for conference room devices, utilization, and more. Now we’re expanding insights to include visualized data and trending: providing insight in average room occupancy, booked but not used rooms, environmental conditions for productive work, and more. These insights offer actionable information to optimize real estate utilization and proactively address issues that may impact your next meeting.

Workpace Metric in Control Hub

Introducing the Organization Health Assessment Tool for IT

Let Webex Control Hub be your coach and help you take advantage of best practices, reduce turn-around times for setup, understand usage and adoption challenges, pinpoint experience challenges with their deployment and more. This online tool provides configuration insights to set up Webex with easy to understand action items and interactive walkthroughs.

configuration tool within COontrol Hub

For more information on all of these features and upcoming update to Webex, please visit the What’s New Articles for Webex Services.

Learn More

Webex AI Innovations Enable Your Team to Safely Return to the Office and Be Productive

Explore the New Webex In-Meeting Experience (Webex 40.9)

Still Need Help?

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.

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Female mentor, tutor, teacher looking at webcam of laptop, closeup face. Video conference, online lesson, teacher teaching remotely. Technology, education, school concept
Keep your social skills sharp with Webex

Exercise your social skills

Practice makes perfect, including social skills. Whether you’re back in the office, working from home, or a mix of both, if you’re feeling a little bit rusty at relationship-building, you’re not alone. Many are discovering firsthand what studies of social isolation in astronauts and polar explorers have shown to be true: interpersonal skills are like muscles–you need to exercise them to stay in shape.

The social interaction problem

Think for a moment: when was the last time you met someone new? How many people have you interacted with outside of work or family settings? Depending on where you live, it might have been a while since you had regular contact with new people. According to medical experts cited in The New York Times*, social interaction is one of the most complicated tasks for our brains and we benefit from day-to-day interactions with strangers, such as chatting with the barista at your local coffee shop, a gym buddy, networking contacts, and other spontaneous conversations out in the world.

“In normal circumstances, we get a lot of practice, so it becomes somewhat seamless. You don’t think about it. But when you have fewer opportunities to practice, you get off your game.” – We’re All Socially Awkward Now, New York Times Article, September 1, 2020

The good news is that you can empower yourself to stretch those relationship-building muscles safely and remotely with Webex.

1) Get some face time

Remember eye contact? The best way to get used to reading body language again is to turn on video. It helps you automatically engage when you can see each other’s faces, emotions, and reactions. Plus, it will help you become a pro at matching names and faces.

At Webex, we often speak about the idea of vulnerable video and being brave enough to turn on video in every meeting. With virtual backgrounds, it’s even easier to feel comfortable turning–and keeping–the camera on while minimizing any distractions! Sharing video will help you hone your social aptitude through engaging, interactive, remote discussions.

2) Grab a virtual coffee

One way I’ve been challenging myself to keep my social skills sharp is by setting up virtual coffees on Webex. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve connected with an old high school friend, a longtime Twitter contact whom I’ve never met in person, and several people on my team who I didn’t know very well.

If you’re nervous, start small by scheduling a 15-minute chat to keep it low pressure. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anyone else you should connect with for your next coffee; you never know what doors it might open! Check out other ways to have fun, virtually.

3) Build inclusive experiences

More comfortable in a group setting than one-on-one? Invite a few people to chat about a specific topic, whether it’s related to work or fun. Picking a conversation subject in advance helps take the pressure off. If things get lively, you can even create breakout rooms to keep conversations manageable.

For blended workplaces with team members who are at home and in the office, everyone can be an equal participant with Webex. Your in-office attendees can stay safe through “zero-touch” meetings with intelligence to monitor guidelines for social distancing, making it easy for everyone to connect no matter where they work from.

4) Make spaces for social gathering

Virtual spaces in Webex Teams are a great way to break the ice and learn about things you and your peers have in common. For example, I’m in spaces with colleagues across Cisco related to subjects like food, fashion, books, and even pets! Having a place to connect from time to time helps strengthen relationships without needing to meet regularly in real-time. Plus, you can make your interactions unique by showing your mood through GIFs and emojis.

5) Make connecting a habit

As we continue to adapt to the next normal, we sometimes need a reminder to keep human connection in our lives. Webex already empowers you to get stuff done, so block off that extra time you have on your calendar for building social connections.

6) Embrace the uncomfortable

Not sure if you should wave when saying goodbye on a call? Or feel awkward if you talk over someone else? You’re not alone! Just as with in-person interactions, some social discomfort is unavoidable. Stay relaxed and don’t feel pressure to fill every bit of silence with conversation.

The most important thing to remember is that we’re all human. As you widen your social circles from a social distance, be sure to keep a sense of humor as we all learn to adapt to social norms in the new normal.

Try Cisco Webex free, today!

Resources

*New York Times article

Learn More

Working smarter anywhere working remotely

Webex bridal shower bring remote teams together when it counts

Your Guide to Workplace Evolution

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

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Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

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Couples with smartphones, tablets and laptops chatting online, during coronavirus self isolation, quarantine. Virtual dating during COVID-19 outbreak. Vector illustration
10 lessons that helped scale Webex during a global crisis

Panos Kozanian –  As every IT department around the globe are executing business continuity plans, Webex’s criticality to customers and its utilization soared.

Webex is part of the business continuity plan of over 95% of all Fortune 500 companies. COVID-19 changed our world forever, and working from home (WFH) became a necessity as sheltering in place became the new norm overnight. As every IT department around the globe executed their business continuity plans, Webex’s criticality to our customers and its utilization soared.

regional concurrent peak attendee
The regional concurrent peak attendee counts determine the amount of capacity that needs to be provisioned.

I’ll be sharing the story and some of the lessons learned as we scaled Webex to meet the new demand both on the technical and the process side.

Here’s a TL;DR of the lessons learned:

  1. Observe the world
  2. Have a worst-case scenario plan
  3. Have burst capacity plans to alternate clouds
  4. Have flexibility on resource intensive workflows
  5. Have a common unit for scale
  6. Decentralize decision making but keep a centralized Control Tower
  7. Proactively communicate with your customers
  8. Shield the scaling team
  9. Leverage your service providers early
  10. Promote and be an example of self-care

Before I dive into the story and the lessons learned, I want to recognize two things:

First, at Webex, we are most grateful for the people who are helping on the front lines without the luxury of being protected by the OSI layers of networking.

Second, we pride ourselves on being an extension of our customers’ IT departments. We recognize that the story of scaling Webex is a portion of the journey our customers went through. Our IT counterparts in each of our customers’ organizations deserve an incredible amount of recognition for effectively executing on some of the most challenging business continuity plans we will face in our lifetime. We at Webex are grateful to have been in a position to assist our customers, schools, hospitals, and governments around the globe in this unprecedented world event.

Early February | Tremors

Webex runs the largest global network and data center backbone dedicated to real-time collaboration. In our 24/7 Network Operation Center (NOC) we observe global events regularly: typhoons, landslides, earthquakes, and internet route disruptions and congestions are all events that we observe and react to regularly.

Observe the World

On February 3rd our network monitoring alerts were triggered by a drastic increase in traffic from our multi-national customers in China that connect via our global network along with our China-based local customer that connects through a dedicated point of presence in China – physically separate from the rest of Webex. We eventually handled a network increase of 22x over our January baselines for that region, due to the shelter-in-place orders of our customers’ employees in China who were connecting to our Webex services.

Network traffic throughput over time coming from China into the Webex global backbone.
Network traffic throughput over time coming from China into the Webex global backbone.

At this point, our NOC’s assessment was that we had at the very least an epidemic and possibly a pandemic that could affect the broader APAC regions and we started to mobilize compute and network capacity increases in the region.

Late February | Scenario Planning

The penultimate week of February our Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) were observing an unexpected increase in all regions in our Year-over-Year comparison graphs. This is when we knew we had a global event coming our way and put a team together dedicated to scenario planning for different possible outcomes based on data from recent epidemics and pandemics.

Have a worst-case scenario plan

Webex is part of the business continuity plan of over 95% of all Fortune 500 companies. We, therefore, had three scenarios planned out by our teams. One that estimated a 130% increase in peak utilization if the pandemic was fairly well contained, another that had a 150% increase in case a massive spread would happen, and a third that had a 200% increase as the “worst-case” we could imagine at that time.  In retrospect, we were underestimating tremendously and being misled by how recent epidemics and pandemics (2009 swine flu) had played out. Despite it being an underestimate, we’re glad we started executing on scenario 3 early – the worst-case scenario.

Have a common unit for scale

Capacity increases are a common task at Webex, but the scale at which this one would come our way required coordination across a very wide range of teams that were each making multiple optimizations a day and looking at capacity through different lenses: CPU utilization for compute, Gbps for network, TB for storage, QPS for databases, etc… Each of these was converted to a common metric that was relatable to our engineers and our customers: “Peak Attendees”. Conversions to Peak Attendees were used to quickly identify where bottlenecks might show up in our aggregated models across our global data center footprint.

Have flexibility on resource-intensive workflows

Scenario 3’s mitigations required an aggressive timeline. Webex, in this scenario, could temporarily run out of capacity in a given region. The plan included leveraging our global footprint, accelerated through our backbone, to deliver services to specific regions while other regions were sleeping.

Armed with plans for these three potential scenarios, we started executing on the mitigations of Scenario 3 – a 200% global increase – thinking that we were executing against what seemed like a worst-case scenario.

Early March | State of Emergency

By March 2nd, we were deploying all capacity we had on hand across the globe and augmenting our backbones for a 200% increase. We also started provisioning burst capacity in public clouds to rapidly extend our global backbone.

To assist the world in transitioning to shelter in place, we also reduced restrictions that exist in our free offering (which is isolated from our paying customers’ services) to assist enterprises, schools, hospitals, and governments in moving to shelter in place: we removed all time restrictions, we allowed up to 100 participants per meeting and even provided phone dial-ins globally.

Proactively communicate with your customers

In early March, we started reaching out proactively to customers letting them know what we were seeing and that we had our entire company’s backing to support them. Our account teams backed by our executives offered assistance to our customers in transitioning to an all work from home employee base with documentation, tutorials, and training. These early proactive communications were the first of many to come, where our account teams worked closely with our customers to assist in the massive work from home transitions.

Have burst capacity plans to alternate clouds

Webex runs our own cloud and global backbone: 16 data centers connected by a backbone that handles 1.5Tbps at peak. Our backbone further connects 5 different geographies directly to public cloud providers. In early March, we extended our services quickly into different public clouds in order to reserve capacity. This served us incredibly well as different cloud providers were themselves scaling to meet the demand coming their way.

By March 9th, most companies with flexible WFH policies had all of their employees work from home (including all of us Webex employees). We could also see in our capacity utilization that our scenario 3 was not going to be sufficient. We established a state of emergency which included getting resources across all of Cisco to assist so we could support our customers. Our own CEO, Chuck Robbins, joined our state of emergency bridge and gave us a single focus to tackle: “Do everything you need to do for our customer’s business continuity. You have the entire company behind you.”

Leverage your service providers early

Cisco is the number one manufacturer of networking equipment. We produce our own servers and have some of the best relationships in the industry with service providers. In the first week of March, we knew it was time to get all of the help we could across the company and our partners to support the business continuity plans of our customers and we were on a war footing to provide further capacity globally to Webex, led by our own CAP managers assisting in the coordination of 24/7 bridges with our vendors.

Decentralize decision making but keep a centralized Control Tower

Our COVID-19 scale-up was a unique type of incident management: its duration was nearly 100 days (from low to peak utilization), its scale was unprecedented (growing a mature business to 400%) and its impact broad (all parts of our Webex business were involved and needed coordination). Below is the process diagram that shows how we ran the efforts 24/7 for 100 days leveraging Webex Meetings itself for all the coordination.

Unified Incident Commander

Shield the scaling teams

The Change Commanders in the graph above were given full autonomy to do what they needed to sustain their area. They were also intentionally separated out of incidents and escalations by the Unified Incident Commander who was acting as a control tower for each of the scale and incident activities. This allowed the scaling team to stay focused on scaling the service while Incident Commanders were handling specific hot spots.

To give you a sense of what a 24h period on Webex looks like, you can see the graphs below. The only time of any reprieve on regional all-time high load increases was the 4h period between 22:00 and 02:00 UTC – when the sun is setting on the Americas and about to rise on APAC.

24h of load on Webex across regions
24h of load on Webex across regions

Late March | Education & Governments

By Monday, March 23rd nearly all companies, governments, and schools were sheltering in place. At this point, we had all of our processes and engagements in place, constrained only by the time-to-delivery of hardware. We could see countries around the globe lighting up as they used Webex for their business continuity plans. We also noticed a new wave of education customers around the globe who have their own discernible access patterns.

The unique access pattern of our education customers includes higher utilization of video joins, more utilization of recordings, meetings more concentrated in time, and high geographic density of participants. We quickly optimized network paths and expanded further into hyperlocal public clouds for these new education customers.

Early April | Getting ready for a second wave

The first week of April was the first time in 60 days where we saw less than double-digit growth week over week. In a twist of fate, security-aware governments and enterprises around the world noticed the security flaws with some of our competitors and some started a new migration to Webex. This meant we needed to prepare for a second wave of growth.

We had our new scaling machinery well-oiled by this point and leveraged the lessons learned from early March to accelerate our readiness for customers migrating to our secure platform. This included further scaling of our backbone, compute, storage, and public cloud extensions.

Late April | Second wave

The second half of April saw another increase of over 25% of our user base driven by a migration over from competitors to Webex. This increase was seamlessly achieved with our compute, storage, network, database, applications, and media scale-up teams able to scale to the new demand. Improved stability during this second wave is reflected in a decrease in customer-impacting incidents as shown by the graph below.

graph of Customer impacting incidents over time
Customer impacting incidents over time

The Webex process for ensuring service stability coped well, but with enormous growth and high rate of change there was some level of service disruption, predominantly in the critical month of March. In comparison, users of other comparable services experienced substantially more – up to 5x – outages throughout the Mar-May period and beyond.

May | The new normal and summer

The month of May landed us at 400% from our February baseline. This became our new plateau before a seasonal slowdown was driven by summer holidays and our education customers decreasing their number of meetings.

Promote and be an example of self-care

Under the Cisco-wide “Day for Me” program, we were given a day off on May 22nd which was for many of us on the Webex team the first day off in 100 straight days of work. It gave us the breather we needed, and it was a great way to celebrate our ability to handle the second wave of scale up gracefully.

Thank you

Our scale-up efforts were not as smooth in the early days of the shelter in place orders as we would have liked them to be. We hope, through the shared lessons above, that we can help the rest of our peer Site Reliability Engineers, Cloud Engineers, SaaS developers, and IT organizations learn from the processes and tools that helped us achieve what was arguably the biggest scale-up efforts most of us could have ever anticipated.

We also recognize that the story of scaling Webex is only a portion of the journey our customers went through and our IT counterparts in each of our customers’ organizations deserve an incredible amount of recognition for effectively executing on some of the most challenging business continuity plans we will face in our lifetime.

Finally, we at Webex are grateful to have been in a position to assist our customers, schools, hospitals, and governments around the globe in this unprecedented world event.

About the author

Panos Kozanian is a Director of Engineering responsible for the Webex Platform Organization. The Webex Platform Organization is responsible for all infrastructure assets: data centers, compute, storage and network and the PaaS layer that powers all Webex services, as well as collaboration services such as Common Identity, Control Hub and the Analytics Platform. Additionally, the Webex Platform Organization is responsible for reliability engineering, ensuring that Webex continues to be delivered with high availability and world class performance. Prior to this role, Panos led the Webex Teams Platform, establishing a modern DevOps & SRE culture supporting thousands of micro service instances and 1000+ developers. Throughout his career, he has held a number of leadership roles, including forming and leading Cisco’s Business Incubation lab, managing Cisco’s Digital Signage team, and leading Cisco’s Video Portal efforts. Panos joined Cisco in 2003 starting his career working on business incubations and executive demos. Panos earned a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering from Santa Clara University.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account. 

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Best practices for acing a virtual interview

Video conferencing for interviews

Life lately hasn’t exactly felt like” business as usual” for job seekers and businesses looking to hire. Many companies had to shift to remote workforces overnight, closing their physical offices and spaces.

This situation creates obvious challenges for the interview process. Yet many companies have forged on with hiring plans, particularly those businesses experiencing demand spikes.

Employers have increasingly utilized virtual interview settings but now rely on them entirely. And it’s worth considering that video conferencing interviews could very well become the norm in a post-pandemic world.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best tips and strategies for acing your virtual interview and making the impression that you set out to make.

  1. Dress for the job, not the couch

A common virtual meeting hack that many remote workers utilize is wearing sweatpants or shorts with a business professional top. With many stuck indoors all day, it can seem pointless to dress up if you can get away with this new trick — but you’re putting yourself at risk if you do so for an interview.

If you shift out of frame or get up without remembering you have pajamas on, it would reflect very poorly on your character. Such slip-ups have been documented countless times on social media amid COVID-19.

Consider that, at the longest, you’ll be interviewing for an hour, two hours at max. Make the effort to choose a professional outfit, as it shows your interviewers that you’re serious and motivated about this opportunity.

  1. Check your internet connection and hardware beforehand

Technical difficulties often derail meetings — yet they can often be resolved more quickly or avoided altogether by checking technology and the internet connection ahead of time. Imagine the problems you’d encounter if your internet cut out in the middle of an interview.

To ensure that everything is working properly, give all everything a once over:

  • Check that you have a stable connection to the Wi-Fi. Maybe keep an Ethernet cord and adapter as a backup.
  • Test your laptop or desktop camera and microphone. Make sure there’s no echo and the picture is high resolution.
  • Become familiar with the video conferencing tool, especially if you haven’t used it before. Know all the features and commands.

Taking these precautionary steps can avoid an embarrassing situation down the line that may negatively impact your interview.

  1. Prepare like you would for any other interview

It might seem like the rules are a little relaxed for virtual interviews (which can be seen in the dress-up hack employed by many). However, that could not be further than the truth. While seasoned employees might have more informal meetings, you should treat every virtual interview as if you were going in-person.

This is not the time to cut corners. Put in the time and effort to research the business, maybe even look at the LinkedIn profiles of the interviewers you’re scheduled to meet with.

Also, take the time to prep yourself and how you’ll convey your skills, knowledge, and experience. The virtual format can be foreign for many, so perhaps take some time to practice to yourself in the mirror. It’s not a cheesy trick at all, and doing so may help you feel more comfortable and confident in your ability to articulate your strengths, your interest, and why you’d be a good fit.

  1. Lean on body language

It can be difficult to gauge whether you’re getting your point across in a virtual meeting. One way to add emphasis or otherwise convey your message is to leverage your body language. Facial expressions can be used to show you’re intently listening or talking with excitement. If you use your hands a lot when you speak in-person, don’t retract yourself in the virtual environment. It can help give interviewers a clue as to your personality and character.

The other side of this consideration is to keep an eye on any bad body language. Never, ever slouch when you’re on a virtual interview, for example. If you’re surprised or puzzled by a question, try not to let that show through.

  1. Get away from distractions

You should set up your interviewing space as far away from distractions as possible. Yet that can be a challenge when family members are roaming about or your significant other is also working at home and on a conference call.

Make sure that you position yourself away from televisions and other screens that could catch your eye or otherwise cause a distraction. Also, it’s worth talking to whoever you live with about your schedule. If they know you’re on an interview at a specific time, they can take steps to minimize noise or disruptions, like barging in on your space and asking a question.

  1. Follow up with a video message

It’s best practice to follow up after every interview. One way to differentiate yourself as a job seeker is to record a quick video message thanking the interviewers for the time and reiterating your personal value proposition and interest in the position. If you use this tactic, make sure to follow all the steps to ensure you’re recording a high-quality video that will deliver the impact you desire.

These strategies and tips can help you nail your next virtual job interview. And if you’re looking for a video conferencing tool to help power your job search effort, consider using Cisco Webex.

Try Cisco Webex free, today!

Learn More

Best practices for hosting virtual interviews

6 winning strategies for a video conference interview

Working smarter: An interview experience from a (super fun!) virtual team

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Small business innovation and how you can learn from it

Building innovation in small business

Despite the pressures of the pandemic, small businesses still play a critical role in the modern economy.

In normal times, they create jobs, employ tens of millions of Americans, and provide an incredibly broad range of valuable goods and services. From a place to celebrate special occasions with family and friends to cutting-edge technology development, small businesses have a variety of important roles.

They can also be powerful innovators, developing new ideas, products, processes, and much more than others at businesses large and small can learn from. Let’s look at how small businesses innovate and the lessons that these achievements can provide.

Building a strong understanding of innovation

Innovation, when successful, is a dynamic process that yields an especially useful result: A new way of making or doing something, or a substantial improvement to a current product or workflow.

However, you don’t have to create a new process on the level of sliced bread – something that now seems like a given but has only been commercially produced for fewer than 100 years, as The History Channel explained, to have it qualify as innovation. Nor must you develop a successful range of electric cars and a new direct sales model for them. Innovation simply means improvement and invention, The Balance Small Business pointed out. Successful innovation can mean working with a current or new supplier to lower costs or developing stronger, more resilient packing for your products.

Small businesses have a few important advantages when it comes to innovation. They aren’t limited by the sometimes complicated approval processes and other systems put in place by larger companies, which generally help to ensure smooth operations but can potentially stifle creativity. The financial and operational pressures of maintaining a smaller organization can also force innovation by necessity. If a problem needs a solution, the owners of a small enterprise and their staff can focus on the issue and do whatever is in their power to resolve it.

Forbes Coaches Council member Nick Leighton said innovation for small businesses requires focus, critical evaluation of current operations, and the ability for leaders to work on the ground floor as well as in their executive or management capacity. These qualities aren’t limited to small-business stakeholders at well-funded or technology-focused startups. They can be applied to everything from sole proprietorships to retail businesses, manufacturers, and small companies in a variety of other economic sectors. One of the most important lessons to learn from small-business innovation is that the right attitude, approach, and dedication of time and resources can lead to positive developments and beneficial changes. And those qualities sit at the core of innovation.

Empowering innovative practices

In some ways, it’s not surprising that small businesses have a better reputation for innovation than larger enterprises. Lower employee numbers and, often, more humble resources mean more people work together in close quarters.

As long as employees can maintain a sense of professionalism and cooperation, their smaller circle and direct interaction can spark discussions about issues and opportunities for improvement. This, in turn, can set the stage for innovation, with many different employees able to contribute to the process. Encouraging this kind of collaborative work environment isn’t particularly difficult for many small businesses, either. The right conditions tend to arise naturally for many newer companies.

Innovation through collaboration can also be possible even when staff doesn’t work together in the same physical location. With remote work growing increasingly popular across the economy, small businesses can help staff connect to each other by hosting virtual meetings and setting aside time in the agenda to discuss issues, potential opportunities, and possible targets of innovation. Because employees may not have the same close connections that come with sitting next to each other on a daily basis and to generally facilitate a positive meeting experience, a dependable video conferencing solution is a must in these circumstances.

SCORE, an association of volunteer business mentors, pointed to another quality common among innovative businesses: Allowing room for experimentation and even failure. Companies always have to balance this factor with efficient, stable operations, but there is room for both in many small enterprises. Giving employees the appropriate time and resources to try out new approaches and flesh out potentially valuable ideas won’t always lead to success, but it will produce some useful and interesting concepts that could change a company for the better.

As long as staff members complete key tasks and handle core responsibilities in a consistent and responsible way, giving them the power to build less-structured time into their calendars can assist in spurring innovation. This ties into another point mentioned by SCORE, avoiding the temptation to isolate innovation. Allowing as many employees as possible to participate in the process, instead of designating some staff specifically as innovators, means a broader range of perspectives on more pertinent issues facing your business.

Making innovation practical for small businesses

When it comes to innovating as a small business, try not to force the issue. Give staff an appropriate amount of time and space to work out their own ideas, encourage group collaboration for more perspectives, take part in these sessions when possible, and remember that innovation doesn’t always need to be a totally transformational change. It just needs to be a positive one.

Cisco Webex supports effective collaboration for small businesses, whether focused on innovation or the many other times when your team needs to come together in a reliable, effective, and secure way.

Get started with a free plan today.

Learn more

Choosing the best small business tools for 2020

How do I expand my small-scale business without capital?

How to quickly create a company culture in a growing business

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Webex Meetings integrations let you work and play from wherever you are

Webex integrations to keep connected and productive

At the beginning of the pandemic, I introduced my family to Webex Meetings for our Sunday get-togethers. It was fun to see the grandparents, cousins, grandkids all using our amazing collaboration platform.

In the past months, we have shifted to getting things done completely remotely and have relied on Webex more than ever to keep us connected and productive with the highest level of security in the industry. We haven’t been in the office in over six months, but we have not missed a beat — whether it’s attending large conferences, team meetings, classes, virtually visiting our doctor or having family reunions, we have been able to carry on with our life and business, while socially distancing.

Webex has been at the center of all of these activities, but we’ve also had help from our partners. We’ve worked to integrate Webex with some of the most popular productivity tools on the market today and that has been instrumental in bringing great Webex meetings to broader audiences.

Remote Life on Webex

Nearly everyone is now using multiple collaboration and other types of apps during their daily life to stay connected and get work done. But if they want to have great meetings, the most popular apps are integrating with Webex, for scenarios like the ones we featured in this video:

Our kids may use Slack for messaging with their teacher and classmates and then have the need to jump into a Webex session to get clarification on a specific problem.

Our doctor could be chatting with colleagues on Microsoft Teams about a medical issue, and then escalate into a Webex instant meeting to continue the conversation in more detail.

A CEO may decide to livestream a company-wide townhall from Webex into Workplace from Facebook.

ZenDesk ticket open with Webex Meetings Integration

 

Streamlining daily workflows

Features within our deep integrations include real-time notifications that alert us at various parts of the process to ensure that we remain productive throughout our workday. For example, a Zendesk support agent can start an instant Webex meeting with the incident ticket submitter who will be notified to join the meeting and discuss the issue in more detail. These types of real-time communications empower workers to take action and speed up incident resolution time.

These types of interactions are made possible by deep integrations with our most trusted partners. We have been creating and improving our integrations with the goal of empowering frontline workers, streamlining workflows, and making transitions between apps seamless. We have many more great examples of how Webex integrates with your favorite tools. Webex continues to enhance integrations with other tools we use every day including CRM, learning management systems, software management, and productivity to provide the most efficient workflows. By improving workflows, we become more productive and are empowered to work smarter!

Get started with a free plan on Cisco Webex today!

Learn More

Webex Meetings August 2020 update: Increased security and media enhancement, custom background and music mode

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Just say no to conference calls, and yes to collaborative meetings

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The impact video has on company culture
The impact video has on company culture

Demonstrating culture with video and communication

A company’s culture plays a major role in how engaged employees are, how successful the company is, and the way in which clients or customers view the organization as a whole. But this can be challenging to build and maintain when employees and other stakeholders aren’t able to easily work together.

The key to cultivating a strong and consistent culture throughout an organization is clear communication. Every employee should have a sound understanding of the core values of their company. Further, everyone should feel connected to those values as well. See how virtual backgrounds to inspire remote work culture: the Cisco Webex artist series

But there can be many barriers to good communication throughout an organization, and succumbing to those obstacles can weaken the company culture. The use of technology that keeps everyone on the same page can help immensely when building and maintaining these values.

Video conferencing tools for company culture

Specifically, here are five ways video conferencing tools can support company culture:

  1. Connect remote workers

Remote work has been on the rise and today, even more, people are working remotely. Now, companies are planning their return-to-work models, that will likely look different any employees will continue to work remotely even after the pandemic is over; 53.9% of respondents to a survey from the Institute for Corporate Productivity said they would likely increase flexible work arrangements on a more permanent basis.

Though remote work is becoming more popular, there are definite drawbacks to this sort of arrangement. One of the biggest challenges is loneliness, cited by 20% of respondents to Buffer’s survey. Making an effort to connect with workers through technology like video conferencing can help to bridge gaps between widely dispersed co-workers.

As remote teams become the new normal, it’s essential that companies establish processes to keep employees connected to one another. Video conferencing makes communicating with others simple, allowing them to converse about their projects and goals.

  1. Effectively collaborate on ideas

Team members must seamlessly collaborate on projects and ideas. However, discussing details of a project via email and phone can be difficult, especially when the topic at hand is visual in nature, such as slide shows, graphic design projects, and visual representations of data.

Another 20% of respondents to Buffer said collaboration is a major hurdle when working remotely. Video conferencing tools allow workers to share their screens so everyone can be on the same page. By enabling all team members to view the materials being discussed, everyone has the opportunity to weigh in on the discussion.

  1. Speak face-to-face with clients

When communicating with clients, discussions should flow smoothly. The relationship between client and vendor should be strong to continue a positive relationship. However, when obstacles like misunderstandings or difficulty connecting come up, it can be challenging to ensure the relationship is on the right track.

Video conferencing allows account managers and other stakeholders to clearly communicate with their clients. This software allows vendors to share important information such as slide shows, charts, imagery, or other data by using screen-share features.

Additionally, teams can invite all stakeholders to join discussions easily, no matter where they’re located, giving way to better cross-team collaboration. See how to share real-time data with customers through video conferencing

  1. Reduce work-related commute and travel

While much of business travel has been put on hold lately, it is something that has an impact on culture. Business travel often involves coordinating with various stakeholders, paying for transportation, lodging, and food, plus dedicating many hours to the requirements of traveling: waiting in line at an airport, renting a vehicle, and finding the way to a hotel in an unknown city, to name a few.

Instead of traveling, video conferencing allows people to hold important meetings without the hassle or expense of travel. Plus, it reduces instances of people not being able to make it to a meeting due to obstacles that don’t allow them to make the trip.

Beyond the type of long-distance travel that professionals may have to engage in to meet with far-away clients or stakeholders, the everyday commute into the office can also take a toll on workers. A Robert Half survey found that nearly one-quarter of employees have quit a job because of their commute, and 21% of respondents to Buffer’s survey said not having to make the trip to the office is the biggest benefit of remote work.

Leaning on video conferencing technology allows offices to improve morale and decrease unnecessary commutes without sacrificing productivity.

  1. Promote work-life balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for keeping employees engaged and satisfied in their jobs. That balance will differ for individual employees, who have unique home lives and priorities.

Remote work is an excellent tool for promoting a healthy work-life balance, no matter what that may look like for each unique worker. By allowing them to complete their work in their own homes, or on the road while they travel to visit loved ones or new places, they can maintain productivity during the workday and engage in their favorite activities once they sign off.

Video conferencing supports strong company culture

Organizational culture is critical to the success of a business and the happiness and productivity of employees. Being able to support worker and customer needs, such as work-life balance and ability to collaborate on important tasks, are primary components of this.

Video conferencing tools bring everyone together, no matter how far apart they are. Keeping everyone connected helps immensely in supporting a strong company culture.

Get started with a free plan on Cisco Webex today

Sources

News Release Bureau of Labor Statistics

The 2020 State of Remote Work

Nearly One-Quarter Of Workers Have Left A Job Due To A Bad Commute, According To Robert Half Survey

Understanding and Developing Organizational Culture

Learn more

Virtual backgrounds to inspire remote work culture: the Cisco Webex artist series

How to quickly create a company culture in a growing business

Screen sharing how-to-guide: Tips for better real-time collaboration

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Confident Workspace
How to create a more confident and connected workplace

Truly connect with interpersonal interaction

Remote work has a significant and complicated impact on individuals and businesses.

The ability to work from home allows employees greater freedom over how they organize their days and manage their personal lives. At the same time, without a physical separation between the workplace and the rest of an employee’s day, work-life balance can begin to feel like a blurry concept that’s hard to define.

In this environment perhaps more than ever, it’s important for businesses to emphasize the human connection that ties team members together.

Instead of viewing one another as unrelated individuals quietly working by themselves to check off a string of disconnected tasks, companies need to help people come together. Learn How to launch a community with Webex Teams

Interpersonal interaction improves workforce well-being and boosts collective confidence

The answer for a more confident and connected workplace is greater interpersonal interaction.

Because of the greater flexibility provided by telework opportunities, colleagues may be based in locations far away from each other, limiting opportunities for them to chitchat in the break room, grab lunch together, or even just to say hello in the hallway.

Finding new opportunities for interpersonal interaction among geographically separated employees can lead to a wide range of positive outcomes.

Benefits for health

Summarizing a study originally published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, an article in Science Daily claimed that “health at work is determined to a large extent by our social relationships in the workplace – and, more particularly, the social groups we form there.”

The authors went on to note that health benefits seemed to be more significant when a greater number of people at the organization shared a feeling of connectedness.

This research indicates that, while one-on-one relationships are important, organizations need to do what they can to develop a greater sense of inclusion for everybody.

Improved productivity

There’s a huge difference in performance between workers who have strong connections with their colleagues and those who don’t.

It seems like common sense that greater interpersonal connection in the workplace could translate into better productivity. When people know, respect and value their colleagues, they’re naturally inclined to feel like they share responsibility and accountability with their peers. Why remote work can be more productive work

There’s evidence to support this claim.

For instance, Gallup found that people who reported having a best friend at work were “seven times more likely to be engaged.” Other positive performance indicators included better work and fewer workplace injuries.

Greater self-confidence and team morale

Feeling connected to teammates may have benefits for self-esteem and collective confidence, too.

Interacting closely with colleagues can help individuals develop greater self-confidence and improve a team’s sense of cohesion and shared accomplishment.

On the other hand, without the affirmation provided by close relationships, it can be difficult to achieve higher levels of self-esteem. Self-doubt can begin to take the place of mutual support.

The American Psychological Association highlighted a study first published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that claimed self-esteem and positive relationships go hand in hand, with one factor boosting the other. The study indicated that these results seem to hold true across a person’s life, even into advanced age.

To create this feedback loop between self-esteem and positive relationships, businesses need to cultivate greater personal interaction.

Techniques for encouraging interpersonal interaction

To achieve greater interaction between colleagues and associates, there are many strategies that businesses can use. The thoughtful application of telework technologies can help drive stronger human connection.

Promote virtual presence

Videoconferencing is a simple solution for enhanced communication. By enabling meeting participants to pick up on nonverbal cues from each other, attendees can more fully appreciate what their colleagues are saying. Using video for client meetings can also help establish a more personal connection with prospects and customers. Screen sharing tools can facilitate more thorough communication, assisting with collaboration, and allowing contributors to truly feel heard.

Another significant benefit of videoconferencing technology is the ability to record and archive demos and tutorials in their entirety. Sharing these resources can be a great way for colleagues to help keep one another informed about business operations.

Provide tools for work-life balance and interactivity

Employees feel more connected to their workplaces when they know they have the tools they need to adequately balance work responsibilities with their personal lives.

Remote work technology that enables workers to spend less time on their commute will help their personal interactions feel relaxed and natural.

Encouraging workers to use videoconferencing and collaboration tools also allow them to be more present with one another when they tackle projects together. When colleagues connect over a video chat line, their attention remains focused on the conversation at hand, not divided among other communication channels. Get the most out of work-life balance

Create digital communities

Collaboration tools and scheduled meetings are one component of a multifaceted approach to shared, community-based platforms that encourage interpersonal communication.

Standalone multifunctional groups, such as Webex Teams, enable greater interaction between colleagues and teammates. With limited outside distractions and a more relaxed atmosphere, online communities can serve as a virtual watercooler for impromptu check-ins and spontaneous chats.

There are many opportunities available from Cisco Webex to help you improve interpersonal interaction and nurture a more confident, connected workplace.

Reach out today for more information or a free trial.

Sources:

Your Friends and Your Social Well-Being

Health determined by social relationships at work

Positive Relationships Boost Self-Esteem, and Vice Versa

Creating Human Connection

Learn More

5 tips for connecting with remote colleagues

Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Using technology to create work-life balance

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graphic classroom and
Bridging hybrid classrooms with the Cisco Webex Board

Easy deployment and super friendly interface

Technology can be unnecessarily complex. Whether the screen was left on the wrong video input or the camera wasn’t connected – these kinds of disruptions that take valuable time away from teaching and learning. With Cisco Webex Rooms devices, technology isn’t an inhibitor to education – it’s the conduit.

Video device

There are plenty of touch screens in the market for education, but they sacrifice the most important factor of all: communication. With hybrid learning models on the rise, we need to ensure that the distance between the teachers and students doesn’t become a barrier to learning. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian*, communication requires more than verbal interactions. It is made up of 7% of spoken words, 38% of voice and tone, and 55% of body language. If the students can’t hear or see the teacher, then some of the most important parts of the lesson can be lost. Capturing the teachers movements and tone of voice is essential to an engaging lesson.

Teachers, on the other hand, need to be certain that students can hear and see them without fault so they can focus on giving the class, not on managing the technology that enables class. The 4k camera of the Webex Board plus its 12 microphone array ensures that wherever the teacher is, they can be heard, seen, and understood.

Works with your favorite online education platform

For some time now, education has relied on digital platforms to distribute home assignments, review projects and homework, and store class material. The Webex Board can be set up with tools like Blackboard CourseSites and Canvas as Webapps so the teacher and student can interact with them directly on the Webex Board while on a call. Webex can also be integrated directly into the institution’s Learning Management System.

Annotate on all!          

In the case that the teacher feels more comfortable sharing material from their computer, Touch Redirect allows the teacher to interact with the computer as they would with a tablet by using touching the Webex Board. While using PowerPoint, for example, the teacher can go through slides by swiping their finger on the screen. When showing a 3D model, they can zoom in and rotate the model on the screen. Any content shared on the board can be annotated on by the teacher using the board or the students from their home devices. This encourages students to participate freely, while keeping their attention on the class, not on handling the tech. At the end of the class, all written notes are stored as whiteboards in spaces where teachers and students can access them.

The power of the Webex Assistant

Webex Assistant for Webex Meetings gives the teacher the option to record the lesson for future reference. Recordings may also include a transcript of the lesson and a selection of highlights. So, the teacher can help students find critical parts of the lesson faster and relate them to other lessons.

The Webex Board makes learning easy for teachings and students by providing the correct set of tools in video conferencing and interaction that modern hybrid learning requires.

Learn more about the all-in-one device for team collaboration 

Reference

Dr. Albert Mehrabian*

Learn More

Top 7 Webex Assistant Device commands to enhance your meetings!

Webex for Education: Technology for collaboration in and out of the classroom

Experience the new Webex for Education — Simple and secure out-of-the-box

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It’s back to school time for you, and Webex

Here’s how we’re making the virtual and hybrid school year work better for you

September is a special time of year for kids. Summer comes to an end, and the excitement of summer activities is exchanged for the eager anticipation of starting a new school year with friends and classmates. This year, things certainly feel a bit different. While your kids may not be going back to the physical classroom, that doesn’t mean the excitement needs to evaporate!

A physical classroom doesn’t take away the need to buy new school supplies, the fresh smell of opening a textbook, or witnessing the twinkle of knowledge sparkling in your child’s eye. We have a solution to help make the transition a little easier.

This year, Webex is helping millions of students experience school virtually, and we’re very excited to announce a bunch of new updates and features that will make the education experience even better. Webex is already known as the most secure, most reliable video conferencing platform and now, these additional features are propelling us to the lead as the most effective platform for virtual education!

We’re excited to show you a number of exciting features that will make it even easier and more effective to use Webex at school with our Hybrid Environments for the workplace and the classroom:

Virtual classroom doors can be locked

Say good-bye to stranger-danger. Teachers can make sure no unwanted visitors crash their classrooms by allowing only signed-in students and guests to attend.

Breakout rooms for better learning

Break away from the larger class to launch smaller group sessions. This can help students feel more connected, and allow more students to vocalize and share their opinions or tackle group work.

Break out rooms UX image

Bring order to the classroom

Managing students in the classroom can be difficult, so maintaining the classrooms environment over video might seem impossible. The introduction of more teacher-oriented controls enables a better in-class experience.

Live class transcripts

The Webex Assistant can transcribe the class lecture and provide the post-class write-up, allowing students the chance to read through any missed information while providing further opportunity to let the learnings sink in.

Classroom connections

With Messaging integrated into Webex, classmates and teachers can share ideas and engage on any topic being taught in class. Learning goes beyond just what the teacher is teaching.

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Messaging integrated into Webex Classroom (Preview)

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Room cleaning macro with Cisco Webex Rooms

Cisco Webex Rooms in a new normal

Cisco Webex Rooms are not only fantastic collaboration devices, they enable you to bring intelligence to your meeting rooms, helping you utilize your meeting rooms effectively and safely. You may have read a recent blog from Cisco that discusses how a device can count people in a room and create alerts if the maximum capacity limit of the room is exceeded. The people count mechanism was created with the idea that you could optimize the efficiency of your rooms, but in this new normal it can be repurposed to help keep users aware of capacity limits.

Macros

One way the intelligence in a meeting room equipped with Webex Room devices can be harnessed, is through the use of macros. Macros are created on the device using standard JavaScript, providing access to the Application Programmer Interface (API) of the device, standard JavaScript functionality and even the ability to send or receive arbitrary HTTP(S) requests. This is how the functionality of counting people is transformed into an alert, when an administrator’s defined threshold is exceeded, and a macro performs an action. Taking this macro as inspiration, I asked myself what other functionality could add value to a room for both an administrator and a user?

One thing we know is that we have to adhere to strict cleaning schedules as we journey back into the office. How could a Webex Room device help advise and keep track of this? I thought that a way of helping administrators monitor room cleaning would be a good start. I used the User Interface Extensions Editor available from the web interface of the device and created a new button that appeared on the User Interface (UI).

Room cleaning macro

I created a macro (available here) that knows when the new button is pressed and records the timestamp of the cleaning event. I record this timestamp to a secondary macro so it is not lost if the device is shutdown, but this could easily be extended to send the timestamp via HTTP to a central database for administrators to monitor. Sounds great, but what happens if a user presses the button by mistake? The macro detects the button press and before recording the cleaning event it triggers a PIN dialog, the cleaner must enter a valid PIN before the macro will record the event.

This information on its own is valuable but I decided to extend it further. As discussed earlier, the device knows when people are in the room, meaning it knows when the room is vacated too. Using this information, it is possible to create a message on the screen that informs users how long it has been since the room was last used, of course this can also be sent to a central location too. Now it is possible to inform the administrator or user about how long the room has been vacant, when the room was last cleaned and how many times the room has been used since it was last cleaned.

Room available macro

Taking this approach, administrators are empowered with information to ensure their rooms are safe and users can have access to information that gives them peace of mind. The best part is, this can all be achieved with a Webex Room device and a little custom code. Macros and UI Extensions enable countless opportunities for enhancing the meeting room experience, have a go yourself and see what you can create!

Check out the room cleaning and usage micro

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Applied natural language processing— Using AI to build real products

Arushi Raghuvanshi – Hear an overview of key concepts for leveraging NLP in production applications like voice assistants, question answering, search, topic summarization, and more.

This is a companion blog post to my talk at the Women in Big Data event on August 20, 2020. The talk slides are available here

There are different challenges between academic or theoretical NLP and practical or applied NLP. There are quite a few online resources on the academic side, including published papers, lessons on AI and NLP theory and fundamentals, blog posts breaking down the latest and greatest models, etc. There is less information online about using all of this in practice, in real-world, customer-facing applications, which is what I’ll cover here. I will outline some key differences between academia and industry, introduce core NLP concepts that are applicable to a variety of applied use cases, go through best practices and tools for collecting data and building an application, and discuss how to securely improve deployed models over time.

Academia vs industry

The first key difference between academia and industry is data. The data available to build a production application may be very limited in quantity compared to standard research datasets. For example, SQuAD, a popular question-answering dataset, has over 100,000 questions, but developers may only have a couple hundred representative question-answer pairs to build a production system. Production data may also be noisier or have different characteristics than standard data sets. For example, it could contain a lot of domain-specific terms like product names. Because of this, pre-trained or out of the box models might not work well.

The second difference is the need for reliability and interpretability in user-facing applications. There has been a trend towards deep learning models that perform well on large amounts of data, but they may pick up on unintended or undesirable data trends because real-world data naturally has bias. For example, many companies have shown up in the news for accidentally building sexist or racially biased models. When building models in practice, it’s important to think about bias and design models that are easy to evaluate, consistent, and only rely on intended features.

Next, academic papers tend to focus on a single, well-defined component. While these components may work well individually, they often break down as part of a larger pipeline. For example, to build a voice assistant you may need a pipeline of speech recognition, natural language understanding, and question answering components. If the speech recognition is off, it makes it more difficult to understand what the user is asking, and even more difficult to answer their question or complete the task.

speech recognition icon and sound waves

In academia, accuracy tends to be the main metric that researchers are trying to improve on, but in practice, developers also care about usability and scalability. In production, device constraints, inference time, interaction design, and other factors play a role in the overall success of an application. Often, these factors that contribute to usability are more important than minor accuracy improvements, requiring a different approach to model optimization.

Finally, security is an important factor in real-world applications. AI is a data-driven field. More data leads to better models, but developers must be careful about keeping this data secure and not violating customer trust. There have been many recent news articles about data breaches and a general sentiment of users feeling like companies are spying on them or not respecting their privacy.

These are some of the fundamental differences between AI theory and practice. Next, I’ll share some best practices and tools to solve NLP problems for production systems.

Applied NLP overview

The solution to many of the problems outlined above is to break down complex problems into a series of models that can be evaluated well. Instead of training a single, deep, end-to-end, black box system, train multiple, simpler, more well-defined models. Since each of these models is solving a simpler problem, they require less data to achieve high accuracy and less compute power to train. It is also easier to evaluate each of these subcomponents quickly and thoroughly, which makes it easier to efficiently deploy fixes to issues like picking up on unintended data trends.

With that in mind, we’ve found that most practical applications of NLP can be modeled as the following four general categories, and more complex problems can be handled with a pipeline of these models:

Text classification

For all NLP models, the input is a piece of text. With text classification, given a query or piece of text, the model outputs a single label.

One example application of this type is sentiment analysis. Given some text, the model can output a label of positive, negative, or neutral. Another example is topic classification. Consider an application with pre-defined topics of weather, news, and sports. Given a user query, the model can output the appropriate label. Third, extractive summarization or highlight extraction can be modeled as a text classification problem. For each sentence in the text, the model can output a binary label of whether that sentence is a highlight (included in the summary) or not.

example of text classification using inputs and outputs
Examples of sentiment analysis, domain classification, and highlight extraction.

Some models that can be used for text classification are logistic regression, support vector machines, random forest, decision trees, and neural networks (of which there are many network architectures available).

Some features that can be used to train these models include:

  • N-grams, which are sequences of n words or tokens in the order they appear
  • Bag of words, which is a count of all the words in the text (without paying attention to the order)
  • Word shape or orthographic features that consider if there are capitalizations, punctuation, numerics, etc.
  • Length of the text
  • Gazetteers, which are indexes or dictionaries containing domain-specific vocabulary and their frequencies – the feature is whether words or phrases in the input text appear in the domain gazetteer
  • For NN models, the input can be a character, word, or sentence level embedding or vector representation

While it’s good to be aware of these models and features, there are many libraries, toolkits, and frameworks with implementations of these models and feature extractors. Most of the work you’ll do for AI in practice will be framing the problem and collecting data. The model itself will often be a few lines calling a library. When starting out, it’s more important to focus on collecting the right data and framing the problem than getting caught up in the details of the model implementations.

Sequence labeling

The next model category is sequence labeling. Now, given a piece of text as input, the model will output a label for every word or token in the text. One application of this is entity recognition, which is extracting key words or phrases and their labels. Another application is part of speech tagging.

Entity recognition with IOB tagging input and output
Example of entity recognition with IOB tagging

Models that can be used for sequence labeling include maximum entropy markov models (MEMM), conditional random fields (CRF), long short-term memory networks (LSTM), and more complex recurrent neural network architectures (bi-LSTM, bi-LSTM + CRF, etc.).

Good features to use are the same as for the text classification model described above.

Sequence to sequence

When given some text input, sequence to sequence models output a sequence of tokens of arbitrary length. Some applications for this are machine translation or natural language generation. MT requires a lot of data to get right, so in practice it is generally better to use a pre-trained model or one available through an API. NLG generally doesn’t reliably work well enough to be used in production. In practice, developers usually use rules-based or templated responses instead. Given that most developers aren’t training these models from scratch, I won’t go into architecture details on this type here.

Information retrieval

The last category is information retrieval. IR is the problem of retrieving a document from an index or database based on a search term. Some applications of this are Question Answering, Search, and Entity Resolution. For example, say someone wants to know which artist played the song Bohemian Rhapsody, and you have an index that contains songs and artist names. You can search that index with the song title Bohemian Rhapsody to get the document with the artist field populated as Queen.

Example of structured question answering for conversational interfaces
Example of structured question answering for conversational interfaces.

Note that this is more complicated than a simple database lookup because it incorporates fuzzy matching. Some relevant features that can be used to get optimal rankings include:

  • Exact matching
  • Matching on normalized text
  • N-grams for phrase matching
  • Character n-grams for partial word matching and misspellings
  • Deep embedding based semantic matching, leveraging models such as BERT, GloVe, or sentence transformers
  • Phonetic matching, which can directly use phonetic signals from the speech recognition model, or generate phonemes from the transcribed text using models such as double metaphone or grapheme to phoneme

Note that there are some areas of NLP that I didn’t cover. I didn’t touch on unsupervised models at all. But the majority of practical NLP applications can be modeled as one of these four categories, or for more complex problems, a combination of them.

Example application

To make this more concrete, let’s walk through an example application that uses the concepts we’ve discussed so far. More specifically, I’ll be giving you an example of building a food ordering conversational interface with the MindMeld platform. This is a complex problem, so it involves a pipeline of multiple models shown here:

Natural Language Processor and knowledge base

Let’s consider the example query “I’d like a hummus wrap and two chicken kebabs.”

  • The Domain Classifier is a text classification model that assigns an incoming query into one of a set of pre-defined buckets or domains. The given query would be labeled as the food ordering
  • Intent Classifiers are also text classification models that predict which of the domain’s intents is expressed in the request. In this case, an intent classifier could label the query as the build order
  • Entity Recognizers discern and label entities — the words and phrases that must be identified to understand and fulfill requests — with sequence labeling models. For our example query, this would extract hummus wrap and chicken kebabs as dish entities and two as a number
  • Entity Role Classifiers add another level of labeling a role when knowing an entity’s type is not enough to interpret it correctly. These are also text classification models. The number entity two can be further classified as the quantity role (to differentiate it from a size role, e.g. 16 drinks vs a 16 ounce drink).
  • An Entity Resolver maps each identified entity to a canonical value using Information Retrieval. For example, hummus wrap can be mapped to the closest canonical item of Veggie Hummus Wrap, ID:‘B01CUUBRZY’.
  • The Language Parser finds relationships between the extracted entities and groups them into a meaningful hierarchy using weighted rules. In this case, two and chicken kebabs would be grouped together.
  • The Question Answerer supports the creation of a knowledge base, which encompasses all of the important world knowledge for a given application use case. The question answerer then leverages the knowledge base to find answers, validate questions, and suggest alternatives in response to user queries. This is an Information Retrieval model. Since the user has not specified a restaurant name, the question answerer can be used to find restaurants that carry the requested dishes.
  • The Dialogue Manager analyzes each incoming request and assigns it to a dialogue state handler, which then executes the required logic and returns a response. This is a rule-based system. In this case, it would use a template to construct a response like “I found veggie hummus wrap and two chicken kebabs available at Med Wraps and Palmyra. Where would you like to order from?”
  • Finally, the Application Manager orchestrates the query workflow — in essence, directing the progress of the query between and within components.

MindMeld implements all of these models for you with some reasonable defaults. Once you’ve added your data, you can simply run the following in the command line to train all of these models and start testing them:

mindmeld blueprint

If you would like to further experiment with one of the models, let’s take an intent classifier for example, you can do so with the following syntax in python:

mindmeld components

To download the code and try it out yourself you can make a copy of this Google colab notebook and follow the commands. More information is available in the MindMeld documentation.

Now that you understand some fundamental NLP concepts and how to frame an NLP problem, the next step is to collect data.

Data collection

Before jumping into data collection, it’s always a good idea to check if there are any pre-trained models you can use. Hugging Face is a popular platform that has implementations of many state of the art models. CoreNLP, spaCy, and NLTK are platforms that have implementations of many NLP fundamentals, such as named entity recognition, part of speech tagging, etc. And you can always do a simple Google search to look for additional models. Even if these pre-trained models don’t perfectly fit your use case, they can still be useful for fine tuning or as features.

Example of using pre-trained sentence transformers found via Hugging Face
Example of using pre-trained sentence transformers found via Hugging Face
Example of using pre-trained Named Entity Recognition from spaCY
Example of using pre-trained Named Entity Recognition from spaCY

If you are training a model, first check to see if there are any existing datasets available. There are a lot of open-source datasets that can be used as a starting point. There may be data within your organization that you may want to use. Or you might be able to scrape or compile data from a website or publicly available API.

While it’s good to check for existing models and data, don’t hesitate to build a new dataset if one doesn’t already exist that accurately represents your use case. Representative data is essential to building a high-quality application. Crowdsourcing tools can be useful for generating initial data.

Example platforms for crowdsourcing data collection.
Example platforms for crowdsourcing data collection.

When leveraging crowdsourcing tools, it’s important to define your task well. If the task description is too specific, you will get lots of very similar looking data, but if it’s too general, a lot of the data may be irrelevant or not useful. To strike the right balance, iterate. Work in small batches, see how the results look, and update your task description accordingly.

Some data collection platforms help match you with workers who are trained in your specific use case, which is really useful if you want clean, consistent data. For cases where you want more variation or generally want to see how the public responds to certain prompts, it may be better to go with tools that anyone can contribute to. You can also do things like target specific geographic areas to get a variation in slang and regional language that people might use.

Whatever approach you take, consider implementing validation checks to automatically discard any excessively noisy or irrelevant data. You can target workers with better ratings to help reduce noise, but even then, you should implement some automated validation like checking length, removing whitespaces, and making sure at least some words appear in the relevant language dictionary.

In addition to collecting the text itself, remember that we want to collect labels for our models. It’s incredibly important for these labels to be clean, because without clean data our models can’t learn. If you use crowdsourcing tools or data teams for this, you should give contributors some training and evaluation before they start labeling. You can have multiple people label the same queries, and only accept labels with a certain level of agreement. Once you have an initial model, you can help speed up labeling time by using model predictions to bootstrap labels. This transforms the label generation task into a verification task, which is generally faster and easier.

Finally, if you don’t have any other resources, you can create and label your data yourself, in house. This can be a great way to bootstrap an initial model. It gets you to think more closely about the data you are trying to collect, and you can add data over time from user logs or other sources as resources become available.

Toolkits and frameworks

Once you’ve framed your problem and collected data, the next step is to train your model. Scikit-learn is a popular toolkit for classic models that we talked about like logistic regression, support vector machines, and random forest.

linear regression

For neural networks, you can use libraries like PyTorch or Tensorflow. Here’s a great tutorial on using a PyTorch LSTM for part of speech tagging, and here’s one for Tensorflow.

Some more NLP specific toolkits are CoreNLP, NLTK, spaCy, and Hugging Face. I mentioned these toolkits before in the context of pre-trained models, but they are also very useful as feature extractors. These toolkits can be used to generate features from text, like n-grams and bag of words. These feature vectors can then be fed into models implemented via, for example, scikit-learn.

generating ngrams

For more complex problems involving multiple NLP components, namely conversational interfaces, you can use a variety of platforms  including MindMeld, Dialogflow, Amazon Lex, wit.ai, RASA, and Microsoft LUIS. These platforms have a lot of preset defaults for feature extractors and models and have the whole pipeline set up, so all you have to do is provide your data and implement any custom logic. Even if you’re not building a full conversational interface, these platforms can be really useful for their subcomponents, like question answering or custom entity extraction.

Finally, there are tools on the infrastructure side that can be particularly useful for AI. Elasticsearch is useful because it is not only a database, but also a full-text search engine with a lot of IR capabilities built-in. AWS, Google compute engine, and other similar platforms are great for cloud compute to train heavier models efficiently. Kubernates is a platform for easy deployment and scaling of your systems. And DVC is a tool for data versioning, so that if you have multiple people training models, they can be synchronized on the data they are using.

Improving models in a secure way

The key to intelligent ML systems is to improve them over time. All of the leaders in the AI space have become so by leveraging usage and behavior data from real users to continually improve their models. As an organization, it is essential to do this in a secure way.

The most important thing to start with is communication. It is important to clearly communicate if any user data will be stored, how long it will be stored for, who will be able to access it, and what it will be used for. Even if you are abiding by data policies, if users are unaware of these agreements, it may come across as ‘spying.’ This communication can be done at onboarding, with user agreements, through an FAQ section of a website, via a published white paper, or any other accessible location.

In order to define these data policies, some things to think about include what data needs to be stored to improve your system. Can you store only some extracted trends or metadata, or do you need to keep the full raw logs? You should only store what is absolutely necessary to add value to the end user and always remove any extra sensitive or personally identifiable information. Think about how long this data will be stored. Will it be deleted after a set amount of time, say one year, or is it crucial to store it indefinitely until the user requests it to be deleted? Who will be able to access the data? If the data is never read or inspected by humans, people may be more comfortable with their data being used. If that is not possible, it is good to make the data available only to a small team of analysts who have a high level of data security training. Finally, what will the data be used for? If it provides value to the end user, they are more likely to allow you to use it. When possible, it is beneficial to provide useful reports to end users or customers and measurable accuracy improvements on models.

Once you’ve defined a data policy, you need to build a secure data pipeline that can enforce this policy.

example data pipeline
Example data pipeline. User queries and model outputs are stored in a secure temporary cache until they can be processed and saved in a more permanent data store with relevant access permissions.

For example, you need to keep track of information like from which user each piece of data came from, so you can delete it if they ask for it to be removed. The platform needs to be able to enforce permissions, so only authorized individuals are able to access data stores. You can also build models to remove sensitive information. For example, if you don’t need to store person names and those exist in your data, you can use an entity recognition model to recognize those person names and replace them with a generic token.

Once you have data, an efficient way to improve models is with Active Learning. In production, raw data is cheap, but labeling data is not. We can use model uncertainty to select which queries to label first to improve models quickly.

model performance vs queries added

To help do active learning on a regular basis, you can build out a semi-automated pipeline that selects logs from the data store, bootstraps annotations, which can be verified by a human labeler, and checks to see if the accuracy increases with the new data. If it does, the new model can be deployed, and if not, the data can be sent to the developer team for further inspection and model experimentation. In addition to increasing the training set with this pipeline, it’s good to add to the test set. For the test set, it’s better to randomly select queries to get an accurate distribution of user behavior.

You can further speed up this pipeline by using auto labeling. Tools like snorkel enable labeling data automatically, with an algorithm or model, rather than manually with a human labeler. The auto labeling system can abstain from labeling queries for which there is low confidence. These can be sent to human labelers or ignored. Either way, it allows for some model improvement without a human-in-the-loop, which is beneficial for security reasons and time or resource constraints.

About the author

Arushi Raghuvanshi is a Senior Machine Learning Engineer at Cisco through the acquisition of MindMeld, where she builds production level conversational interfaces. She has developed instrumental components of the core Natural Language Processing platform, drives the effort on active learning to improve models in production, and is leading new initiatives such as speaker identification. Prior to MindMeld, Arushi earned her Master’s degree in Computer Science with an Artificial Intelligence specialization from Stanford University. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Stanford in Computer Science with a secondary degree in Electrical Engineering. Her prior industry experience includes time working at Microsoft, Intel, Jaunt VR, and founding a startup backed by Pear Ventures and Lightspeed Ventures. Arushi has publications in leading conferences including EMNLP, IEEE WCCI, and IEEE ISMVL.

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Webex Community members bring Linux support for Webex to life

Linux support for Webex

Here at Webex, we understand that innovation can come from anywhere, whether it’s from our engineering team, our partners, or passionate users like yourself. We created the User Community Feedback Portal for our community members to provide feedback on new features or give suggestions on how we can make our product even better. Ever since launching the Webex Community in May, you have made good use of the feedback portal, resulting in innovations and changes that matter most to you.

Users have been asking us to support Webex on Linux, but after reviewing the idea, it didn’t appear that there was a substantial need for Linux support. However, users in the Webex Community highlighted that there indeed was a need—in fact, users wanted support on Linux far more than we knew. See the idea here

The vote is in!

The community came together using the User Community Feedback Portal to make it known that there was indeed a need for support on Linux and just how much it mattered to those who matter most to us: our users.

“My ‘Linux colleagues’ laughed about it when I started my request in May, but I couldn’t understand why Cisco was not supporting this key group in the DevNet population. It’s good to hear that Cisco is listening and [I’m] looking forward to the first release,” explained Wim van Moorsel from AnyWeb, which is why he submitted the request.

This project became so popular that it is now the second most popular (by vote) idea in the Webex Community. Nearly 800 people voted from 318 different companies with an additional 100 partners asking for the Linux support, too.

the feed for Linux support for Webex request

After seeing how many votes this idea received, product managers once again reviewed supporting Webex on Linux and considered how valuable this update is to our community members. Needless to say, we are now moving forward with supporting Webex on Linux. The product manager leading the upcoming project:

Thank you so much for your feedback and the numerous votes on the request to support a Linux version of the Webex Teams client. The wait is finally over and Cisco Collaboration team has started working on a Linux client. There are numerous questions in terms of what flavors will be supported, what features will be available, etc. Our goal is to get it to you as soon as possible and are releasing the core workflows (targeted for Q1 CY2021) with a roadmap to ultimate parity with the Windows client. The team is working through defining the phases and finalizing the initial flavors of Linux that we will support. Taking your requests on flavors into consideration for sure. We will share more on this in the upcoming weeks so please watch out this AHA for more details. Thank you your patience.”

– Manali Dongre, Product Manager

With the completion of this project, Webex will be supported on nearly any operating system.

User Community Feedback Portal

We aren’t too proud to admit that we don’t know everything. This is in part why we created the User Community Feedback Portal—to learn from our community members, to get insights into what actually matters to our users, and to improve both our product and experience for all users. It is because of feedback and the power of community that we are able to give our users what they want. We’re excited to start the Linux project and receive more feedback once it launches.

Have another idea you want to see brought to life? Or do you have feedback on features, projects, or want to submit a new idea? Visit the Webex Community and use the feedback portal to make your voice heard. Access the User Community Feedback Portal in the community by clicking on the “External Links” dropdown and selecting “Share a Product Idea.” We can’t wait to hear about your ideas!

Make your voice heard and submit a new idea!

About the author

Cole Callahan, Webex Community Manager

About Cole – Cole manages the Webex Communities, including the IT Admin, Adoption Champions, and User Communities. He’s a kayak fanatic, and proud father to his incredible Foxhound, Daisy. He’s passionate about connecting customers, users, and admins with Webex.

Cole is a recent Ball State graduate and award-winning documentarian (seriously!) who has previously launched online communities for other organizations. As the Community Manager here at Cisco, Cole launched our community spaces, engages with members, encourages conversations, and is your go-to guy for everything relating to Webex Communities. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

Learn More

Make your voice heard with the User Community Feedback Portal

How to launch a community with Webex Teams

A broadcasters How to Guide to live stream Webex

Live streaming with Webex Meetings for your virtual events: What’s new and how to use it

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Robust NLP for voice assistants

Karthik Raghunathan – How to understand your users despite your Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)’s bad hearing.

This is a companion blog post to my talk at the L3-AI conference on June 18th, 2020. The talk slides are available here. The talk recording is here.

NLP machines
Image credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

The MindMeld Conversational AI Platform has been used by developers to build text-based chatbots as well as voice assistants. While text-based chatbots certainly have their place and utility in today’s world, voice interfaces are a lot more intuitive and natural when they work well.

It’s been encouraging to see the general population become more comfortable with voice assistants in recent years. An early 2020 survey by Voicebot found that more than a third of US households now have a voice-enabled smart speaker.

Map of the United States from Voicebot showing the graph of US households having voice-enabled smart speaker

Another survey found that 35% of the US population are regular voice assistant users.

A graph of UC Voice Assistant users and penetration

These numbers are expected to grow even faster in this era as users start preferring touch-free interfaces. This presents a great opportunity for developers of voice user interfaces everywhere. However, anyone who’s worked on one of these systems knows that it’s no easy feat to build a production-quality voice assistant that delights users.

Several active research areas in natural language processing explore more complex and deeper neural network architectures for conversational natural language understanding, natural language generation, and dialog state tracking. But all of that great work can still get undermined by the simple fact that voice assistants often suffer from bad hearing. In real life, even simple voice commands get easily misunderstood because the assistant didn’t hear you clearly.

Alexa Voice Fails

In more technical terms, this means that the accuracy of your Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system has a huge impact on the overall quality of your voice assistant. This ends up being the Achilles’ Heel for most voice assistants, and if you want to see a significant improvement in user experience, focusing your efforts here will give you the most bang for your buck.

Challenges with speech recognition

Modern voice assistants are built using a complex pipeline of AI technology. At a high level, three steps are common to all voice user interfaces:

 

Source: Nvidia
  1. First, we use Automatic Speech Recognition to convert the user’s speech to text. Since building your own ASR requires prohibitively high amounts of data and resources, it’s common for developers to use an off-the-shelf cloud service like Google Cloud Speech-to-Text, Azure Speech to Text, or Amazon Transcribe.
  2. We then use Natural Language Processing to understand the transcribed text, take any appropriate actions, and formulate a text response. This can be accomplished with a platform like MindMeld that encompasses functionality for natural language understanding, dialogue management, and natural language generation.
  3. Lastly, we use Text To Speech to synthesize human-like speech for the generated text response to be “spoken” back to the user. This is commonly done using cloud services like Google Cloud Text-to-Speech, Azure Text-to-Speech, or Amazon Polly.

Since ASR is the first component in this pipeline, errors introduced at this step cascade to downstream components, causing them to make errors as well. You can use all the transformers you want in your NLP system, but if the input is garbage, you’ll still get garbage out.

In the last five years, there have been many headlines like these which may lead one to believe that ASR is an already solved problem:

Microsoft reaches ‘human parity’ with new speech recognition system

The system’s word error rate is reported to be 5.9 percent, which Microsoft says is “about equal” to professional transcriptionists asked to work on speech taken from the same Switchboard corpus of conversations.

www.theverge.com

Google’s speech recognition technology now has a 4.9% word error rate

Google CEO Sundar Pichai today announced that the company’s speech recognition technology has now achieved a 4.9 percent word error rate.

venturebeat.com

While we’ve undoubtedly made large strides in speech recognition accuracy over the last decade, it’s far from being a solved problem in the real world. In many of our production applications, we see word error rates (the metric by which ASR quality is measured) to be far higher than the ~5% numbers reported on well-studied academic datasets. Off-the-shelf ASR services like those from Microsoft, Google, or Amazon still make many mistakes on proper nouns and domain-specific terminology. When deployed in the real world, these errors are further exacerbated when dealing with users with diverse accents or non-ideal acoustic environments.

Examples of ASR mistranscriptions in Webex Assistant

Below are a few examples of ASR mistranscriptions we’ve seen in Webex Assistant, our MindMeld-powered voice assistant for enterprise collaboration.

ASR mistranscriptions

As you can see, the ASR often confuses proper nouns with common English words (e.g., Prakash’s vs. precautious or Mahojwal vs. my jaw). On other occasions, it mistakes one named entity for another (e.g., Kiran vs. Corrine or Didi vs. Stevie). There are also cases where it fuses named entities with surrounding words (e.g., Merriweather instead of me with Heather). Any of these mistakes would lead the assistant to take an unsatisfactory action since the primary entity of interest has been lost in the ASR output.

Clearly, we need to overcome these kinds of errors to understand the user correctly. But before we look at potential solutions, it’s worth emphasizing two things.

First, we’ll assume that the ASR we’re using is an off-the-shelf black box system that we can’t modify and have to use as is. This is a reasonable assumption because most popular cloud ASR services provide very little room for customization. However, we will assume that the ASR provides a ranked list of alternate hypotheses and not just its most confident transcript. This is something that all major cloud ASR services can do today.

major cloud ASR services

Note that the techniques covered below will be useful even if you had the luxury of using your own highly customized domain-specific ASR models. That’s because no ASR is ever going to be perfect, and having robustness mechanisms built into your NLP pipeline is always a good idea. The assumption about an off-the-shelf black box ASR is more to restrict the scope of the discussion here to the most common scenario that developers find themselves in.

Second, when talking about the NLP stack for a voice assistant, different implementations might involve different steps as part of the full pipeline. In this post, we’ll only focus on the three main steps common to all modern conversational AI platforms: intent classification, entity recognition, and entity resolution.

Next, we’ll look at three different techniques we’ve used in MindMeld applications to make our NLP pipeline more resilient to ASR errors.

1. ASR n-best reranking

The first technique, called n-best rescoring or reranking, applies application-specific domain knowledge to bias and possibly correct the ASR output.

While this description doesn’t do justice to all the complexities of a modern ASR system, at a conceptual level, it’s still useful to think of an ASR as having three separate stages:

Automatic Speech Recognition

First, the feature extractor extracts some useful audio features from the input speech signal. The acoustic model then maps those extracted features to phonemes representing the distinct sounds in the language. Finally, the language model takes that sequence of phonemes and transforms it into a sequence of words, thereby forming a full sentence. Like other probabilistic systems, ASR systems can output not just their best guess but also an n-best list of ranked alternate hypotheses.

The language model (LM) has a huge impact on how the audio finally gets transcribed. The LM is essentially a statistical model that predicts the most likely word to follow a given sequence of words. Conversely, it can also be used to score any arbitrary sequence of words and provide a probability measure for that word sequence.

The key thing to note here is that the LM used by an off-the-shelf cloud ASR service is a generic domain-agnostic model that may work well for web searches or general dictation tasks, but may not be best suited for recognizing the kind of language your users might use when conversing with your assistant. This is why these ASR systems often mistranscribe a domain-specific named entity as some other popular term on the web, or simply as a common English phrase. Unfortunately, in most cases, we cannot change or customize the LM used by a black-box ASR service. Therefore, we train our own separate domain-aware LM and use it to pick the best candidate from the different hypotheses in the ASR’s n-best list.

To train our in-domain language model, we need a large corpus of sentences that reflects the kinds of things our users would say to our voice assistant. Luckily, we should already have a dataset of this kind that we use to train our intent and entity detection models in our NLP pipeline. That same data (with some augmentation, if needed) can be repurposed for training the LM. There are many free and open-source language modeling toolkits available, and depending on your corpus size, you can either pick a traditional n-gram-based model or a neural net-based one. In our experience, n-gram LMs trained using the KenLM or SRILM toolkits worked well in practice.

Once we have a trained in-domain LM, we can use it to rescore and rerank the ASR n-best list such that candidates with language patterns similar to those found in our training data are ranked higher. The post-reranking top candidate is treated as the corrected ASR output and used for further downstream processing by our NLP pipeline.

NLP Pipeline

The above figure shows this technique in action in Webex Assistant. The original ASR output was trying marijuana’s emr, but after n-best reranking, the corrected output is join maria joana’s pmr, which seems more likely as something a user would say to our voice assistant. The ASR’s LM would have preferred a different top hypothesis originally because trying marijuana is a very popular n-gram on the web, and EMR, which stands for “electronic medical record” is a more popular term in general than PMR (“personal meeting room”), which only makes sense in an online meeting scenario. But our in-domain LM can pick the right candidate because it would assign higher probabilities to words like join, PMR, and possibly even Maria Joana if we had that name in our training data.

The advantage of this approach is that it isn’t directed at improving any one specific downstream task, but the entire NLP pipeline can benefit from getting to deal with a much cleaner input. This would help with improved accuracy for intent and entity classification as well as entity resolution.

natural language processor

The disadvantage is that this approach introduces one other new model to your overall pipeline that you now have to optimize and maintain in production. There’s also a small latency cost to introducing this additional processing step between your ASR and NLP. Even if you can make all those logistics work, there’s still a limitation to this approach that it cannot make any novel corrections but only choose from the n-best hypotheses provided by the ASR. So there’s a good chance that you’ll need other robustness mechanisms further down the NLP pipeline.

2. Training NLP models with noisy data

The next technique is a really simple one. NLP models are usually trained using clean data, i.e., user query examples that do not have any errors. The idea behind this technique is to spice up our labeled data with some noise so that the training data more closely resembles what the NLP models will encounter at run time. We do this by augmenting our training datasets with queries that contain commonly observed ASR errors.

Training data for intent and entity models augmented with queries containing common ASR errors (in blue)

Intent Classification

Let’s again take the example of Webex Assistant. The intent classification training data for our assistant might have query examples like join meeting, join the meeting, start the meeting, and other similar expressions labeled as the join_meeting intent. Now, if the production application logs show that join the meeting often gets mistranscribed as shine the meeting, or start the meeting often gets confused as shark the meeting, we label those erroneous transcripts as join_meeting as well and add them to our intent classification training data.

We follow a similar approach with our entity recognition model, where we add mistranscriptions like cool tim turtle or video call with dennis toy to our training data and mark the misrecognized entity text (tim turtle, dennis toy, etc.) with the person_name entity label.

If executed correctly, this approach works out really well in practice and improves the real-world accuracy of both the intent classification and entity recognition models. One could argue that you shouldn’t pollute your training data this way, and your model should learn to generalize without resorting to these kinds of tricks. There’s some merit to that argument. You should definitely start with just clean data and experiment with different features and models to see how far you can get. For example, using character-level features like character n-grams or embeddings can make your intent classifier more robust to minor errors like join vs. joint, and a well-trained entity recognizer should be able to recognize benny would as a name (in call benny would now) by relying on the surrounding context words even if the word would is mistranscribed. But there will always be ASR errors that our NLP models won’t be able to handle, and data augmentation of this kind is an effective way to help the model learn better.

Of course, you need to be careful not to go overboard with this approach. If you were to throw in every single way in which an ASR mistranscribes your user queries, that would probably confuse the model more than it would help it. So what we do is only add examples with ASR errors that are really common in our logs. We also only include near-misses where the transcription is slightly off, and don’t include cases where the ASR output has been garbled beyond recognition. Lastly, you need to ensure that you don’t provide conflicting evidence to your NLP models in this process. For instance, the ASR may sometimes misrecognize start the meeting as stop the meeting, but you shouldn’t label stop the meeting as an example for the join_meeting intent. That would introduce a confusion between the join_meeting intent and the end_meeting intent where that example should rightfully belong.

This technique was mainly about improving our intent and entity detection models. But we’ll now turn our focus to entity resolution.

3. ASR-robust entity resolution

Entity resolution, or entity linking, is the task of mapping a detected entity in the user query to a canonical entry in a knowledge base.

entity resolution

In the above example, the person name entity sheryl is resolved to a concrete entity Sheryl Lee who’s a specific employee in the company directory. It’s this resolution step that allows us to correctly fulfill the user’s intent because we now know the right employee to initiate the video call with.

Entity resolution is often modeled as an information retrieval problem. For instance, you can create a knowledge base by using a full-text search engine like Elasticsearch to index all the canonical entities relevant to your application. Then at runtime, you can execute a search query against this knowledge base with the detected entity text and get back a ranked list of matching results.

search acuracy

To improve the search accuracy, and thereby the entity resolution accuracy, there are several features we can experiment with.

Fuzzy Matching

We can encourage partial or fuzzy matching by using features like normalized tokens, character n-grams, word n-grams, and edge n-grams. We can also do simple semantic matching by using a mapping of domain-specific entity synonyms or aliases. Textual similarity features like these are useful for any kind of conversational application regardless of the input modality. But next, we’ll specifically look at additional features that make the entity resolver for a voice assistant more robust to ASR errors.

Phonetic similarity

First, we introduce phonetic similarity because textual similarity alone isn’t enough to deal with ASR errors. For example, when Kiran Prakash’s gets mistranscribed as Corrine precautious, relying purely on text similarity might not help us make the correct match because, at a textual level, these phrases are pretty far apart from each other. But since they sound similar, they should be fairly close in the phonetic space.

One way to encode text into a phonetic representation is by using the double metaphone algorithm. It’s a rule-based algorithm that maps a given word to a phonetic code such that similar sounding words have similar encodings. For words with multiple pronunciations, it provides a primary and a secondary code encoding the two most popular ways to pronounce the word. For example, the name Smith has the double metaphone codes SM0 and XMT, whereas the name Schmidt is represented by the codes XMT and SMT. The similar representations indicate that these two names are phonetically very close.

A more recent approach is to use a machine-learned grapheme-to-phoneme model that generates a sequence of phonemes for a given piece of text. Using this method, Smith is represented by the phoneme sequence S M IH1 TH, whereas Schmidt is represented as SH M IH1 T. Similar sounding words have similar phoneme sequences, and the detailed representations also make it easier to compute the phonetic similarity between words at a more granular level.

In our experiments, we found that these two methods often complement each other. Hence, we use phonetic features derived from both to improve our search.

Leveraging the ASR n-best list

One other technique that helps us significantly improve our search recall is leveraging the entire n-best list of hypotheses from the ASR, rather than just its top transcript. We run entity recognition on all the hypotheses and send all of the detected entities in our search query to the knowledge base.

Leveraging the ASR n-best list

On many occasions, the correct entity might even be present a little deeper in the n-best list, like in the above example where the correct name Sheetal was part of the ASR’s third-best guess. Even when that is not the case, pooling the various text and phonetic features across all the hypotheses has the effect of upweighting features which have more consistent evidence throughout the n-best list and downweighting outliers, thereby resulting in a much better overall match.

User-based personalization

The last thing we’ll discuss is using personalization features to improve entity resolution. User-based personalization is something that search engines use to better cater their search results to each user. Similar techniques can help us resolve entities more accurately by leveraging prior information about the user, such as which entities a particular user is more likely to talk about. This is useful for any kind of conversational application, but can especially have a huge impact for voice assistants where there is a larger potential for confusion due to similar-sounding words and ASR errors.

Personalization features tend to be application-specific and depend on the use case at hand. For example, for Webex Assistant, a major use case is being able to call other people in your company. Assuming that in general, you are more likely to call someone you are more familiar with, we can devise a personalization score, which is essentially a measure of a user’s familiarity with others in the company. In other words, for every user, we compute a familiarity score between that user and everyone else in the company directory. This familiarity score considers factors like how far the two people are in the company’s organizational hierarchy and how frequently they interact with each other via calls or online meetings.

familiarity score

We can then leverage this additional personalization score during ranking to help us disambiguate among similar-sounding names in the ASR hypotheses, and pick the right one.

This was just one example for a specific use case, but you can envision similar personalization features for different applications. For a food ordering assistant, you could have a list of restaurants or dishes that a particular user has favorited or ordered a lot recently. For a music discovery app, you can use a list of artists and albums that a particular user likes and listens to more often. And so on.

ASR robustness features in MindMeld

You can employ one or all of the above techniques when building a MindMeld-powered voice assistant:

  • We don’t have native support for building in-domain language models and using them for reranking n-best ASR hypotheses. But you can try this on your own by leveraging the LM toolkits mentioned above and include it as a preprocessing step before calling the MindMeld NLP pipeline. However, we would recommend starting with the other two techniques first since those can be achieved to an extent within MindMeld itself. Furthermore, they may reduce the need for having a separate n-best reranking step at the beginning.
  • Training the NLP models with noisy data merely involves adding query examples with ASR errors to your training data files and then using MindMeld to build your NLP models as usual. Just heed the warnings about not adding too much noise or confusability to your models.
  • There’s some out-of-the-box support for ASR-robust entity resolution in MindMeld, as described in our user guide. You can improve upon this by implementing personalized ranking techniques that are tailored to your specific application. For more details, read our 2019 EMNLP paper on entity resolution for noisy ASR transcripts.

It’s worth emphasizing that anyone who aspires to build a production-quality voice assistant must invest heavily in making their NLP models robust to ASR errors. This can often be the difference between an unusable product and one with a good user experience. MindMeld-powered assistants are extensively used in enterprise environments where tolerance for misunderstanding of voice commands is far lower than in a consumer setting. Robustness to ASR errors is always top-of-mind for us, and we’ll continue to share updates as we make more progress on this front.

About the author

Karthik Raghunathan is the Director of Machine Learning for Webex Intelligence, which is the team responsible for building machine learning-driven intelligent experiences across all of Cisco’s collaboration products. Karthik used to be the Director of Research at MindMeld, a leading AI company that powered conversational interfaces for some of the world’s largest retailers, media companies, government agencies, and automotive manufacturers. MindMeld was acquired by Cisco in May 2017. Karthik has more than 10 years of combined experience working at reputed academic and industry research labs on the problems of speech, natural language processing, and information retrieval. Prior to joining MindMeld, he was a Senior Scientist in the Microsoft AI & Research Group, where he worked on conversational interfaces such as the Cortana digital assistant and voice search on Bing and Xbox. Karthik holds an MS in Computer Science with Distinction in Research in Natural Language Processing from Stanford University. He was co-advised by professors Daniel Jurafsky and Christopher Manning, and his graduate research focused on the problems of Coreference Resolution, Spoken Dialogue Systems, and Statistical Machine Translation. Karthik is a co-inventor on two US patents and has publications in leading AI conferences such as EMNLP, SIGIR, and AAAI.

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K-12 e-learning video conferencing tips

Video conferencing tips for e-learning

Our daily lives experience no shortage of disruptions. Did you know that prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, studies showed the average person is bombarded with as many as 4,000 messages per day? These can come in the form of advertising, marketing, notifications, alerts, emails, calls, people, and more. Pretty crazy to think about. And now, many kids are home, distracting their parents, but also experiencing similar distractions as they navigate a new normal for what their schooling looks like.

Fortunately, limits on in-person instruction have not eliminated educational experiences for many students. A large number of districts have embraced remote learning, using technology-mediated interactions to help students stay on track. But how do you keep students engaged?

A recent article in Edutopia noted how challenging this transition is for students and teachers alike, but luckily, there are many strategies educators can employ, and resources they can use, to get the most out of remote learning for students in kindergarten through high school.*

Best practices for K-12 e-learning

First of all, if your school or district already uses an online learning management system (LMS), make sure to integrate your video conferencing tool with that platform. Administrators and teachers who are tasked with this responsibility can join Webex for live classes that explore the Webex Education Connector for Learning Management Systems.

Synchronous class time on Webex

During synchronous class time, make sure to set expectations around technology with your students, including demonstrating how to use video conferencing features. As appropriate for your students’ grade level and learning objectives, make sure they know how to mute, use chat functions and more.

Record the course, and share that you will do so. Direct students toward the archive of past lessons and make sure they’re easy to access.

As you meet with your students over a video conferencing platform, there are several best practices you can follow to help make learning more engaging:

  1. Turn your video on.

With so much changing on a daily basis, going live with your students is a simple way to add some continuity to the learning experience. Don’t worry too much about having the best lighting or perfect hair. Just do what you’d normally do for school. Try not to have too many distractions visible on camera, but sharing a little bit of your home life and personality can really help your students plug in.

  1. Use the tools at your disposal.

Videoconferencing platforms can enable highly interactive online learning. There are a couple Webex tools that you might want to leverage for remote learning:

  • Whiteboard: Pull up the Webex virtual Whiteboard to both demonstrate concepts and interact with students. This can be used for lessons or quick games during break time.
  • Polling: Do you need to do a quick check for understanding, or do you want to give students a chance to vote on how content will be delivered today? Use a snap Webex poll.
  1. Find simple web-based tools for other functions. Display slide decks, shared documents, tutorials and other simple web-based tools by using screen sharing Remember, you’re not moving the class from one location to the next, so anything you can do to give students breaks and cues that it’s time to switch tasks will help keep things running smoothly throughout the day.

If you are running synchronous classes on Webex, it could still be beneficial to incorporate a little independent work time and quick opportunities for sharing into the lesson. Doing so will let students focus on tasks that will help them retain the lesson and listening to their classmates share takeaways and thoughts will give them prompt feedback about their in-class work.

Asynchronous class time on Webex

During asynchronous work time and collaboration in small groups, make sure students know how to use shared documents and set up Webex Teams and spaces so they can work together and send assignments back to you.

Remember, if you have to change the participants in a small group, add or remove individuals instead of deleting the space and creating a new one. Students will appreciate being able to see the context so they can catch up quickly.

Most of all, remember, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for testing out techniques to see what works for your class and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to readjust as you get a better sense of how to engage your K-12 students through e-learning.

Additional resources

There’s a wealth of learning opportunities available from Cisco Webex to help teachers explore how videoconferencing and Cisco Teams can help them connect with their students.

The first stop for teachers, students and parents, as well as IT professionals and higher education faculty, should be this web page. You’ll find tips for creating lesson plans, launching group projects and more.

Like you, we know that everybody’s learning style is different. That’s why we produce video tutorials to help teachers learn how to use Webex with their students. Topics we’ve covered so far include how to set expectations with students, tips to help teachers with scheduling and advice for establishing classroom culture during remote learning.

For more about the transition to virtual learning, check out this blog post.

Lastly, one thing we’ve noticed during our current situation is that when times are tough, people step up. Today, there’s no shortage of additional resources, including those outside of what we offer at Cisco Webex. A recent rundown from CNET includes K-12 e-learning resources on topics ranging from literacy to math, science and coding, as well as languages and Advanced Placement preparation. You’ll even find opportunities to take a virtual field trip with your class.

Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer.

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Connected Education: Let Remote Learning Continue With Webex — Before, During, and After Class

Welcome to hybrid learning

 

Sources

How challenging this transition is for students and teachers alike

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Best practices for clinicians using video conferencing

Video conferencing best practices

Some situations will always require an in-person visit to a healthcare provider. But there are many instances where a stable and immersive audio and video conferencing platform can offer all of the context needed for a clinician and their staff to offer accurate advice and a diagnosis.

Medical professionals benefit from a streamlined workflow, while patients don’t have to worry about travel arrangements and other logistical concerns. Plus, everyone involved has the advantage of reduced exposure to contagious and communicable diseases.

Of course, there are best practices in terms of compliance, medical ethics, technology, and practicality that must all be considered. Let’s review some key guidance for clinicians who decide to start offering virtual consults.

Compliance and medical ethics

The medical field is held to especially high standards in terms of patient confidentiality, licensure of providers, prescription of medication, acting in the best interests of patients, and many other factors.

In general, the same compliance concerns apply to virtual consults as an equivalent visit by a patient to your office or facility. There are some issues specifically related to virtual consults to keep in mind as well, as the Telehealth Resource Centers explained:

  • Providers have to be licensed to practice medicine in the same state where their patient is located.
  • HIPAA doesn’t specifically cover the unique circumstances of telehealth and virtual consults, but physicians and other staff must follow its rules to avoid issues with patient confidentiality and privacy.
  • Some states have additional privacy and security laws, whether focused on medicine or internet commerce, that providers must follow.

The Center for Connected Health Policy pointed out that while there are no Medicare rules related to informed consent and telemedicine, many states require that medical professionals obtain this approval from patients. This may be enforced through a state Medicaid program or statutes and regulations, so a thorough understanding of the requirements of the state or states in which you provide telemedicine services is especially important.

Practicality and ease of use

Virtual consults help to reduce or eliminate the various roadblocks that can exist between patients and care. Whether it’s impossible for a patient to secure reliable transport to a facility or they can’t easily do so because of a medical condition or other factors, a virtual consult can still connect them with you and your staff. Additionally, these visits keep all patients – whether immunocompromised or healthy – away from others who may spread a disease to them.

These benefits are only accessible with a carefully developed strategy that makes it easy for patients and medical professionals to connect with each other. Scheduling is one concern to keep in mind. Physicians, nurses, and other medical staff may have to spend more time with a given patient during a virtual consult or in-office visit than was initially anticipated or budgeted for on a daily schedule.

If your next virtual consult has to be delayed, the patient should be kept in the loop with updated information. Explaining up front that the appointment time is a guideline that everyone in the office attempts to follow but can’t absolutely guarantee is an important step. So is sending a notification if an issue arises.

Delegating work related to the consult is another factor. On your side of operations, it can ease the burden to have administrative staff set up the video conference and send an invite to you. That means more time focusing on the assessment you’re qualified to provide. Similarly, your admin team can also send an invite to patients ahead of time and follow up shortly before the appointment.

Technology

A stable and high-quality video conferencing platform can go a long way toward enabling the success of virtual consults. In-depth discussions about a topic as important as personal health requires support from a dependable solution. Clinicians may also want to record their sessions with patients to provide a detailed reference that supports their note-taking and other information-gathering efforts during the consult. A recording feature is critical to support this effort to maintain detailed records.

Making sure that patients who aren’t technologically savvy have the support they need to connect is also vital. That may mean having an administrator on your staff offer assistance in some cases or connecting with a relative or care provider on the patient’s end to explain what’s needed. A video conferencing platform designed to be intuitive and easy to use can help to make the virtual consult process as simple and pain-free as possible.

Similar considerations apply for you and your staff. Administrative specialists who set up virtual consults benefit from a platform designed around ease of use, as do nurses, clinicians, and other medical staff who interact with patients through them.

The virtual consult is a powerful tool that leverages the power of modern technology to break down geographic barriers and provide a high level of care to all patients, no matter where they’re located. But to be truly successful, best practices in the areas of technology, practicality, compliance, and medical ethics must be addressed.

 

Cisco Webex is here to support clinicians with a dedicated solution for their telemedicine needs.

Check out this virtual consultation checklist to learn more or get started with Webex today.

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Cisco + Samsung, innovating healthcare

Creating moments that matter for your residents with Webex

Cleaning shared touchscreen devices

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August update of Webex Teams

It’s that time again! Here’re the exciting new features you can expect to see in Webex Teams this August…

MESSAGING & APP EXPERIENCE

An organized right-click menu (Windows & Mac)

We’ve organized the options you see when you right-click in the spaces list or on search results. Now, you can get to your favorite actions that much faster as they are ordered into intuitive groups.

Organized options in a Webex Teams window

‘Peek’ into a space on mobile (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you have an unread space and you aren’t sure if you want to open it (and mark it as read) or not, you can now long press on the space, select Peek from the menu and open the space without marking it as read or sending a read receipt. If you try to send a message while using peek in space, you will be informed that you’re now leaving peek mode.

Peek into a space on Webex teams

 

Make the most of your messaging area (Android)

In group spaces (especially larger ones), when lots of people leave or are added around the same time, your message area can get clogged up with notifications that (maybe) aren’t all that important to you. Sometimes, this can cause you to lose context of messages sent before or after these in-space notifications. You’ll see these notifications grouped and collapsed, with the option to expand if you want to see more detail. This allows users to focus on more important messages.

Make the most of your messaging area (Android) in Webex Teams

Changes to settings & preferences​ (Windows & Mac)

We’ve added a dedicated Messaging tab, this is where you’ll set your default download location and configure views for your space list. Go to Settings (Windows) or Preferences (Mac) and select Messaging to check it out.

CALLING

Webex Calling

Seamless Call Handover (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

You no longer have to worry about dropping a call when there’s a network change on your desktop or mobile. For example, when you leave the office and your mobile device switches from the office Wi-Fi to a mobile network, your call won’t be dropped.

Simplified calling options (Windows & Mac)

calls and only want to call co-workers using their work number, mobile number, or video address. Or maybe you don’t need to make calls to phone numbers, your calls will automatically go through as Webex Teams calls. Your administrator can simplify things for you by disabling the options you don’t need so that when you make a call from the app, you’re only presented with the options you want.

Control your video device from the app (Windows & Mac)

You can start or stop sharing your video on a connected video device right from the app. For example, if you’re connected to a Cisco Webex Board and you don’t want to share your video, you no longer have to walk up to the board and turn off your video. You can turn it off right from the app.

Mirror your self-view (Windows & Mac)

By default, when you share your video during a call, you can see yourself just like you’re looking in a mirror, making it easier for you to adjust your appearance (if you’re having a bad hair day). If you have text behind you and want to be able to read it easily instead of having to read it backwards, you may want to turn off your ‘Mirror my video view’ setting. This setting doesn’t affect the way other people in the meeting see you; It’s for your eyes only.Mirror your self-view from the app profession on screen with mirror self-view on

Switch between front and back camera (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Show your best side to the world! Tapping self-view in a call or meeting in Teams will switch between the front or rear camera on your device.

Man and Woman using meetings and the switch between front and back of camera feature

Know your active audio input (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you make or accept a call, you’re notified about which audio device is active on the call, such as your speaker, Bluetooth device, or headphones.

If you’re sharing your video and then put your mobile device to your ear, your video automatically turns off. If you move your mobile device away from your ear, your video turns back on.

Know your active audio input (iPhone, iPad & Android)Change the look of your keypad during a transfer (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you initiate a transfer during a call, you can change the appearance of your keypad from text to numbers if you’d prefer to search for someone by their phone number instead of their name.

change the look of your keypad during a transfer (iPhone, iPad & Android)

See how long you’ve been on a call (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Up at the top of your call window, under the name of the person you’re talking to, you can see a timer that lets you know how long you’ve been chatting.

Unified CM

More calling options (Windows & Mac)

You can call someone’s video address (for example, bburke@biotechnia.com) from anywhere in the app that you’d make any other type of call, like when you search for someone or you’re in a space with that person.

Call someone's video address from anywhere in the appPush notification for incoming call (Android)

Want to save battery life? Get notified about an incoming call in Webex Teams even when the Webex Teams app isn’t running. 

Simplified calling options (Windows & Mac)

Your administrator can set up your calling options to suit your needs. Maybe you don’t have a need to make Webex Teams calls and only want to call co-workers using their work number, mobile number, or video address. Or maybe you don’t need to make calls to phone numbers, your calls will automatically go through as Webex Teams calls. Your administrator can simplify things for you by disabling the options you don’t need so that when you make a call from the app, you’re only presented with the options you want.

Control your video device from the app (Windows & Mac)

You can start or stop sharing your video on a connected video device right from the app. For example, if you’re connected to a Cisco Webex Board and you don’t want to share your video, you no longer have to walk up to the board and turn off your video. You can turn it off right from the app.

Mirror your self-view (Windows & Mac)

By default, when you share your video during a call, you can see yourself just like you’re looking in a mirror, making it easier for you to adjust your appearance (if you’re having a bad hair day). If you have text behind you and want to be able to read it easily instead of having to read it backwards, you may want to turn off your ‘Mirror my video view’ setting. This setting doesn’t affect the way other people in the meeting see you; It’s for your eyes only.

Switch between front and back camera (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Show your best side to the world! Tapping self-view in a call or meeting in Teams will switch between the front or rear camera on your device.

Man and Woman using meetings and the switch between front and back of camera feature

 

Know your active audio input (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you make or accept a call, you’re notified about which audio device is active on the call, such as your speaker, Bluetooth device, or headphones.

If you’re sharing your video and then put your mobile device to your ear, your video automatically turns off. If you move your mobile device away from your ear, your video turns back on.

Change the look of your keypad during a transfer (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you initiate a transfer during a call, you can change the appearance of your keypad from text to numbers if you’d prefer to search for someone by their phone number instead of their name.

See how long you’ve been on a call (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Up at the top of your call window, under the name of the person you’re talking to, you can see a timer that lets you know how long you’ve been chatting.

Call Details in Your Call History (iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can find detailed information in your call history such as call time and call duration. From the Details window, you can choose to call the person back with audio or video.

INTEGRATIONS

A new way to capture Polls in Webex Teams!

Add the new Pollbot (poll-bot@webex.bot) to any group space or direct message the bot to quickly setup polls for any team. Curious what your colleagues are thinking or simply want to reach a consensus? Take an anonymous poll and share or keep the results private. Learn about the Pollbot and other Apps on the Webex App hub.

Create a poll in Webex TeamsFollowing a PollFor more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page here.

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See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

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Financial technology concept. FinTech. Foreign exchange.
Building a banking assistant with MindMeld

Abhi Sidhu & Ritvik Shrivastava – In this post, we’ll take a look at our newest blueprint — a conversational assistant for common personal banking use cases.

 

MindMeld blueprints come with a pre-configured application structure and pre-built set of code samples and datasets. In this post, we’ll take a look at our newest blueprint — a conversational assistant for common personal banking use cases.

MindMeld provides example applications for common conversational use cases, called MindMeld blueprints, that comes with a pre-configured application structure and pre-built set of code samples and datasets. A blueprint allows you to quickly build and test a fully working conversational app without writing code or collecting training data. If desired, you can then treat the blueprint app as a baseline for improvement and customization by adding data and logic specific to your business or application needs.

In this post, we’ll take a look at our newest blueprint — a conversational assistant for common personal banking use cases.

FinTech Rank
Image Credit: FinTechRanking

Motivation & considerations

Before diving into the details of development, let’s talk about some key contributing factors behind the idea of this app.

Why banking?

With the growing popularity of FinTech, major financial institutions are looking at smarter solutions for providing their services to clients — conversational IVR, or virtual assistants, is one of the prominent targets.

The MindMeld platform, widely used for developing robust assistant applications, is ideal for the same. This serves as motivation for our new Banking Assistant blueprint: a virtual bank teller that shows off some of our amazing functionalities.

Value of time in large enterprises

Virtual assistants are efficient in terms of time spent by employees. Targeting lower customer interaction times by reducing the human-hours spent on solving previously seen issues is one of the major benefits. Also, AI-powered solutions are data-driven and can be improved with time and continuous training. This requires less time than training and re-training employees for the same.

Data security

For enterprises like banks, customers’ personal data is extremely sensitive. The MindMeld platform offers a significant advantage over cloud-based conversational AI platforms by allowing for data storage entirely on an organization’s local servers. This makes it advantageous for enterprise applications that are concerned about data privacy and security as data is never shared.

Now that we have our motivation, let’s take a look at the development steps.

Building the application

The Banking Assistant allows users to securely access their banking information and complete tasks as if they’re conversing with a teller. Below are some sample conversations for common banking tasks:

Building the application
Sample conversations — Paying credit card bills and reporting stolen/misplaced card.

Design overview

As part of the NLP component of any MindMeld app, we define a set of key use case domains or more fine-grained intents. The Banking Assistant intents include:

  • Activating a credit card
  • Applying for a loan
  • Transferring money
  • Paying off a credit card bill
  • Activating AutoPay
  • Checking account balances

For the complete description of the app’s architecture and a detailed breakdown of domains, intents, and entities, visit our documentation and refer to the illustration below:

NLP Design Overview for Banking Assistant
NLP Design Overview for Banking Assistant

Challenges & functionalities

There are a few unique challenges to building a conversational app for a banking firm, which we overcome through some of the MindMeld’s impressive built-in functionalities.

  • Client authentication through MindMeld
    In our vision for a production application, the frontend would handle user authentication and pass an immutable user token to the MindMeld application layer. This would allow the application to make calls to the bank’s REST APIs to fetch and update the corresponding user’s stored information securely. To show this, we mimic the passing of user tokens of the sample users in our database. When operating the app, one can pass the token for a specific sample user to only access data of that user and avoid leaks and cross-viewing of incorrect or mis-intended information. Find more information on the current set of sample users here and browse the data directory to find the user JSON data file.
MindmeldBankApp
Slot-filling for Money Transferring Intent

 

  • Learning about MindMeld entity roles
    As mentioned earlier, the purpose of blueprints is to exhibit a ready-made app and to allow developers to learn about using the MindMeld platform. This app showcases some unique features mentioned above, as well as some finer details that are really useful. For example, the use of roles in entities. In our banking use cases, the ‘account type’ is a major entity, representing the users’ savings, checking, and credit accounts. While the entity is sufficient by itself, it might not be unique in use cases like money transferring, where two ‘account type’ entities are required. Defining a separate entity just for one use case is also not ideal. Hence we make use of entity roles. These roles represent the purpose for each use of an entity. Continuing with the same example, there will be two ‘account type’ entities for money transfers: one with the role ‘from account’ and the other ‘to account.’ The use of roles can be extended to a variety of use cases. In the case of a location entity in a travel app, the roles could be ‘departure’ and ‘arrival’ or ‘source’ and ‘destination.
  • Obtain missing information using slot-filling
    Intents like transferring money or checking account balance require some key information such as account type, account number and amount of money. It’s likely that the user doesn’t provide this information in a single query, and the banking assistant needs to prompt the user for it. Instead of creating a back-and-forth logic to fetch missing information, we make use of MindMeld’s recently released slot-filling or entity-filling feature. We define a slot-filling form for each use case and let the feature prompt the user for this information on our behalf. You can read more about this feature here. A sample conversation using slot-filling for the money transferring intent can be seen here.
  • Querying external storage with dialogue manager
    The current Banking Assistant architecture showcases MindMeld’s support for secure REST APIs by mimicking PUT and GET API calls to retrieve and update information from a local data file. This is done through the Dialogue Manager of the app. This allows for the secure exchange of data and gives users the freedom to connect their REST endpoints and easily expand upon the backend. With this support, it’s easy to modify the underlying data storage as requirements change over time, with minimal design modifications to the app itself. It also allows for updates to the user data through secure API calls.

Code snippets

To give a glimpse of both the dialogue management functionalities of the app and the slot-filling feature, here’s a snippet of a dialogue handler code. The logic in this function (check_balances_handler) is fairly simple as you are only expecting one entity — an account type for which the user is checking the balance for. If the account type entity is not specified by the user the slot filling logic will be invoked. You can find an example of a more complex handler function for the Banking Assistant here

Banking Account code

That covers a brief overview of our new Banking Assistant blueprint application! If you would like to try it out, you can find more information here. For help developing your own application, take a look at our documentation.

We welcome every active contribution to our platform. Check us out on GitHub, and send us any questions or suggestions at mindmeld@cisco.com.

About the authors

Ritvik Shrivastava is a Machine Learning Engineer at Cisco’s MindMeld Conversational AI team. He holds his MS in Computer Science at Columbia University, specializing in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.

Abhi Sidhu is a Software Engineer at Cisco who specializes in providing practical solutions to emerging technological problems. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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3 colleagues sitting around a conference room sharing a report
Are all meeting rooms equal?

Meeting rooms to help teams collaborate effectively

Work has shifted from cubicles to nearly anywhere you can get a Wi-Fi signal, signaling the need to reimagine what the new way to work will look like: a mix of an in-office and remote workforce. Distributed workers and in-office employees need a seamless collaboration experience. Technology will help drive this.

Last year, I traveled to a customer site to demo an early prototype of the Webex Room Phone. I met with the IT team in the conference room they typically used for team meetings. It had a BT/USB speaker and sharing hub, with two devices from different vendors. Unfortunately, their solutions did not have a viable way for me to present content and deliver my pitch to both in-person attendees and remote team members. This team was deploying and managing the larger videoconference spaces and board rooms, but they did not have a simple, high-quality solution to help their teams collaborate effectively.

Webex Room Phone— a seamless experience with Webex devices

This a common theme in many workplaces today. Larger conferences and boardrooms are fitted with elegant solutions, but there simply isn’t budget in smaller spaces. As a result, users cannot transition between spaces and collaborate effectively, and IT administrators cannot plan, deploy, and monitor the technology being used. We address these issues and give users the seamless experience they need with our Webex devices.

The Webex Room Phone is one such device. It helps support a modern workforce by providing:

  • Safe and distraction-free meetings with HD audio. The Room Phone utilizes speaker and mic technology that provides 360-degree coverage for 20’x20’ rooms (and 20’x32’ rooms with wired mics). This coverage, paired with echo cancellation and noise reduction capabilities, enables productive meetings with all team members, remote or not.
  • Easy ways to join a meeting. Do not worry about touching the device. Instead, join meetings through proximity with the Webex mobile or desktop app.
  • Simple management and robust analytics. IT admins can use Cisco Webex Control Hub—a single pane of glass for Webex management—to provision new devices, monitor usage, and troubleshoot issues.
  • So much more than just a conference phone. The Webex Room Phone connects to any HD display, so you can easily share content, view in-meeting participant information, and use digital signage capabilities when the device is not being used.

More than a conference phone

At Webex, we believe that less is more, which is why we’ve focused on packaging the Webex Room Phone in a simple, easily deployable way that provides a consistent experience with all other Webex devices (and allows you to scale this to every room you use). Designed for collaboration, touchless meetings, and an intelligent experience, the Webex Room Phone is so much more than just another conference phone—it’s a key element in the future of collaboration.

Sign up here to join the team behind Cisco’s latest Webex device: Webex Room Phone on Sept 14th to learn more on how it can help you scale your Webex device experience

flyer of webex room phone: helping you scale your WEbex device experience flyer with profile pictures of David Scott, Jessica Ruffin, Subbu Subramanian, and Anthony Nolasco

Learn More

How team collaboration technology can work together no matter where you are

Returning to work with Intelligent Room Capacity

Make your voice heard with the User Community Feedback Portal

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A conversational AI and scheduling a meeting
Conversational AI at MindMeld

Karthik Raghunathan – Dive deeper into Cisco’s conversational AI platform for deep-domain voice interfaces and chatbots.

MindMeld and conversational AI

The MindMeld team is part of the Webex Intelligence team at Cisco, which develops machine learning-driven, intelligent experiences across Cisco Webex collaboration products.

Before our acquisition by Cisco in 2017, MindMeld was a San Francisco-based AI startup powering intelligent conversational interfaces for several companies in the food, retail, and media industries. Now, we’re bringing that same technology to Cisco’s products to make them smarter, more natural, and easier to use.

Webex Assistant and voice control

Last year we launched Webex Assistant, the first of its kind enterprise voice assistant for the meeting room. With Webex Assistant, customers can use their voice to control their Webex video conferencing devices, review the room’s calendar, join online meetings, call people in their company directory, and much more. While Webex Assistant had its origins as an intelligent assistant for the conference room, we greatly expanded its availability this year by bringing it to our widely popular Webex Meetings software. We also added support for a whole new set of in-meeting voice commands which allow users to create action items, take notes, and even set up future meetings, using just their voice.

Webex Assistant is powered by the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform. We developed this Python-based machine learning framework as a startup, and continue to maintain and improve upon it at Cisco. Teams across Cisco use the MindMeld platform for a wide variety of natural language applications such as chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, automated FAQ answering, and search. For instance, MindMeld is used for query parsing in both Cisco’s internal enterprise search and the external-facing website search on Cisco.com.

Open-sourced MindMeld conversational AI platform

Following the release of Webex Assistant, we open-sourced the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform. While it’s particularly easy to use MindMeld with other Cisco technologies like Webex, the platform itself is agnostic and can be used to build any kind of conversational interface. As a result, it is now used not only by internal teams at Cisco but also by the wider developer community to build production-quality chatbots and voice assistants.

Given its ease of use and flexibility, MindMeld has been a popular choice at several hackathons, including Cisco’s Smart Spaces Hackathon and the Government of India’s Smart India Hackathon. It was even featured in the winning team’s solution in the 2019 IoT World Hackathon.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account. 

Learn More

To learn more about the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform, check out our website and GitHub repository.

You can also follow the MindMeld team’s blog on Medium where we share regular updates about new MindMeld features, best practices for building conversational interfaces, and other snippets from our ongoing research explorations.

About the author

Karthik Raghunathan is the Director of Machine Learning for Webex Intelligence, which is the team responsible for building machine learning-driven intelligent experiences across all of Cisco’s collaboration products. Karthik used to be the Director of Research at MindMeld, a leading AI company that powered conversational interfaces for some of the world’s largest retailers, media companies, government agencies, and automotive manufacturers. MindMeld was acquired by Cisco in May 2017. Karthik has more than 10 years of combined experience working at reputed academic and industry research labs on the problems of speech, natural language processing, and information retrieval. Prior to joining MindMeld, he was a Senior Scientist in the Microsoft AI & Research Group, where he worked on conversational interfaces such as the Cortana digital assistant and voice search on Bing and Xbox.

Karthik holds an MS in Computer Science with Distinction in Research in Natural Language Processing from Stanford University. He was co-advised by professors Daniel Jurafsky and Christopher Manning, and his graduate research focused on the problems of Coreference Resolution, Spoken Dialogue Systems, and Statistical Machine Translation. Karthik is a co-inventor on two US patents and has publications in leading AI conferences such as EMNLP, SIGIR, and AAAI.

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3 different imaging of brains with Dr. Don Vaughn
Pay attention now or you might pay for it later

Dr. Don Vaughn is a neuroscientist, an author, a speaker and an extremely interesting guy to have a conversation with. I had the recent privilege of chatting with Don about the future of our brains, and specifically of how we balance the barrage of inbound stimuli that can distract you during your day.  As they say, “the struggle is real” and it is powerful.  

Attention is a hot commodity

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, studies showed the average person is bombarded with as many as 4,000 messages per day. These messages come from a combination of advertising, marketing, notifications, alerts, emails, calls and more. Some are very passive, blending into the background but having a subtle build-up over time. Others are intrusive, invasive and break through the clutter.  All of them are intended invoke a response, and all of them are vying for your attention. It’s like being a parent, working at home and having 4,000 children constantly asking you for something. Okay, that might be an exaggeration to make a point, but to those of us who are parents with young kids in these days, it feels like a reality at times.

Your ability to pay attention is one of your most prized resources. Don points out that when you become distracted, it can take an average of 30 minutes to get back into “the groove” you were in.  For some people, it can take up to 2 hours and that delay can crush productivity. Productivity is the word of the day as people are trying to balance work and life while being stuck at home during in a pandemic world.  Companies are looking to the future, both near and long-term.  In the near future, they’re looking at ways to maintain a high level of productivity. In the long term, they’re looking at a hybrid workplace where teams may remain distributed and need to maintain the ability to collaborate in a flexible working environment.  Both situations require tools and platforms that enable interaction and sharing, but also the opportunity for people to focus and pay attention to their work.

Finding productivity in short bursts

graph of how much time to give for productivity

Studies show that short bursts of focus can be extremely productive.  Some of these studies mention 25-minute bursts.  I tend to subscribe to a 60-minute burst with a single small break. These bursts allow you to drop into a groove, maintain your attention and pursue a concept to a point where you feel a logical pause. After the burst you can take a breath, focus and get back into it for a logical conclusion. It becomes important for people to block sections of their week for these bursts of thinking and focus.  I personally lock in 6 hours per week, scattered over different days. These periods can be moved, but never canceled. They ensure I remain productive, even when the rest of my day is spent on video call after video call. During these times, I employ techniques to reduce interruptions and distractions. They include: closing applications, putting on headphones and removing my phone from immediate line of sight. By implementing these little adjustments, productivity is maintained.  Without them, focus is lost and my productivity wanes.

Empathy and human connection

An inability to pay attention can diminish results over time, hence a negative impact on productivity. You need these bursts of attention to keep you feeling positive. People take pride in their work, and they need to feel they are doing well and producing. Co-workers need to have empathy towards one another and acknowledge that we all need time to focus. Don speaks a lot about empathy and human connection. Video conferences have become the defacto means of maintaining that connection. Video allows you to see the other person and look them in the eye. Video allows for body language, tone and character to enter your conversation. Phone calls are difficult. It’s easier to be rude when you can’t see the person you’re talking to. Email is worse. Email has no tone. When you read an email, you hear the tone based on your current state of mind. Negativity can arise from responses to emails or confrontational phone calls more than video calls. On a video call you can see someone, read their body language and create empathy in your conversation. You can read the room and adjust your delivery to match. This empathy goes a long way to fostering a better working environment.

What’s next?

As teams work remotely or find their way back to the office in some capacity, attention and empathy are going to be key to success. Teams need to collaborate. Individual contributors need to be able to focus. Managers need to foster the opportunity for employees to pay attention and not degrade their productivity due to distraction and interruption. And businesses need to understand that technology and flexibility can be employed to create the optimal environment for the future.

Check out the session with Dr. Don Vaughn and hear more about attention, empathy and the future of the workplace.

Learn More

[Webinar] Inside the Brain: Science based methods we can use to increase our productivity

How to prepare for the return to work

How to have a webexceptional video conferencing meeting

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Webex Teams and team space
5 tips for connecting with remote colleagues

Webex Teams for remote team collaboration

With a massive shift towards remote working, we are relying more than ever on team collaboration apps to maintain real-time, business normality. Virtual workspaces have become the new water cooler and video meetings have become the new board room.

Face-to-face meetings over video help to overcome distance barriers by enabling check-ins with teammates and colleagues to push a project forward, or even just to check-in and see.

But how else is the Webex platform helping teams stay more connected with the people and projects that matter most?  Webex Team messaging is a perfect accompaniment to virtual meetings and in this blog, I’m going to share 5 tips for how you can use this modern team messaging platform to stay in touch.

Top 5 features for in Webex Teams

So, whether you are new to team collaboration apps or a veteran, here are our top 5 features you need to know about:

  1. Signal your presence

My first tip is, make sure people know you are available.  Start by choosing an avatar.  Do you want a professional-looking headshot?  Or something more informal – only you know what works in your organization.  Once you’ve set up your avatar, your presence status lets people know if you’re available or not.  We have now improved presence status by adding a custom status feature. Perfect for letting people know when you’re heads down in an urgent deliverable or just off for lunch. For times when you need zero distractions, you can activate the do not disturb feature.

Presence status in Webex Meetings and set a new status

2. Organize your Team and spaces

Whether you are working in a project team, or you are a supervisor/line manager – consider creating a Team for your group.  You can add people and spaces to that team.  For example, I have a Team set up with my staff which contains a number of spaces including spaces for discussing Webex app marketing, UC devices marketing, and a general space for watercooler chat.  I can easily add new members and give them access to common spaces I can quickly navigate to the topics we discuss as a group.

Organization tab in Webex Teams and organize the classified department

Team spaces in Webex teams includes 'project bento box ECM,' 'Customer Test Group,' 'Marketing Analysis,' 'Social Corner,' 'Internal Testing,' 'Organization News,' UI Visual Design,' 'Web and Mobile Team,' Tablet UX,' 'Leadership News,' 'Product Marketing' 'Engineering,' 'Ideas & Inspo' 'Barbera's Team' Product builds,' 'Localisation,' and 'San Jose Office'

3. Cut through the noise

We are all bombarded with information and communications.  Too many emails, too many messaging threads, etc.  Quickly getting to the conversations that matter most is a skill we all need.  To help with this, Webex Teams has introduced new and improved filters that are designed to help you focus on what is important to you. You can now separate lists of 1:1 and team spaces.  You can view messages by spaces with @mentions, unread messages, draft messages, flagged messages and favourites.  You can ensure your favourite people and spaces are always at the top of the list and hide spaces that you don’t need to see all the time.

Webex Teams and conversations

4. Connecting for the first time? Make a lasting impression with People Insights

Need a conversation starter to break the ice and show you have taken some time to prepare for a first-time encounter?  People Insights means you can keep up to date with the latest, publicly accessible, information on your colleagues and external stakeholders at the click of a button. Never miss a new promotion, a business award or organisation update. And, if your IT team has enabled it, you can also see information from your corporate directory – their department, line management, location and more.

 

5. Spread the love and have some fun

Team collaboration shouldn’t be all work and no play. Virtual spaces are great places to share successes and key wins. Webex Teams now allows you make your interactions more personal with the introduction of gifs, emojis and animated reactions. Applaud your teammates. Send a gif to match the mood or show your appreciation with a thumbs up!

Adding a 'Awesome' GIPHY in Webex Teams, images of rockt, smiling ice cream and cursive 'awesome' words

Animated reactions in webex teams to include celebrate, heart, thumbs up, smiley face, wow face, and sad faceThere’s far more to Webex Team collaboration than I have had time for here. So, in my next blog in this series,  I’ll share my Top 5 tips for collaborating on a document.

In the meantime – if you haven’t used Webex Teams yet, you may already be entitled to it if you have a current Webex subscription or a Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan. Alternatively, you can download Webex Teams for free.

See how you can make teamwork your best work

Learn More

Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Embracing the rise of remote working

How to prepare for the return to work

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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grid view custom backgrounds and music mode
Webex Meetings August 2020 update: Increased security and media enhancement, custom backgrounds and music mode

August: Hot temperatures and hot Webex Meetings feature releases! Big things are in the works for Webex and we are super excited to share them with you. Over the next few months, you will see major enhancements. This month, the feature updates include increased security, grid view, music mode, and much more! Bringing you more flexibility to work wherever you need to.

Media + Security Enhancement

CipherSuite encryption – With this month’s update, we are updating the encryption cipher for Webex Meetings from AES-128-CBC to AES-256-GCM. AES-256-GCM is the best available cipher and it provides increased protection for meetings data and resistance against tampering.

Music Mode in Meetings and Events –You can now play music during your meeting and transmit the richness of melodies to all participants. This is especially important when delivering a virtual concert or music lessons over Webex. To enable this feature, simply press Ctrl+Shift+M to turn on Music Mode or click on “audio” on the menu bar and check “music mode.” Sit back, relax and enjoy!

Fluid high-resolution video even at 50% packet loss – This month’s feature update keeps your video flowing at high resolution even if your network suddenly experiences significant packet loss. Such as when your kids start to play video games or when remote classes start for everyone in the family. Before, when your network conditions significantly degraded, your video would transition to show your thumbnail image. Now, with media enhancements in Webex, you don’t have to worry anymore about disrupting your meetings if you are experiencing poor connection.

Desktop

Custom Virtual Background – On Windows and Mac, when selecting a virtual background, you can now choose your own image from your desktop to be used. This feature adds an additional level of personalization to your meetings. Have a favorite vacation spot? Add it to your virtual backgrounds and show it off in your meetings. Custom backgrounds are already supported on iOS and Android.

Custom virtual background with Webex Meetings

Grid view by default- In Webex Meetings, grid view is now the default setting when no one is sharing content, making the meeting participants appear equally. This creates a more collaborative feeling. If you prefer active speaker, you can still change your view to Active Speaker Video View or Active Speaker and Thumbnail Video View from the controls in the upper right area.

Grid View by default in Webex Meetings

Self-view enhancement – Your self-view is now shown in the video grid with the other participant videos by default. Your video will appear next to your colleagues instead of floating in the corner. This creates a more natural meeting experience. However, if you prefer to float your self-view instead, simply click “Show my self-view in a floating window.”

self-view enhancement

Hide non-video participants – You can now hide meeting participants who have their video turned off and chose to focus your meeting on those who have turned their video on. This creates a more engaging meeting experience and allows you to see those participating via video in your meeting.

Hide non-video Participants

Push to Talk– When muted, you can now hold the spacebar down to momentarily unmute. Instead of fumbling around trying to unmute, simply press and hold the spacebar when you want to talk. Release the spacebar to go back on to mute. The flexibility of working from anywhere might mean there are more background noises. Sometimes it is better to stay on mute until you need to speak up. With the new push to talk feature, you can stay on mute, limit background noise and simply chime in when you need to.

push to talk

Virtual Desktop Integration

VDI Dual-Monitor Support – Webex now supports a dual-monitor setup for Windows and Linux (Ubuntu + eLux) on Virtual Desktops. If you use a dual monitor, you will be able to extend the display of your session so you can utilize both of your monitors.

Mobile

IOS – It’s now even easier and faster to get to your Webex Meetings from your iOS devices. Just use your Apple ID. One fewer password to remember.

And last but not least…

Android – Webex Meetings is the FIRST conferencing service to offer live streaming for Android! Just like the in the Desktop app, you can start a live stream from a third-party source such as Facebook, YouTube or IBM directly from your mobile device and significantly expand your audience reach!

For more information on these features, please visit the Webex Help Portal

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings July 2020 update: Virtual backgrounds on Windows, Mac, Android, and more!

Webex Meetings June 2020 Update: Transcriptions, Background Blur and Mobile Grid View

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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A low angle view on a blue digital key made to resemble a circuit and placed on a surface with encrypted text.
# Stay safe – Always authenticate

Richard Barnes – Why authentication always needs to be the first thing you do with something you receive over the Internet.

Authentication lesson

Much like Ciscos collaboration products, WhatsApp is used by millions of people around the world to communicate and collaborate — and a little while ago, it was discovered that due to a vulnerability, WhatsApp also allowed anyone on the Internet to take over the phone it was running on.  What can developers learn from what went wrong here, to avoid making similar mistakes in other products?  The key lessons here are: 

  • Treat any data you receive from the Internet as potentially hostile 
  • In particular, always use authentication so that you can reject traffic from bad actors 
  • Use memory-safe languages and libraries, especially when handling data from untrusted sources 

 Heres how Facebook described the vulnerability in their advisory:

A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP packets sent to a target phone number.”

Let’s unpack this

There are a couple of things to unpack here.  The phraseremote code execution hints at the severity of the vulnerability.  By exploiting this vulnerability, an attacker can run any code they want on the victims phone.  The really scary phrase, though, is specially crafted.  That means that anyone on the Internet could make up some packets, send them to your phone, and take it over.

The core mistake WhatsApp made here was trusting unauthenticated data.  Cryptographic authentication is the way we separate the good guys from the bad guys on the Internet.  Whenever a program or device receives data over the Internet, the very first thing it should do is verify that the data was sent by the entity that the product thought it was communicating with.  That way, we immediately reject traffic from unknown parties, so that the worst thing that can happen is that the thing were communicating with can send us bad data we’ve scaled down the risk from billions of devices to one.

As usual with cryptography, you should use standard tools for this, and most of the standard security tools include authentication.  TLS and its cousin HTTPS are the right tools for most things.  They provide authentication using digital certificates.  For real-time media, the best tool is DTLS-SRTP, which you’ll always be using if you’re using WebRTC.  If you can’t use DTLS-SRTP for some reason, you can fall back to Security Descriptions, which at least ensure that your media packets are from someone who was involved in the call signaling.  With all of these, you should configure your software using an AEAD algorithm such as AES-GCM to make sure that all of your communications are authenticated as well as encrypted.

In fact, WhatsApp usually uses Cisco software to encrypt and authenticate their real-time traffic!  WhatsApp incorporates the libsrtp open-source library that Cisco maintains.  In this case, though, WhatsApp seems not to have been getting all the protection libsrtp should have offered.  They seem to have done some processing on SRTCP packets before they use libsrtp to authenticate them.  Authentication always needs to be the first thing you do with something you receive over the Internet.

Buffer overflow

A second issue here is indicated by the phrase buffer overflow.  This is an ancient class of vulnerability, which is almost entirely prevented by using more modern languages like Rust, Go, or even Java.  If you’re stuck with C or C++, you should make sure to use defensive coding standards to avoid bad practices, and apply sanitizers and fuzzers to find memory corruption bugs before they turn into vulnerabilities.

It’s never pleasant to see large-scale, high-risk vulnerabilities.  They put peoples data, work, and lives at risk.  But its good when these vulnerabilities are found and fixed, and it gives us the opportunity to learn.  This case is a good reminder that we should never trust data from the Internet, and we should use modern tools to avoid memory corruption.

About the author

Richard Barnes is an IETF appointee to the ISOC Board of Trustees. He is employed as the Chief Security Architect for Collaboration at Cisco. He currently chairs the IETF PERC working group, and is actively involved in working groups across the security and applications areas. Mr. Barnes has been involved in the technical work and management of the IETF for several years. He has served as Area Director for Real-time Applications and Infrastructure (RAI) and co-chair of the IETF ECRIT and GEOPRIV working groups. He is co-author of several RFCs related to geolocation, emergency services, and security, including RFC 6155, RFC 6280, RFC 6394, and RFC 6848. He is also co-author of the book VoIP Emergency Calling: Foundations and Practice (John Wiley and Sons, 2010). Richard has also served as the chair of the RIPE Measurements, Analysis and Tools working group, and on the program committee for the Middle East Network Operators Group (MENOG). Prior to joining Cisco, Mr. Barnes was Firefox Security Lead at Mozilla. In that role, he was responsible for assuring the security of the Firefox web browser. Before joining Mozilla, he was a Principal Investigator at BBN Technologies, leading research activities related to real-time applications and Internet security. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics and an M.S. in Mathematics from the University of Virginia.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account. 

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Caught by the fuzz

Robert Hanton – Learn how Webex uses fuzzing and machine learning as one more way to help prevent security issues.

What is fuzzing?

Fuzzing” is a security technique that actually goes back to the 1980s. The essential idea is to automatically generate very large numbers of random or semi-random inputs for your system, feed them in, and monitor the system for problems such as crashes, lockups, memory leaks or long delays in processing the data. When a problem is found you then have a discrete and repeatable input that can be used to trigger the problem, diagnose it, and confirm that a code-change has resolved it.

 

While any function or module in a codebase can be fuzzed, it is particularly valuable to apply to any unvalidated input the system receives, as these inputs can (accidentally or maliciously) trigger unwanted behaviours. In the case of a collaboration system these can range from the signaling messages in a call flow, to the actual audio and video packets themselves, to control packets such as RTCP (RTP control protocol) that travel alongside the media.

Despite this, fuzzing is perhaps one of the least-utilised tools across the tech industry as a whole, as for a long time setting it up to be of value was regarded as something of a “black art”, and the purview of dedicated security experts. There was a time that was at least somewhat true, but modern fuzzing tools allow for very effective generation of inputs with a minimum of time and training. To understand why these newer generation of fuzzers are so effective, let’s quickly explore how fuzzing used to be done.

Older fuzzing techniques

The challenge of fuzzing has always been the generation of good inputs – the test values fed into the system to attempt to provoke bad behaviour. The very first fuzzers simply generated random data, but in almost all real-world scenarios, random data makes for very ineffective inputs.

To understand why, consider JSON, which has a relatively permissive format. A parser will, however, expect an input to start with “{“. If we are generating inputs of random ASCII, then more than 99% of our inputs will likely be discarded by the very first check in the parser, and the vast majority of the remainder shortly thereafter when they fall foul of other very basic checks.

Random inputs are not entirely without value – fuzzing certain binary protocol that have very little space in their format devoted to validation such as some audio and video codecs can be effective. But for the vast majority of formats fuzzing with random inputs is extraordinarily inefficient.

So, to be effective, a fuzzer needs to reliably generate inputs that are at least close to a valid input for the system under test. Traditionally there were two methods for doing this: mutational fuzzing and generation fuzzingMutation fuzzing involves taking a number of ‘real’ inputs (often taken from log files or recorded by a packet analyser such as Wireshark) and using them to drive a mutator function. This function would take a valid sample and mutate it in one or more ways by randomly applying a range of rules such as changing bits or characters, duplicating values, removing values and so on.

mutation fuzzing

 

This would result in a large number of inputs for fuzzing that would resemble real-world inputs (and hence not be immediately rejected for violating basic syntax rules) but which might result in internal states that the designer had never contemplated and hence find crashes, lockups or other issues. A mutational fuzzer could thus be set up relatively quickly if a comprehensive body of real-world inputs were available to seed the mutator. However, skill was involved in picking out a representative sample of real-world inputs, as the mutator would only exercise parts of the format that were reflected in its samples.This was a particular issue when extending a format and adding new functionality, as there wouldn’t be an easily-accessible body of data to draw on that included this new syntax.


mutational fuzzier

 

By contrast, generation fuzzing involves creating a data model describing the syntax that a valid potential input could take. For instance, if seeking to fuzz a SIP parser, you would need a data model defining the SIP protocol (or at least as the parts of it that your parser supported). A generator function would then use this to generate a set of inputs, both valid and invalid, based on that data model.

Given a complete data model, generation fuzzing can produce an excellent set of inputs that can thoroughly exercise the system under test. However, producing a complete data model generally involves a considerable investment of time by someone with a deep familiarity with the protocol, and the model must be continually maintained and updated to ensure that any extension is also covered by the fuzzer.

These barriers of time and skill for the mutation and generation techniques are what contributed to fuzzing being seen as the domain only of dedicated security experts. Companies such as Codenomicon (now part of Synopsis) produced commercial pre-packaged fuzzing tools for well-known protocols such as SIP; these provided turnkey access to high-quality fuzzing for those specific protocols for companies that could afford to license them, but otherwise fuzzing was a niche tool.

Instrumentation-guided fuzzing with machine learning

However, there is a new generation of fuzzers that can produce high-quality inputs that can exercise the system under test as thoroughly as a generation fuzzer, but can do so automatically and without the need for a predefined data model. They do this by instrumenting the executable under test, detecting what code paths its inputs exercise, and then using that data to feedback into its input generation to learn to produce new, more effective inputs.

The fuzzer of this type my team uses is American Fuzzy Lop (AFL), but other similar tools exist: other teams in Webex use Clang’s LibFuzzer. These tools instrument the executable under test in a similar way to tools that generate figures for unit-test coverage, inserting hooks for each line or function that detects when that fragment of code is exercised.

This means that when an input is fed into the system under test, the fuzzer can detect what portions of the code that input exercised, and that can be used to assign a fitness to the particular input. Inputs that don’t fit the expected syntax well will be rejected without exercising much code and so will be assigned a lower fitness than one that is a better fit for the expected syntax and hence exercises more code.

With the ability to very accurately assign a fitness to each input it generates, the fuzzer can then learn to generate better and better inputs that exercise more and more of the executable under test. AFL does this through genetic algorithms, a machine learning technique where pseudo-natural selection techniques are used to “breed” new inputs from the fittest of a previous generation.

That means that you just need to give AFL an initial seed input and it will learn to evolve a corpus of inputs that thoroughly exercise your executable under test. Thanks to the instrumentation you can also get real-time feedback on how much of your executable it has managed to explore so far, how many issues it has found, and other key information.

american fuzzy lop

Getting started with instrumentation-guided fuzzing

There are plenty of tutorials out there for AFL, LibFuzzer and other tools, so instead here is a grab-bag of tips and suggestions:

Unless your system is very small don’t fuzz the entire thing – instead create a little ‘fuzzable’ executable for each module you want to test that strips it down to the bare minimum that ingests an input, parses/processes it, and exits. The less code there is and the faster it runs the more generations the fuzzer can run and the more quickly you will get results.

You can fuzz anything with defined inputs, but focus initially on inputs your system receives from the outside world, particularly those received without any validation from other parts of your overall system. These are some of your most vulnerable attack surfaces, and hence where you really want to find any vulnerabilities.

Fuzz your third-party modules, particularly those that are not pervasively used across the industry. Third-party code has bugs just like first-party code, and just because you didn’t write it doesn’t mean you are not responsible for those bugs if you include the library in your system – your customer won’t care who wrote the code that crashed their system (or worse). Third-party libraries usually have well-defined inputs and hence are highly amenable to fuzzing. If you do find issues don’t forget to push any patches back upstream so the community as a whole can benefit.

While instrumentation-guided fuzzers can produce a fully-compliant input from any arbitrary seed, it can take them quite some time to evolve the basic semantics. You can speed things up significantly by seeding them with real-world input. Similarly, keep your corpus from previous runs and use it to seed the fuzzer when you run it again – that will save a lot of time.

While you’ll get the most benefit from it the first time you run it, consider automating your fuzzing. You can set it up to run periodically or on new changesets and alert if it finds new vulnerabilities introduced by code changes. If so make sure to use the corpus of the previous run to seed the fuzzer, as you want to make the fuzzing process as efficient as possible.

Like any security technique, fuzzing is not a silver bullet for finding every vulnerability your system might have. Using fuzzing does not mean you should not also be using static analysis, threat modeling, and a range of other techniques to make your system as secure as possible. Good security is about defence in depth; fuzzing is one more technique that provides its own unique set of benefits.

About the author

Robert Hanton is a Principal Engineer at Cisco Systems. He has worked in video conferencing ever since he graduated from Cambridge’s Engineering course back in 2005, working in companies with tens of employees, and companies with tens of thousands. He is the primary architect and service owner for some of the key media services in Cisco’s Webex conferencing product, responsible for providing millions of minutes of real-time video and audio every day to users around the world.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account.

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Man using Webex Assistant on Webex Room devices
Top 7 Webex Assistant Device commands to enhance your meetings!

Enhance your meetings with Webex Assistant

As we look to return to the office, the meeting room as you once knew it might be slightly changed. Deploying Webex Assistant will make the return back into the office a much easier one, as it allows users to interact with your Webex Room devices in a whole new way! Webex Assistant can help make calls or even share your screen without ever touching the device! Let me take you through a few commands which can be useful as you re-enter the workspace.

Useful commands as you re-enter the workspace

1) Start My Meeting – the ability to have what I nickname “No Touch Join” is an amazing feature. If your company has enabled booking of meeting rooms you can walk into any Webex Assistant enabled meeting room, if you are present at the time the meeting starts Webex assistant will ask you if you want to join the meeting now! We call this Proactive Meeting Join, and all you have to do is say “Yes” and the meeting will start. If you are running late or want to join early – no problem, you can just say the following phrase “OK Webex, Join the Meeting.” The device will take care of the rest and join the meeting for you!

2) Call a colleague – Sometimes you are in a huddle space or focus room, and you just quickly need to call a colleague who might be at home or at his desk. Instead of sending a Webex Teams message, you can just ask the Webex Assistant on the device to call that person directly from the device. To do this you can use the following command “OK Webex, Call Richard Bayes.”This will tell the device to search for Richard Bayes in the directory and call their directory number. If this user has Webex Teams or a personal device, it will ring them directly and you can easily have a call without pressing any buttons!

3) Share my screen – Webex Assistant can also easily share your screen into the call or meeting. Just by using the phrase “OK Webex, Share My Screen” you can start a screen share of any connected source without having to touch the device. Just another way to make your life easier. You can end the screen share as well with the “OK, Webex, Stop My Screen Share”

4) End the call – Another useful feature is the ability to end the call without having to touch the device. When you are ready to end the call just say the phrase “OK Webex, End The Call.”

5) Start or Stop a Recording – When you are in a meeting and you want to record it, Webex Assistant is also able to help start and stop the recording with the following phrase, “Ok Webex, Start a Recording.”

6) Turn up or down the Volume – Your colleague is sharing that new awesome marketing video and you want to get the full experience. If the touch panel is 6 ft away or being occupied by someone else then no worries, you can just say the following phrase “OK Webex, Turn up the Volume.” You can easily turn your Webex Room 70D into a party room! No one said work had to be quiet all the time, right?

7) Show the Room Calendar – So you just finish a marathon 2-hour call with Finance and you need some time to consume what was spoken about, write some notes and finish up some messages that you received during the meeting. Instead of being forced to leave the room right away, you can easily ask the Webex Assistant if the room is free so you can continue working and be productive. All you need to do is say the following phrase, “OK Webex, Show me the calendar.” Webex Assistant will return a quick summary of the next call and show a detailed list of the rest of the days meetings!

Ok webex what can you do?

That’s not all!

These are just some of the ways to get the most out of Webex Assistant, and we are always adding features and more commands to make your life a little easier so you can focus on the important things in the office or at your desk! There’s also Webex Assistant for Webex Meetings, which is the first and only enterprise digital AI meeting assistant on the market. Think Alexa or Siri for the workplace. It also uses voice commands to help improve your productivity and meeting experience. No need to take notes, capture action items, or find meeting controls. Webex Assistant provides real-time meeting transcription, highlights action items, and takes notes.

You can always ask your AI-powered assistant what it can do you for with the following phrase “OK Webex, What can you do.” This will return a list of different actions you can take!

Please make sure to register for our upcoming webinar, Safely Return to The Office with Webex Rooms, on August 18th, 2020.

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings June 2020 Update: Transcriptions, Background Blur and Mobile Grid View

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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How to Determine How Effective Your Collaboration Tech Is
How to determine how effective your collaboration tech is

Effective collaborative workplace culture

For a long time, workplace communication was limited to office intercoms and yelling over cubicle walls. As primitive as these approaches sound, they were the standards.

 

Workplaces now enjoy a litany of team collaboration tools developed to engage remote and in-person employees who no longer limit their productivity to a specific workplace or certain office hours. But no matter where employees are, they want high-quality communication and collaboration tools that are convenient to use.

 

How can small business leaders ensure their team collaboration tools continue to meet that demand? By embracing the spirit of those same tools and creating collaborative workplace cultures.

Benefits of collaboration tools

One of the primary benefits of collaboration tools is that ideas can flow freely and go into action at a moment’s notice. When those collaboration tools are added to a collaborative workplace culture, it fosters the kind of environment in which everyone — and every tool — can truly thrive.

 

To get the kind of insights necessary to ensure your collaboration tech is top shelf, you’ll need to start by getting some answers from your team. That way, employees will fit the tool — not the other way around.

Questions to ask your team

Here are some helpful questions to ask your team:

 

• What tools do you currently use to communicate? Is it a messenger app, or is most of your correspondence via email and other means? You can even open up this question to the communication tools team members use most in their personal lives. Determine how the majority of your office communicates, and it should lead you toward team collaboration tools that engage every employee rather than a select few. You might be surprised by what ideas your team offers.

 

• What’s your preferred mode of remote work? Whether team members are full-time remote employees or just working remotely now and then, they’ll have preferences for how they’re reached. Maybe it’s via phone, conference line, messaging, or video conferencing platform. Use this time surveying employees to find the best remote collaboration tools to foster your collaborative team culture.

 

• What kind of document sharing do you use? More and more platforms offer live editing and commenting features for document sharing. Ask employees how effective those solutions are and how often they leverage them.

 

• How do you track thoughts and take notes? Do your team members put pen to pad and jot down notes the old-fashioned way? Or do they prefer to take notes on their laptops or tablets? What about transcriptions? Do they use their preferred word processors to keep living documents of ideas and insights? Learn their preferences to provide optimal business collaboration tools.

Next steps

You’ll want to ask these questions annually or at least every other year. You can then apply those answers to what’s currently on the market to determine whether you’re getting the best value out of the slate of tools at your disposal. Maybe one — or more — of the team collaboration tools best suited for your team is offered in a stack that you can invest in for the whole staff. That’s far easier and more efficient than using a dozen different solutions from a dozen different providers.

 

Collaborative tools are most effective when they’re easy to use. Learn about the tools that best help your employees communicate, and your business’s ability to produce and collaborate will never falter.

 

Have your own answers to the above questions confirmed your need for new team collaboration tools?

 

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account.

Learn More

Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Embracing the rise of remote working

Working smarter: Managing a remote team

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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Virtual Background in Meeting - Objects_REVISED
Virtual backgrounds to inspire remote work culture: the Cisco Webex artist series

Remote work is now commonplace. Video calls are the norm. And most of us experience the “excuse the mess” worry of giving folks a glimpse into our personal lives and spaces.

Remote work equals the new normal

To be clear, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. We’ve sweated our “backdrops” for as long as the video conference has been around. The problem is that our environments are often caught in a perpetual work-in-progress state, leaving them not quite ready for the public stage.

Enter virtual video backgrounds. You’ve likely had some experience using video backgrounds while on video calls, regardless of your preferred solution provider.

Naturally, Webex is here with an expanded solution of our own. We’re certainly not the first or the last, but we’re excited to kick off the Webex Artist Series by offering our unique take on video backgrounds to further our mission of transforming collaborative work by crafting experiences people love.

The inspiration for our backgrounds

First off, practically any background you can imagine is available somewhere on the internet. You want to be at the International Space Station or in a submarine? It’s out there. This reality led us to focus on creating something unique to Webex and aligned with our passion for inspiring vibrant remote work culture.

There are two primary ideas at play.

  1. We’re a globally distributed organization working across various time zones, geographies, and cultures. This means we’re influenced by a wide range of “places,” all of which serve as inspiration for the experiences we create. Similarly, we design products for our customers’ diverse teams who are more often than not, remote, and distributed in various ways.
  2. Webex has a vibrant creative culture, with designers and artists who have a strong creative point of view they’re eager to express.

These ideas culminate in exciting new video backgrounds for the latest Meetings release for desktop. And backgrounds for our Red Dot Award-winning Desk Pro video conferencing device will follow. [Read more about Red Dot Winning Cisco Webex Desk Pro Design].

The collection

We’re starting with backgrounds from three sets:

Time and Place. These backgrounds represent different natural environments from across the globe, each evoking a mood through simple illustrated form and color.

young man using virtual background on Webex Meetings

Environments. These are intentionally unexpected and a little whimsical, inspiring imaginative ways to think about the spaces we occupy for work, play, learning, and more.

Young woman using environments on Webex Meetings

Neutrals. We see a need for backgrounds that have texture and color but recede, allowing the meeting participant to be the focus. These have a very practical use for when a calm, familiar backdrop is needed.

Mature man using background in Webex Meetings

These backgrounds are all inspired, illustrated, and rendered by our talented in-house designers in Shanghai, San Jose, Oslo, and Krakow. Go team!

Additionally, users will be able to choose a more traditional photographic background (landscape or executive office) or upload an image of their choice.

Virtual Background in Preview

Learn more about enabling virtual backgrounds for Cisco Webex Meetings, Events, and Training

The Webex Artists Series backgrounds are just the beginning in a series of personality-evoking experiences we plan to offer. Being on extended periods of video conferencing can be tiring. By offering you a range of options that suit your mood, personality, or audience, we aim to diminish your daily stressors and make working remotely delightful, and uniquely you.

With this and more experience-focused innovations coming in our flagship Webex Meetings product [Read more], we’re excited to offer you new and improved ways of working and connecting with others in the “new normal” of remote work.

If you want to learn more about Webex and the value, it can provide your business, reach out for more information, or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Why remote work can be more productive work

How to prepare for the return to work

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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background feature on meetings
July update of Webex Teams

Another month and another update of Webex Teams. If you’re conscious of your backdrop in your meetings, then this update is for you! Read on to find out more…

MESSAGING & APP EXPERIENCE

A new look for adding team members (Windows & Mac)

Adding new team members just got a whole lot easier. Now, if you want to add new members to an existing team, you will do so in a familiar view already used elsewhere in Webex Teams. You can also leverage another feature of bulk-adding people in this new screen, meaning if you need to add a group of new team members, you can do so easily with a quick copy-paste of up to 30 users at a time.

adding members in Meetings

Add links to your messages (Windows)

Today, you can add a link to text in Webex Teams through mark-down. We’ve improved that experience for you and made it a lot easier to insert a link into a message. You can now select an option to insert a link from the Format Text menu. This will pop up a new dialog box where you can add a link and edit the text of the link that you want to display in your message.

More organization for your settings and preferences (Windows & Mac)

We’ve made a couple of changes in your settings and preferences to make things more organized. We’ve added a dedicated ‘Messaging’ tab, where you’ll do things like setting your default download location, enable spell check, or configure views for your space list. Go to ‘Settings’ on Windows or ‘Preferences’ on Mac and select Messaging to check it out.

Forward a message on mobile (iPhone, iPad & Android)

See an important message you want to share with others quickly? Right now, on mobile, you need to either copy-paste or take a screenshot before starting your search for the other space you want to send it to. This update will let you do this with just a few taps. We’ll be saving you a few steps by allowing you to forward a message directly from one space to another.

Forward a message on mobile

Making the most of your message area (iPhone & iPad)

In group spaces (especially larger ones), when lots of people leave or are added around the same time, your message area can get pretty clogged up with notifications that (maybe) aren’t all that important to you. Sometimes, this can cause you to lose the context of messages sent before or after these in-space notifications. You’ll see these notifications grouped and collapsed, with the option to expand if you want to see more detail. This allows users to focus on more important messages.

Making the most of your message area with group and collapse

 

Compress a file on send (iPhone & iPad)

Sometimes when we’re out and about using mobile data, we need to share a file or an image. Depending on the file size, this can be quite costly on our data. Before, we had a universal option in ‘advanced’ settings on iOS to either always or never compress files you send on mobile. We’re giving you another option; to ask if you want to compress a file as you are sending it. This will be the new default for all users and can be changed in your ‘advanced’ settings.

compress a file on send and compression settings in meetings

 

MEETINGS

Pick your background for your calls and meetings! (Windows, Mac, iPhone & iPad)

Want to share your video during a meeting or call but hide the details of your background surroundings? Or maybe you just want to make it look like you’re on a beach soaking up the sun? If your device meets the hardware requirements, with this update, you’ll be able to blur your background or change it completely for your meetings and video calls. Just hover over your self-view video, select the magic wand to ‘Change Virtual Background,’ and then make your selection.

Background feature in webex meetings

Making meetings easier (Windows and Mac)

We’ve made some enhancements to the Meetings tab, which lives under the calendar icon in your Webex Teams app. You can use the ‘Join a Meeting’ search box on the top right above your meeting calendar to join a meeting by entering the meeting number, meeting link, Personal Room link, or meeting video address. Clicking on this search box will pop up a list of all your most recent Personal Room meetings. Your meeting list has been enhanced with a clear, daily calendar view with easy navigation to view any day you like.

CALLING

Webex Calling

Add external contacts to your contacts list (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can now add some of your contacts from Outlook (Windows) and your Contacts app (Mac) into your Webex Teams Contacts list and group them, making it easy to find someone and place a call. You can also create a new custom contact in your Webex Teams app, and it will be synced across your devices.

Add more phone numbers for your co-workers (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you add your co-worker to your contacts list, you’ll now be able to edit their profile and add additional phone numbers for them, such as home, mobile, work, etc. When you make an audio or video call, you’ll see all their number options, so it’ll be much easier to call them at their alternative number.

Every calling option at your fingertips (Windows & Mac)

Anywhere you see the green phone or call button and the video or meet button, you’re presented with many ways to make a call with options like work number, mobile number, video address, or Webex Teams call. If you try to call someone and you’re not set up with the corresponding phone service, you get a notification letting you know you can’t make that type of call. If you’re connected to a device, the icon you see to place a call or start a meeting will also change to make it clear that you’re connected to a device.

Access your mobile voicemail quickly and easily (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you go to the ‘calls’ tab on your mobile, you can now call your voicemail system by clicking the floating dial pad icon and selecting ‘call voicemail.’

Unified CM

Add external contacts to your contacts list (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can now add some of your contacts from Outlook (Windows) and your Contacts app (Mac) into your Webex Teams Contacts list and group them, making it easy to find someone and place a call from there. You can also create a new custom contact in your Webex Teams app, and it will be synced across your devices.

Add more phone numbers for your co-workers (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you add your co-worker to your contacts list, you’ll now be able to edit their profile and add additional phone numbers for them, such as home, mobile, work, and so on. When you make an audio or video call, you’ll see all their number options, so it’ll be much easier to call them at their alternative number.

Every calling option at your fingertips (Windows & Mac)

Anywhere you see the green phone or call button and the video or meet button, you’re presented with many ways to make a call with options like work number, mobile number, video address, or Webex Teams call. If you try to call someone and you’re not set up with the corresponding phone service, you get a notification letting you know you can’t make that type of call. If you’re connected to a device, the icon you see to place a call or start a meeting will also change to clarify that you’re connected to a device.

Access your mobile voicemail quickly and easily (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you go to the ‘calls’ tab on your mobile, you can now call your voicemail system by clicking the floating dial pad icon and selecting ‘call voicemail.’

More calling options! (Windows & Mac)

You can now call someone’s video address (for example, bburke@biotechnia.com) from anywhere in the app that you’d make any other type of call, like when you search for someone, or you’re in a space with that person.Calling options with Windows & MacShare your screen to a desk phone (Windows & Mac)

You can now call someone from the app and have them answer your call on their desk phone, and you can still share your screen with them. They can see your shared screen from their phone if the phone supports video; otherwise, they’ll see the shared screen from the app.

Trash read voice messages (iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can keep your voice messages list neat and tidy by removing the messages you have already listened to. When you’ve listened to a voice message and no longer need it, you now can send it to the ‘trash.’ From your ‘trash’ folder, you can either recover the message (in case you accidentally deleted it!) or you can choose to remove it permanently.

trash read voice messages and webex meetings

 

Add Webex Teams contacts to your mobile device contacts (Android)

If you have contacts and calling features enabled in Webex Teams, you can now export your contacts from the app directly to your contacts on your mobile device. This way, you can go to the contacts on your phone and initiate a Webex Teams call right from there. To use this feature, just tap your profile picture, go to ‘Advanced,’ and turn on ‘Contacts Integration.’

Control Webex Teams from a different application

You can now control Webex Teams from different apps, like Cisco Finesse. Using a different app to control Webex Teams, you can use any of your normal calling functionality, like making calls, answering or ending calls, putting calls on hold and resuming, transferring calls, and even having conference calls with other users.

INTEGRATIONS

Easy access to the Webex App Hub!

Now you can quickly find the Webex App Hub using the new Apps button at the bottom of the left column in Webex Teams. Easily browse for apps like Smartsheet, Servicenow, and RSS bot to set up business-critical notifications and get more work done without leaving a space.

New Asana bot for Webex Teams!

Meet the updated Asana bot for project management in Webex Teams! Now you can create, search, and update Tasks and Subtasks from any group or 1:1 space. Quickly set up real-time notifications for changes or tasks marked complete to keep your projects running smoothly amongst your team. Follow this link to get started!

new Asana for Webex Teams

For more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page here.

Learn More

See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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women using webex to connecting to make an appoinmtment
Creating moments that matter for your residents with Webex

Webex makes it easy to share special moments with virtual visits

Quality time with family and friends is priceless. Whether it’s laughing together, sharing stories, or merely talking about every day, connecting with others is vital for our emotional, mental, and social well-being. Webex recognizes the need for connection, so we have made it easy for care facility residents to share those special moments with friends and family. Create moments that matter more often, no matter where you are.

See our ‘Staying connected with virutal visitation’ ebook for more information

The way we connect is continually changing, with more and more people coming together virtually. Grandkids use devices to meet with their grandparents in care facilities without ever leaving their home; doctors provide health consultations virtually; and friends are using their tablets, phones, and even TVs to throw virtual birthday bashes. Webex can help make these virtual get-togethers happen or supplement your in-person visits with more frequent remote visits.

illustration of tree with words that read moments that matter, Cisco Webex

Why Webex?

It’s easy to meet virtually face-to-face with our mobile phones, but what about when you need to meet over a computer or tablet? How do you ensure privacy and security for those more sensitive meetings like doctor’s appointments? Webex can be used on any device, so residents without cell phones or who need larger screens can still meet virtually with family, friends, or doctors. We also have a secure platform that keeps telehealth meetings private and secure, so residents can get the care they need in a secure setting.

The best part about using Webex for virtual visitations is that neither you nor your residents need to be a technology pro to set it up. To ensure that residents are ready to use Webex, we suggest reviewing our quick start guide [LINK] with residents and showing them how to use Webex on their phones, iPads, or computers. As an administrator, you can schedule meetings for your residents and use our resources to set it up, so residents don’t have to lift a finger. It’s that easy!

Connect anywhere, any time with Webex

Whether a resident’s son is across the country, their grandchildren are too young to visit in-person, or life is just hectic, your residents can still connect with their loved ones from anywhere, at any time with Webex. They can share moments that matter with those who matter most. To learn more about how you can set up and administer Webex in your care facility, check out our ebook. It’ll help you create those moments that matter for your residents.

Stay connected with virtual visitation

Want to learn more about Webex and all its features and the value it can provide your business? Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

Improving patient diagnoses with video conferencing

Up-leveling patient care with team collaboration technology

Improving patient care and coordination with video conferencing tools

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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teacher teaching student on Webex technology
Webex for Education: Technology for collaboration in and out of the classroom

Accelerated need for technology in the classroom

Over the years, education has evolved from using chalkboards and projectors to a more technology-centric approach – with many schools utilizing smartboards, launching BYOD initiatives, or even providing individual laptops or tablets. In 2020, there is an accelerated need for technology and digital learning platforms, in both the physical and virtual classroom. Technology can help make this new way of educating a little bit easier for both you and your students.

Join our upcoming Webex Community Event, August 4th!

Webex: Simple and secure

Here at Webex, we understand that for educators to use technologies like Webex, it must be simple and secure, especially when working with minors. We take our security seriously, so you can focus on educating and engaging students like never before. Sarah Bandy, a reviewer on G2, chose Webex for precisely this reason. She describes why she chose Webex:

“We were really concerned about security when it came to putting together a virtual program aimed towards minors. It was really important to us to make sure that kids could login easily and that there was no way that we could be hacked while executing the program. The benefit of security and peace of mind is absolutely crucial.”

Need help with integrating technology in your classroom?

Laura Hamill, a Growth Enablement Specialist at Webex, previously taught English and has a few tips on integrating technology into your classroom. Above all, she encourages educators to remember why you’re teaching and to focus on the students when making technology transitions.

Transitioning to online platforms and incorporating technology doesn’t mean changing your unique teaching style or losing a second of connection with your students. In fact, you can even expand those connections and experiment with new ways of teaching. Learning how to use Webex can be quick and easy with our quick start guides, virtual online classes, and exploring its many capabilities. We’ve also got a sneak peek of a few of Laura’s key tips. Check them out!

  • Create a routine. Things have been chaotic lately, so sticking to a schedule or creating a routine is vital for both educators and students. Plan out how your class will start their day and utilize a lesson plan. Embrace the teachable moments and learning opportunities together.
  • Give yourself and your students time to adjust. Whether it’s adjusting to a new way of teaching, learning, or simply figuring out how to use new technologies, give yourself the time to do so. You don’t want to overwhelm anyone by immediately diving into something new.

Teachers, need more tips? Read Laura’s Teachers, here’s why you need Webex article for more tips.

Resources and information for Webex for Education, remote learning webinar

Want more tips and tricks on managing your classroom or using technology to make teaching a bit easier? We’ve got you covered in our back to school guide. We’re also hosting a Webex Community event on August 4, centered on Webex for Education: Collaboration in and out of the classroom. Join our esteemed panel of educators to hear how they use Webex collaboration to extend access, emphasize equity, and raise the quality of education for all of their students. Learn from their experiences, and listen to their plans for the upcoming school year.

Join the Webex Community event- Webex for Education: Collaboration in and out of the classroom, Tuesday, August 4, 2020 

Learn More

The Future of Education

Webex Integration Partners join Cisco in offers for education

Experience the new Webex for Dedication – Simple and secure out-of-the-box

Blackboard Learn and Webex join forces to expand the reach of education

Education Resources

What is distance learning?

Welcome to virtual learning

Cisco Webex Education Connector

Cisco Education Home Page

Read more
virtual background on Android phone
Webex Meetings July 2020 update: Virtual backgrounds on Windows, Mac, Android, and more!

Webex Meetings expands support for virtual and blurred backgrounds

July brings some exciting news, especially for users who want to change up or clean up their workspace backdrop. With most of us working from home, it’s perfect timing that Webex Meetings now supports virtual and blurred backgrounds across Windows, Mac, and iOS platforms. AND we are the first to bring the capability to Android users!* Android support gives Webex Meetings users more flexibility for creative backdrops on more platforms than any other video conferencing solution.

iOS and Android users can also choose custom backgrounds from their photo library. This feature gives you more privacy, removes distracting elements from your surroundings, and gives you more creativity to express your personality in video meetings.

Woman using Webex virtual background feature on Webex
Virtual background on Android phone

Other news this month

The July Webex Meetings update also includes support for four new languages on the desktop and web apps: Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian. The mobile app already supports these languages.

Desktop App

  • Content share preview – No more asking, “Can you see my screen?” You will now be able to see a preview of what your meeting participants see when you share. Click on the Share button, and a small window will replicate your audience’s view. This feature will make you confident in what you are sharing and saves time because you no longer have to ask if everyone can see your share.

Content share preview in Webex

  • Participant Sorting and Raise-hand Functions – this feature will likely be most appreciated by teachers in today’s distanced learning environment. Now, when someone in the meeting or virtual class raises their hand in Webex, their name immediately pops to the top of the participant list – in sequential order – so that teachers can quickly see who needs help. Previously, participants who raised their hands stayed at the same position in the participants’ list and may not be easily seen, especially if they are at the bottom of the list in a large meeting.

  • Lobby support – Users outside of your organization using video conferencing systems or Webex Teams apps will now be able to wait in the Personal Room lobby. This will be enabled when the site is configured to place external users in a lobby and when the Personal Room is in an unlocked state. Before this enhancement, external users would be subject to an administrative setting that controlled whether they would join the meeting directly or be completely blocked from joining the Personal Room meetings. With this enhancement, we are simplifying the experience by making sure that all devices and apps follow the same rules when joining an unlocked Personal Room meeting.

Mobile

iOS:

  • New host control improvements on mobile offer a host of benefits for all users, but especially for the education sector, giving teaches tools to manage their virtual classrooms better and protect their students. Teachers have the option to configure “mute on entry” from their mobile app, which lets students and other participants enter a meeting silently, so they don’t disrupt the class. Turning off share allows teachers and hosts to limit content sharing rights in class or meeting to just the presenter. Sharing rights can be passed to other participants during the meeting as needed. Teachers and meeting hosts can also lock and unlock non-personal room meetings from their mobile apps. These are excellent safety features for school administrators, as it prevents unwanted people from arbitrarily entering a virtual classroom.

the lock and unlock non-personal room meetings

 

  • Microsoft Intune SDK support (in beta)- Microsoft Intune SDK is now integrated into the Webex Meetings desktop app, which means that our app is protected by site configuration. This feature’s benefit is that users who need Microsoft Intune protection policies can now sign into a Microsoft account. After Checking policy data with the site and restarting the app, protection policies will be in effect (access pin code after launch).

Android:

  • Alexa voice playback meeting recordings – Android users can now use Amazon Alexa to playback Webex Meetings recordings. Users wake up Webex Meetings by saying, “Alexa, open Webex Meetings.” Users can list/playback recordings with voice commands such as:

– “Alexa, ask Webex Meetings to list today’s recordings”
– “Alexa, ask Webex Meetings to list yesterday’s meeting”
– “Play,” “Resume,” “Pause,” “Exit,” “Next,” “Previous”

For more information on these features, please visit the Webex Help Portal – What’s New for the latest version of Webex Meetings

*Android support available now; Windows and Mac background features will be turned on at the end of July.

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings June 2020 Update: Transcriptions, Background Blur and Mobile Grid View

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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Making Webex even more engaging and interactive

Webex tips to keep your audience engaged

We’ve all been in that Webex. The one where the presenter drones on and on with way too many slides. They might want you engaged in the topic, but what they do is kill you with PowerPoint. After 20 years in the collaboration space, I’ve seen it a lot (and, sadly, hosted bad sessions of my own). My wife works in corporate learning and development, so we have a vested interest in improving the web meeting experience!

Learn about the best video conferencing & online meeting software

3 ways to engage and interact

Over the years, I’ve learned a few tips and tools to make the Webex experience more engaging and interactive, and I’d like to pass them on to you. This blog covers how connecting face-to-face, varying the content, and building audience interaction can help make Webex even more engaging and interactive. I am going to share how to do all of the above with tools included right in Webex, as well as using 3rd party tools. On a tight budget? It’s worth noting that almost all of the 3rd party tools mentioned are offered in a freemium model, where you can use the service for free, with paired down features.

1) Connect face-to-face

High-quality bi-directional video (where both the attendee and the presenter have their camera on) is an absolute requirement for every Webex. It’s how you understand the presenter’s emotion and how presenters know that their participants are engaged.  Webex has a video-centric experience, but all too often, people don’t fully utilize it.

Simple video tricks

Here’s a simple trick every presenter can do: find breaks in your session to stop sharing content. Why? Because once the ‘share’ is off the screen, Webex will maximize screens to video to engage with your audience. While the video is full screen, why not change the layout and encourage others to do so? Each participant maintains control over their layout and view, so you may need to show them how to enable the “Brady Bunch Mode” we call grid view. Webex supports multiple ways to layout your video, including up to 25 simultaneous streams in the grid view.

Newscaster experience

Want to go one step further and have that newscaster-like experience with full-screen video and content overlays? Prezi Video is a powerful tool that can stream content over video live during a Webex (currently supported on Windows desktop or OSX using a web browser).

? Prezi Video is a powerful tool that can stream content over video live during a Webex (and it’s currently supported on Windows desktop or OSX using a web browser).

2) Vary the content

The human attention span isn’t very long, no matter how interesting the topic. There is no reason to have 60 PowerPoint slides in a 60-minute meeting. The brain just can’t absorb it all. Rather than cram all of that info into one session, use varying types of content to reinforce a smaller selection of the most important topics.

Animation

One way to mix up your content is to add animation. To make sure your animations in PowerPoint always work in Webex, I recommend always using the share application feature (vs. share file) for any PowerPoint that contains animation. In the last section, I mentioned Prezi Video, but Prezi has another tool Prezi Present. With it, you can create some spectacular moving and zooming presentations that really grab attention.

cinema-animated-compressed file showing Prezi

Videos

Playing a video during a meeting is a great change-up from slides – it gives the audience a different voice to listen to and the presenter a chance to catch their breath. Webex supports multiple methods for adding video playback. The easiest is to share the video application and use the “optimizing for motion and video” function[1].

Optimizing for motion and video function in webex

Do it live

How about a product demonstration or a whiteboard? Webex has a built-in whiteboard[2] that allows you to collaborate with other meeting participants. Work from a blank whiteboard or open and annotate documents, images, and other files. If you want participants to see your whiteboard and not contribute, you can use the “Share My Meeting Window” option after starting the whiteboard.

Learn more about whiteboards in the Creating Digital Teams in Webex Teams series or live streaming with Webex Meetings for your vitual events.

share my window view in Webex Meetings

You could also use a 3rd party whiteboarding tool that might be easier for collaboration in larger groups or systems that don’t work with the built-in whiteboard. Miro, Stormboard, and IPEVO Annotator are just a few great whiteboard options. Miro even has Cisco’s Network Topology Icons that can easily be added to a board, so instead of showing a network (or flow) diagram, draw it live!

Design thinking

At Cisco, we use Design thinking as a problem-solving framework. I’ve found Miro boards to be a great way to emulate design thinking activities virtually during a Webex meeting (and they work in the multi-media viewer, which I’ll talk about in the next section). Check out this Miro board my colleague used during one of his sessions.

Miro board and Webex

Miro even has a helpful article on their site all about using it in live meetings.

Be sure to check out Justin’s blog article, where he mentions another whiteboard tool, Kaptivo (among other education integrations to Webex), a camera system that turns any regular whiteboard into a smart, digital collaboration tool.

3) Build audience interaction

Whiteboards are just one way to vary your content while building interaction – Webex includes several others! Ask the audience questions and display their responses or even turn it into a game with tools that integrate seamlessly into Webex meetings.

Raise your hand

Replicate the “everyone raises your hand if you…” classroom experience with the “raise hand” button.  The raise hand button can be found next to your name in the participant window of Webex meetings. The functionality is the same in Webex Training and Webex Events, though the layout is slightly different.

Steve Greenberg icon raise hand feature in Webex

 

Polling for large audiences

If you want to capture more data or have more complex questions and your audience is too large to ask one at a time, you will want to use Polling. Webex has a built-in polling tool that can be added to your meeting window. It’s easiest to set up your poll ahead of time by opening a Webex meeting (your personal meeting room will work) and creating a poll to save and load when you need it. Once inside a Webex meeting, go to the View menu, then select Panels > Manage Panels.

 

Manage panels in Webex Meetings

 

From there, you can add Polling to your meeting and start making questions. This help article has lots of info on creating your poll inside Webex[3].

Take polling to the next level

Take Polling to the next level with third-party applications that offer a wide variety of features – and work directly inside Webex’s multimedia viewer if you choose. The multimedia viewer can be used in Webex Meetings and Webex Events to open web-based content right inside Webex. Still, you can also use these tools without the viewer – whatever works best for your audience.

Participants – except those on video endpoints and mobile devices – can see your video or other types of content and the content in the multimedia viewer. If the multimedia viewer isn’t a good fit for your meeting, most of the tools below offer a URL, QR Code, or SMS, allowing participants to interact with your meeting easily.

PollEverywhere, Mentimeter, PigeonholeLive, and Sli.do are just a few great interaction tools that work well inside Webex’s multimedia viewer. Here is Mentimeter as an example.

Webex multimedia viewer in Mentimeter

The multimedia viewer on the right lets the participant enter their responses while still seeing the live video at the top. The live word cloud on the left changes immediately after they enter a reply! Mentimeter even provides a feedback and Q&A tool, all within the Webex application. And for any participant that can’t see the multimedia window, the direct access URL and code are at the top of the central meeting window.

PollEverywhere also allows SMS interactions, and Sli.do & Pigeonhole Live use QR codes, making it easy to use your mobile device.

PollEv.com

Sli.do does QR code

A word cloud is just one example of the variety of unique interactions these third-party apps offer. I’ve used PollEverywhere the most because it provides so many interaction options.

Icons on PollEverwhere

Gaming

Looking for more of a game-like experience? Kahoot and TheTrainingArcade also work nicely with Webex. Kahoot is laser-focused on emulating a quiz show, and TheTrainingArcade lets you build your own games.

Here’s a Kahoot game using the multimedia viewer.

Kahoot game using the multimedia viewer on Webex

And here’s a Jeopardy-like game from TheTrainingArcade as you would see it in the multimedia viewer.

Jeopardylike game from The TrainingArcade

Your turn

Whether you’re using the tools included in Webex, a free third-party app, or investing in a broader audience solution, there’s no reason to keep having less than stellar Webex meetings. Use your video, create polls and whiteboards, change up the content, or integrate an app using the multimedia viewer – these are great ways to keep your participants engaged if you want them to hear and retain what you have to say!

Want to learn more about Webex and all its features and the value it can provide your business? Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

How to launch a community with Webex Teams

A broadcasters How to Guide to live stream Webex

Live streaming with Webex Meetings for your virtual events: What’s new and how to use it

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Collaboration in 2020: Top Tips for Meeting Room Technology

Footnotes

[1] Only currently available in Webex Meetings, other methods available in Events and Training.

[2] Participants who join Webex from video systems or video conferencing applications cannot currently see or annotate shared whiteboard content.

[3] Polling does not work on video endpoints.

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Young woman looking at camera viewing other members of her team via video conferencing
4 ways to ensure your video conferences are secure

Video conferencing security for small business

Now that the professional world finds itself almost entirely online, it’s as good a time to reemphasize how critical cybersecurity is for small and medium-sized businesses. The rush to digitize workflows and procedures may have led some decision-makers to choose the most straightforward consumer-grade tools for preserving business continuity.

Why are there security and privacy issues?

Yet there may be underlying security and privacy issues with solutions that haven’t been vetted thoroughly. Considering the lightning-quick pace with which businesses had to adapt to stay-at-home orders, it’s possible not every solution was put under the microscope.

Learn about the best video conferencing & online meeting software

Video conferencing software

Video conferencing software may fall under this category. Thousands have turned to free tools to fill the collaboration and communication gap. But at the same time, businesses may be putting their operations, data, and employees at risk if they depend on video conferencing software with security vulnerabilities.

See how video conferencing is simple, seamless, and secure. With the Webex mobile app security is built right in

Top 4 tips for SMBs on securing your privacy on video conferencing platforms

Here are some tips for running secure video chats and picking the right solution to drive productivity in remote workforces — and, more importantly, to ensure security and protect privacy.

1) Control who is invited

Trolls are everywhere, and they may be targeting your business. Persons not affiliated with your company may look to do a little online gate-crashing and disrupt your meeting if they somehow get the URL or meeting invite link. They’ll be an annoying nuisance; at worst, they may spam your call with hateful messages and disruptive, insulting behaviors.

Yet you have the controls to keep the trolls at bay. Ensure that anyone you invite to a meeting is a known employee, client, or verified third party. Advise all these participants not to share the meeting link. Also, make sure to lock your video chat once it begins so that only approved invitees can join.

Locking down video conferences is an issue for internal meetings, but more so for external engagement efforts. If you’re hosting a public webinar and didn’t take these precautions, your proceedings may be derailed. That could lead to several consequences, not the least of which is damage to your business’s reputation.

Need help in Webex? Find our Cisco Webex security and privacy resources in our Help Center.

2) Leverage administrative security options

The example above is a cautionary tale, and it underscores how crucial it is for you to have robust administrative security controls. Yet, such capabilities will be sorely lacking in most consumer-grade tech; and if a tool does have such features, it is likely going to be basic and limited.

Maintaining control of security and privacy measures is essential. Most free-to-use tools are not sophisticated enough to match the needs of your business. Your wish list for security controls should include ways for you to:

  • Permit users to store their email addresses and names securely so they can quickly join in the future.
  • Require authentication for all hosts and attendees wanting to access the site.
  • Enforce various lock controls and meeting participant ejection protocols.
  • Enable hosts to customize meeting access security within predefined parameters.
  • Allow for meetings to be unlisted from public calendars.
  • Control screen sharing and recording functions.
  • Automatically end meetings after a certain time or if only one attended remains.
  • Mandate that attendees have an approved account to join.

Without at least these controls, your business may be woefully underprepared to enforce security and privacy in video conferences, putting your operations and employees at risk.

Learn more about administration security 

3) Review the privacy policy

This tip comes from the Federal Trade Commission, which has published a list of best practices for SMBs* that now rely on video conferencing. Checking the privacy policy is a must, and you really shouldn’t move on using a solution without doing so.

However, arranging contingency plans was a frenzy for many businesses, and reviewing the privacy policies of video conferencing tools may have slipped under the radar. This may cause severe issues if you assume a tool stores your data one way, but it does not meet expectations or security requirements in actuality. As the FTC advises, always check the type of data the conferencing software collects, its policy on using your data, and whether it shares information with any third parties. Read about Cisco’s promise to our customers on security in an open collaboration world.

4) Focus on encryption

Choosing a video conferencing solution with end-to-end encryption is the only real way to ensure security for your business calls and meetings. Not only is encryption an advantage for some businesses, but it’s also mandated for others in specific regulated industries like law, finance, and health care.

Most consumer-grade solutions are lacking in this department, and what encryption they do offer is far from the robust end-to-end protection your business needs.
A tool that offers features like password encryption, SHA-2 hashing, and Network-Based Recordings is your best bet for secure meetings.

In closing

Looking for a video conferencing solution that checks all the security and privacy boxes to ensure your meetings are private and productive? Cisco Webex is a leading choice among SMBs of all sectors. We place security and privacy at the top of our priorities, and with Webex, you don’t need to worry about sacrificing ease of use or user experience for security controls.

Want to learn more about Webex and all its features and the value it can provide your business? Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

How to create a video conferencing agenda

Personalize your team meetings with these top four screen sharing features

Video conference with security you can trust

Resources

Securing users and devices in Webex

FTC best practices for SMBs

Master the art of remote work

Webex Products & Solutions

Webex Meetings

Webex Control Hub

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Read more
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How team collaboration technology can work together no matter where you are

What’s it like to achieve seamless collaboration with someone with no matter where the two of you are?

In many depictions from science fiction, such interactions often involved HD video as well as mobile communications. “Star Trek” had video conferencing and handheld communicators, while “Star Wars” featured high-quality audio links between ships, even in the depths of space. No matter where characters went in those universes, they could reliably stay in touch. Check out the Best Video Conferencing & Online Meeting Software

In the real world, available collaboration technologies have caught up with, and in some ways, even surpassed those once far-out fantasies. Employees can now join a video or VoIP call from their mobile devices, but take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) to establish context around each meeting, fill in key details through chat, and improve customer experiences.

Check out a first-hand experience of the all-new Webex Meetings with faster join times and anytime-anywhere access:

While it’s always been theoretically possible to collaborate over long distances via email and phone, modern tech makes everything more accessible and real-time. Let’s look at two typical workflows, one with and the other without the most up-to-date collaboration technologies.

A day in the life: One meeting, many locations

Let’s imagine someone starting their workday at home, which has become pretty standard these days. After all, telecommuting has surged since the mid-2000s; one estimate put the number of remote workers in the U.S. at nearly 5 million as of 2018. And in 2020, many more workplaces are allowing their employees to work from home, or split their time between home and office.

Check out our Work From Home Best Practices

This hypothetical worker wakes up and then joins a web conference from their desktop PC for a little while. Built-in AI provides full context on who’s who in the meeting so that there’s no guesswork in understanding the purpose of the proceedings and the participants’ background.

Then it’s time for them to take their kid to school. Using collaboration technology they can transition the call onto their phone with just a swipe and keep listening while in their car, using wireless earbuds or the vehicle’s Bluetooth and a built-in mic.

After finishing the commute, they finally arrive at the office. They sit down at their desk and transition the same call that started back at home to yet another device, this time to their company laptop connected to a docking station and external monitor.

Once the call is over, they can follow up with a few of the participants via chat. The group chat space comes with read receipts and automatic saving of all messages and files so that it’s simple to find any item and understand how it fits into the workflow. The conversation, thanks to technology, happens in real-time, just like a video or VoIP call.

Help Center: Take a look around the Cisco Webex Teams App UI and get used to your app’s interface 

Takeaways

A few takeaways about this experience:

• The conference call worked reliably across a variety of screen sizes and device capabilities.
Cognitive collaboration features made it easier for participants to follow who was speaking and what was going on.
• The worker didn’t have to use any proprietary cables, dongles, or infrastructure – the team meeting worked entirely over just wireless connections and various apps.
• No emails had to be exchanged and read at any point during the workflow.
• Participants got a much richer experience than a standard phone call would allow, thanks to seamless device switching and added context through messaging.

From start to finish, this workflow kept the entire team connected and on the same page even as at least one participant moved between devices and sites. It’s a stark contrast from traditional approaches to collaboration, which are much more limited by location and hardware.

How collaboration used to work, and why it’s time to move on

The scenario above is an exciting look at how collaboration can play out when everything works. For many employees, though, this workflow is still out of reach due to ongoing reliance on older, less efficient collaboration.

Imagine the same worker, except this time, they begin the workday checking emails in an office. The inbox is overflowing since they’d been out on PTO for a few days. Some of the email threads aren’t even relevant anymore but reading through them first to find that out.

Responding to the handful of items that do require action takes up even more time. To top it all off, the inbox has to be kept open in its browser tab or mail client and checked obsessively throughout the day to see if important messages receive responses.

These types of productivity-draining workflows are all too common. A McKinsey analysis estimated that the typical worker spent 28% of their week on email alone. That’s too much time for too little benefit, as email isn’t real-time and is often challenging to stay on top of – all the more reason to move on to something better. Read how you can use technology to create work-life balance.

Watch how the new Cisco Webex is Built into Your Everyday Workflow

Charting a course toward anytime/anywhere collaboration

There’s a night-and-day difference between traditional and modern collaboration technologies. By investing in newer solutions for cognitive collaboration, video, voice, and chat, organizations can make life easier for their workers while also increasing company-wide productivity. Check out this article on getting the the most out of work-life balance.

Enabling seamless cross-platform collaboration is essential in the context of growing remote work and multi-device setups. Webex can help your team keep up with these trends and stay in touch.

Learn more about Cisco Webex video conferencing solutions and how technology can work together no matter where you are: Get started with a free plan today.

Learn More

Working smarter anywhere – Working remotely 

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illustration of person cleaning devices with disinfectant
Cleaning shared touch-screen devices

The benefits of touch screen devices 

During the last decade we have seen a rapid increase of touch screen devices in the market. The touch screen has become pervasive in homes, offices, manufacturing and medical environments. This is in part due to the high degree of flexibility that it gives to designers and end-users.  

A touch screen provides a space to share visual content and interact so intuitively that most toddlers can do it without any training. Professional devices in the office space and medical applications draw from this simplicity to create high value products to their customers. 

However, sharing uncleaned touch surfaces is a matter of concern. All public and shared interfaces like keyboards, computer mouse, and office accessories should be properly cleaned to avoid spreading germs. The good news is that simple disinfectants are effective against this! 

Easy disinfecting 

One of the advantages of touch screens are how easy they are to clean. All Cisco Webex Rooms touch screens have glass screen that is resistant to most common alcohol-based disinfectants. As recommended in our guideline, use a solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol onto a clean, soft cloth and wipe gently.  

Several of our products are actively being used in the frontlines of medical research and treatment in hospitals around the world. They help to connect specialists and provide better care to patients. In this situation, keeping devices clean according to medical regulations is critical. Fortunately, the design of Cisco Webex Rooms products allows for thorough surface disinfection. 

Avoid unnecessary touching altogether

Nevertheless, some users prefer to keep their devices personal or avoid unnecessary touching altogether. For these users we would recommend keeping a personal pen for the Webex Board, which can be ordered as a spare part through our partners. The PIDs, depending on the product are in the table. 

CS-BRD-PENKIT=  Cisco Webex Board S Pen Kit – 2 pens with 6 extra tips

 

CS-BRD-PENKITSOFT=  Cisco Webex Board Pen Kit – 3 pens with fixed soft tips 

 

CS-DESK-STYLUSKIT=  Cisco Webex Desk Pro Stylus Kit (2x stylus, 4x tips) 

 

Safety First

Cisco is actively working with the market leaders in the Global Infection Prevention industry on the best ways to clean and disinfect our products for the safety and health of our customers and their employees and will continue to update our guidelines regularly.  

Check out what’s new in RoomOS

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30 profiles of men and women open up on Teams
June update of Webex Teams

Summer is here! And with it comes the June update of Webex Teams and lots of fun new features. Let’s talk about what you can look forward to this month… 

MESSAGING & APP EXPERIENCE

Use Webex Teams in a Windows or Linux Virtual (VDI) Environment (Windows)

We’ve now added support for Webex Teams in a Windows or Linux virtual (VDI) environment. You can use all the built-in messaging, meetings, and calling functionality that you’re used to. Extra calling features are also available if your administrator has enabled them for you.

Mobile gets a makeover (iPhone, iPad and Android)

We’ve made some improvements to the design of the mobile app. Your profile picture, search area and device connection now remain at the top of the app as you move through each tab. There is also a new floating button for quicker access to tasks such as creating a space or sending a direct message.

Reactions that move! (Windows, Mac, iPhone iPad and Android)

We’ve made some exciting changes to our reactions – you’ll now see that they move! When you or somebody else reacts to a message you’ll see an animated reaction.

emojis: celebration, heart, thumbs up, smile, cry, astonish, and sad

See when people are busy through Outlook (Windows and Mac)

If you use the Outlook presence integration with Webex Teams, you’ll now see a new presence state – a Busy state in Outlook. When people are In a meetingOn a call, or Presenting in Webex Teams, they will show as Busy in Outlook.

Resize your app to be as small as you like (Windows and Mac)

Minimum size has been reduced and you can now resize the Webex Teams app to be as small as you like, making multitasking that much easier. Note that some elements may look unusual when the app is reduced past a certain size, and this is expected.

Add up to 30 people at once (Windows and Mac)

We’ve made it easier for you to bulk add people to a space or a team. You’ll be able to copy a list of up to 30 people and their emails from either Outlook or from Excel and paste them into any Add People input area in Webex Teams, including Create a Space, Create a Team and the People tab within an existing space. When you paste the email list, the 30 users are staged (you’ll see their profile pictures) for you to review and confirm before clicking ‘Add’.

30 profiles of men and women open up on Teams

Add links to your messages (Mac)

Today, you can add a link to text in Webex Teams through mark-down. We’ve improved that experience for you and made it a lot easier to insert a link into a message. You can now select an option to insert a link from the Format Text menu, this will pop up a new dialog box where you can add a link and edit the text of the link that you want to display in your message.

Team space showing a message being linked to a url

New faces & illustrations! (iPhone, iPad and Android)

You’ll be able to enjoy some of our new friendly characters and illustrations on the Space list, Open Search, Search results, Calls, and Filters.

friendly images including tangerine cat under water looking at an empty oyster shell and under a bunch of leaves. Small blue jays on tree branches

Have a peek into a space on iOS (iPhone and iPad)

When you have an unread space and you’re not sure if you want to open it or not, you can now ‘peek’ inside the space to see the most recent message there. To use, simply long press on a space and the preview will appear.

MEETINGS

See more people at the same time (Mac)

It’s here! The long-awaited grid view for Webex Teams meetings will be landing into your Mac app this June. You’ll now be able to see up to nine people at once during a meeting, making it that much easier to collaborate. The option will be available on the top right of your meeting window.

many faces looking at the computer screen representing multiple diverse people

CALLING

The calling service your administrator has set up for you determines which calling features you can use. If ­­­­you’re not sure what calling service you have, see Webex Teams | Find Out What Calling Service You Have.

Webex Calling

Add Contacts, Search Your Contacts, and Make a Call (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

Add your co-workers into your Contacts list and group them however you like, making people easier to find when you need to chat or call. And on your mobile app, you can call someone from your Contact list and the calls remains in Webex Teams (your device’s calling app isn’t used).

You can even look up your Outlook contacts (Windows), local address book (Mac), and local phone contacts (iPhone, iPad, and Android) from Webex Teams, so you can easily find your contacts and make a call.

Add Contact

Call Control for Webex Teams Calls (Windows and Mac)

If you’re using a Cisco 700 series headset, you can use its USB adapter or Bluetooth to answer and end your calls, put calls on hold and resume them, as well as mute and unmute calls. 

Voicemail (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

No more missing calls in Webex Teams. You get a dedicated Voicemail tab to manage all your voicemail. There’s a red badge counter that lets you know how many voice messages you have. You can check out the details of a message, play it, mark it as read, delete it or call back the sender. After you’ve listened to your messages, either with Webex Teams or your desk phone, the red badge counter disappears.

We already support this feature for Unified CM on desktop. See Webex Teams | Voicemail.

Voicemail (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

Desk Phone Control Features (Windows and Mac)

When you dial a number from the app on your desktop and the call goes through your desk phone, you can put the call on hold or resume the call from your desktop app.

Desk Phone Control Features (Windows and Mac)

Missed Calls (Windows and Mac)

See how many calls you’ve missed with a red badge counter in the Calls tab. The Calls tab shows a list of incoming and outgoing calls and you can call someone back from your Call History. Your scheduled meetings are listed in the Meetings tab, making it easier for you to distinguish between the two types of communication.

Call Forward (iPhone and Android)

If you’re going to be away from your desk but don’t want to miss an important phone call, you can forward your calls to another phone number. Or, if you don’t want to be interrupted, you can send all your calls to voicemail instead.

We already support Call Forwarding in Calling in Webex Teams (Webex Calling) on your desktop. See Webex Teams | Forward Phone Calls.

Call Forward (iPhone and Android)

Single Number Reach (iPhone and Android)

With Single Number Reach, all incoming calls to your users’ work phones ring other numbers at the same time. You can add any numbers you want in your call settings.

We already support this feature in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on desktop. See Webex Teams | Get Phone Calls at Any Number.

Unified CM

Add Contacts, Search Your Contacts, and Make a Call (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

Add your co-workers into your Contacts list and group them however you like, making people easier to find when you need to chat or call. And on your mobile app, you can call someone from your Contact list and the calls remains in Webex Teams (your device’s calling app isn’t used).

You can even look up your Outlook contacts (Windows), local address book (Mac), and local phone contacts (iPhone, iPad, and Android) from Webex Teams, so you can easily find your contacts and make a call.

Call Control for Webex Teams Calls (Windows and Mac)

If you’re using a Cisco 700 series headset, you can use its USB adapter or Bluetooth to answer and end your calls, put calls on hold and resume them, as well as mute and unmute calls.

Call Pickup (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

If you’re in a customer support role and your co-worker isn’t able to answer an incoming call to their phone, you get a notification in Webex Teams if you’re both in the same pickup group. You can answer their call from the notification you get in the app. You can also pick up the calls in other pickup groups.

Look up contacts in Webex Teams

Share a Specific Application (Windows and Mac)

When you make a video call, you can choose a specific application to share, rather than having to share your whole screen.

Hunt Groups (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

If your administrator sets you up with the Hunt Group calling feature, you can sign in or out of a Hunt Group from your Call Settings. When you’re signed in and a call comes into a group that you belong to, you’ll see the Hunt Group number on your incoming call notification.

Share Your Screen (Windows and Mac)

You can call someone from the app and have them answer your call on their desk phone and you can still share your screen with them. They can see your shared screen from their phone if the phone supports video, otherwise they’ll see the shared screen from the app.

You can share your screen regardless of whether the person you called is using a cloud-registered device or an on-premises device. Your screen share is still sent with a high frame rate (30 FPS), high resolution (1080p), and includes audio.

Lock Symbol for Secure Phone Calls (iPhone and Android)

When you’re on a secure phone call, you’ll now see a lock symbol letting you know that it’s secure. We’ve already made this available in Calling in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop.

For more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page here.

Learn More

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AI brain illustration
Using AI to create more engaging meetings

Artificial intelligence (AI) has many possible use cases. It is an important part of everything from voice-activated assistants such as Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant, to specialized applications that can screen pharmaceutical candidates en masse.

It’s no surprise, then, that AI can also be incorporated into online meeting software. Numerous manual and time-consuming activities during a normal web conference can be streamlined through integrated AI. In Cisco Webex, AI can play an important role in creating a more engaging experience for all attendees.

Why AI is needed in online meetings

Think of an audio or video conference you’ve joined in the past. Was the joining experience seamless? Who’s been in a meeting where the first 5 min are a wash because one member is working through the trouble of joining…

Maybe you can recall a meeting that didn’t exactly go according to script or had a few hiccups along the way. The possibilities here are endless, but some of the common sticking points include:

  • Needing to enter a long dial-in number and PIN to get into the meeting.
  • Having to endure choppy audio and video quality.
  • Struggling with meeting controls for muting, sharing the screen, etc.
  • Capturing key action items via physical notes or and generating transcripts.

Together, such issues make too many meetings aimless and difficult to participate in. The costs of these unproductive meetings are high.

Not only do they eat up time that could have gone toward other activities (like all meetings do), but they also don’t even achieve their stated purpose. That leads to additional meetings needing to be scheduled, resulting in more time being consumed. It’s a snowball effect. This is where AI can help.

How AI supports more productive and less annoying meetings

The AI features in Webex are designed to save time and help during multi-tasking such as teaching kids while home, and driving for no-touch and other automating numerous tasks that previously required a lot of manual intervention. Let’s look at how some of these features work in practice.

Voice controls

Imagine a world where your voice can:

  • Join or leave the meeting.
  • Start or end the meeting.
  • Make or end a phone call.
  • Increase or decrease the volume.
  • Mute or unmute a participant.
  • Enter or leave a host’s personal meeting room.
  • Manage connected devices.

It’s all as simple as saying the relevant keyword (activation phrase) and then telling the virtual assistant what you want to do. Read more

Transcription

Taking notes during a meeting can be hectic. Sometimes, you literally cannot type fast enough to keep up with what’s being said. Notes can also be too fragmentary to be useful after the fact, as they might lack sufficient context.

  • Transcribe your entire meeting
  • Included out of the box
  • No 3rd party software needed
  • Safe and secure
  • Auto-generated closed caption
  • Automatic note taking

With AI in place, all of these problems become moot. All of these assets can be downloaded after the meeting is over, along with a complete recording of the session. Advanced keyword search allows you to quickly find what you’re looking for, even across multiple saved recordings if need be.

Other post-meeting actions

Sharing a recording or transcript is often a good step after a meeting ends, if only to make sure that everyone has it for their records. AI assistants can help you take other follow-up actions that extract even more valuable information and insights from a meeting.

  • highlighting and capturing designated action items during the meeting based on highlighted keywords.
  • AI may also do some of this information gathering automatically. These summary highlights, action items, recordings, and transcripts can be shared via email with all or selected meeting attendees for a clear overview of what was discussed and what might require subsequent action.

Security and compliance, assured

Recording and transcribing a meeting, even via AI assistant, can create some potential legal complications. Many jurisdictions require consent from all parties involved before a meeting can be recorded. There’s also the issue of where the data is being sent and stored by the AI algorithms in question.

All of the infrastructure behind a successful AI assistant – data centers, networks, clouds, etc. – must be secure against possible data leakage and cyberattacks that could expose the sensitive matters discussed. In Webex, all of the technical processing is done entirely within the Cisco ecosystem for maximum safety.

Implementing AI in your meetings

One of the biggest benefits of AI is that it’s always improving, as its algorithms are refined, and it has more exposure to relevant data. It can improve your web conferences right away and also give you access to continual enhancements.

Get started with a free Cisco Webex plan today!

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Introducing Box integration for team collaboration
Box for Webex! Content has a new home on Box

During a time when many organizations have shifted to a nearly 100% remote workforce, Cisco Webex is introducing a new addition for enterprise content management on Webex Teams. It’s time to let go of your stacks of paper and say hello to Box for Webex!

Instant team collaboration, even when working remote

Remote teams need more than email chains, phone calls and static documents to most-effectively work together. Teams who are enabled to collaborate together on unified platforms, such as Webex, are able to co-create and share ideas as though they’re face-to-face, co-edit and make decisions much faster than through traditional means. The addition of Box to the enterprise content management feature set enables users to select Box as their document repository. Users can work together in real-time in Webex Teams, by sharing and viewing box content directly within the unified app.

Sharing and Viewing Box Content within unified app

Share and view files from Box

Share your Box files with everyone in a space and view the full file in a pop out window.

See file previews

See a preview thumbnail of shared files to quickly identify what the document is.

Update file sharing security setting

Ensure only the right users have access to shared files.

Box content is accessible and shareable from within Webex Teams and does not index the shared content in Webex Teams. The only metadata that is stored by Webex Teams is the file name and file type, so you know your data is secure.

Set up in minutes

If you already collaborate on Webex Teams, you can enable the Box integration through Control Hub, and access the content management settings to configure Box for users, or on a global level.

Services –>Message Setting–>Content Management–>Edit Settings

ECM 1.3 Adding a file from BoxNow more than ever, as workplaces transform, it is critical to have a seamless workstream of technology and tools that help you get work done. Cisco Webex and Box are here to help. We are working on ways we can deepen and expand how Webex can interoperate with the Box platform to ensure seamless, secure collaboration for users and admins, that will deliver best-in-class experiences.

For the full deployment guide on ECM configuration visit help.webex.com and start collaborating with your team using Box with Webex Teams.

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Idea in a conversation box and a lightbulb
Make your voice heard with the User Community Feedback Portal

Here at Webex, we understand that innovation can come from anywhere, whether it’s from our engineering team, our partners, or passionate users like yourself. We want your feedback on new features or suggestions on how we can make our product even better for you. The User Community Feedback Portal is now open in the Webex Community, so submitting your ideas has never been easier. 

The User Community Feedback Portal 

What exactly is the User Community Feedback Portal? It’s the place to go in the Webex Community to offer new product ideas, make suggestions for current feature improvements, and even vote on other community members’ ideas. We always appreciate feedback and want you to have a voice in making Webex the best collaboration platform it can be. Here’s how it works: 

  • Go to the Webex Community and click on the Share a Product Idea tab 

Webex User Community

  • Explore Recent, Trending, or Popular submissions, filter based on the category, and even vote on ideas you like.

User Community

  • If you want to post your own idea, simply click the Add a new idea button and fill out the form before submitting. It’s that easy.

User Community Feedback

Add a new idea

Every category in the User Community Feedback Portal is assigned to a Webex product manager (PM) who can update requests with product timelines and status updates, so you know exactly what’s going on with your (or any other) suggestion.

How to vote

Even if you post your own ideas in the portal, you can still vote on other suggestions or innovations that you like. Once you find an idea worthy of your vote, click on the VOTE icon to the left of the idea. You’ll also see the number of votes the idea already has here, too. Once you click the VOTE icon, the box will turn green.

Virtual Background

Vote on something by mistake? Simply click the icon again to take it back. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Vote on any idea you really want to see come to fruition.
  • You can retract your vote on any idea if you changed your mind or if you don’t see if getting a lot of votes.
  • You’ll get an email notification if someone comments on the idea in the portal or the status changes.

There are so many ideas already posted in the Webex Community, so go check them out. We’re excited to see what brilliant ideas you have and can’t wait to start putting some of these suggestions into action. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at cocallah@cisco.com.

Submit your idea today!

 

Cole Callahan, Webex Community Manager

About Cole – Cole manages the Webex Communities, including the IT Admin, Adoption Champions, and User Communities. He’s a kayak fanatic, and proud father to his incredible Foxhound, Daisy. He’s passionate about connecting customers, users, and admins with Webex.

Cole is a recent Ball State graduate and award-winning documentarian (seriously!) who has previously launched online communities for other organizations. As the Community Manager here at Cisco, Cole launched our community spaces, engages with members, encourages conversations, and is your go-to guy for everything relating to Webex Communities. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

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Confident businessman looking at camera and talking, discussing strategy with partners online, making video call, business coach mentor recording webinar, hr manager holding distance job interview
Best practices for hosting virtual interviews

Hosting the virtual interview

Interviews are perhaps the most critical part of the hiring process. They allow your company to get to know applicants and assess both their role-specific knowledge and soft skills, as well as their interpersonal abilities and overall fit. Similarly, they help potential hires better understand the role they are applying for and overall company culture in a way that goes beyond a job posting or “About Us” section of your organization’s website.

Luckily, digital tools for video conferencing and connecting with others have made it easier for businesses to find the right applicant. Let’s look at the value of virtual interviews and three best practices for hosting them.

Interviewing in a virtual world

Since the beginning of the year, 86% of organizations have shifted to virtual interviews.* Though, Lauren Smith, vice president in the Gartner HR practice, said that “many recruiting functions were already conducting virtual interviews, including using video interviewing technology for remotely located candidates; however, this now is the norm for all candidates given the current environment.” It’s showing organizations what can be done—in expanding reach, saving time and money.*

The right video conferencing solution puts people face-to-face, authentically simulating the in-person interview experience without requiring the interviewers and interviewees to be in the same place, at the same time.

Virtual interviews enable businesses to search far and wide for the most qualified new hires, regardless of where they’re located. Applicants, meanwhile, don’t have to try to coordinate complicated travel plans if they don’t live near your company’s offices or drastically re-arrange their schedules if they do.

Best practices drive productive virtual interviews

A dependable video conferencing platform is the foundation of consistently positive remote interviews. The following best practices can help your organization make the most of these opportunities.

  1. The right tools, time, and preparation

As the organization hosting the interview, your team should be prepared and extend the same courtesy to interviewees. That means making the date, time, and expected duration clear as soon as possible, so candidates and internal stakeholders alike can block off time on their calendars.

Having the right video conferencing platform is also crucial. A dependable and accessible platform will:

  • Be widely accessible with standard web browsers and operating systems.
  • Offer compatibility with basic video conferencing tools, like built-in cameras.
  • Allow your company to record parts or all of the call, if necessary. In these cases, your business needs to provide the relevant disclosures and consent forms, as Monster explained.
  • Not require the applicant to pay for software or setup.

Sharing a link to the meeting and specifying the software to be used allows candidates to ensure everything is in good working order before the interview starts. That ultimately saves everyone time.

While not a requirement, your company can offer to set up a short test call ahead of time to ensure everyone can connect as planned. You can also leave it up to candidates to ask for a test call before the interview, as an increasing number of professionals are familiar with video conferencing systems.

  1. Creating a professional environment

Thoughtful, professional candidates take care to make a good first impression. Your company should do the same thing.

A professional environment isn’t just for the office. A professional environment can be created anywhere you are. Set up your computer and run a test call with a teammate to make sure the area is clean, uncluttered, and has appropriate lighting. You should also check on technical specifications like the resolution of your webcam, your position relative to it – adjust your chair height or move the webcam to reach the desired result – and the output volume of your microphone. Remote employment service, FlexJobs, also recommended making it clear that you’re conducting an interview:

  • Close the door and put up a sign or other reminder that an interview is in progress.
  • Schedule the time on your calendar in advance.
  • Silence your phone.
  • Close other programs on your computer to avoid slowdowns and notifications from popping up during the interview.
  1. Consistency in interviewing

Some best practices that apply to in-person interviews are just as relevant for virtual ones. Preparing interview questions ahead of time, and using a standardized format for all interviewees, is especially important.

This approach helps to create a level playing field for everyone involved. While the responses of candidates can and should lead to more individualized follow-up questions and comments, having potential hires answer the same foundational questions provides a consistent basis for comparison. It can also assist in removing unconscious biases from the interview and hiring processes.

Video conferencing helps your company find the best candidates

Drawing from a local talent pool is often valuable, but casting a wider net potentially means bringing in more qualified applicants. This can help fill positions faster without sacrificing quality and keep your company operating at peak levels.

Virtual interviews simulate the entire in-person interview process, allowing for subtle indicators like body language and tone of voice to be just as clear as they are in person. Leveraging this valuable tool is simple with a little planning and preparation.

Give your company the tools it needs to successfully host virtual interviews — get started with a free Cisco Webex plan today

Reference

86% of companies are conducting job interviews via video conference

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woman on screen on a video chat
Returning to work with Intelligent Room Capacity

Intelligent room capacity with people counting technology

I was discussing meeting room design and how to help companies make safe use of them once we go back to the office. One of the things you might want to control is the maximum number of people in a meeting room at any one time, so you need some form of people counting technology. Cisco has you covered!

All Webex Room, Board and Desk series devices come with intelligent people counting sensors directly embedded without any additional cost. These were first designed to help crop the image for video conferencing use cases like “Speaker Tracker” and “Best Overview”. But why stop there? Cisco has exposed these as APIs which can also be used to  track heads within spaces all of which is anonymous and opt in.

Webex Rooms built-in macro editor

At first I thought I would need to run extra systems to get this working and spend  unknown time and effort, then it hit me – Webex Rooms devices have a macro editor directly on the device which can solve many use cases. Every now and again you think to yourself “surely it can’t be this simple?” Well, in this case, it was. I already use the macro editor to control the lighting in my office at home and to make a light door change color whenever I’m on a call. Could it be so simple as to hook in the people counting API and perform some actions depending on the value?

I reached out to Dirk-Jan on Webex Teams, one of my colleagues who is known for his unpronounceable last name and amazing knowledge of Cisco API programming and asked “Is there a way to run a macro when the number of people changes”? Fifteen minutes pass and my screen fills with 20 lines of code “Try this.” Half an hour of testing of which the hardest part was to round up family members in our home to trigger the alert and it was done!

Webex Rooms devices: Bringing new dimensions to the workspace

It was almost too simple to be true – the Webex Room device can activate a macro every time the number of detected people in room changes, compare this to the maximum room capacity which can be set directly at the top of the Javascript file, and take an action accordingly. In the past, the device would only count people that were looking directly at the camera, but recent optimisations mean it will now also detect people regardless of which way they are facing. This truly unlocks a new dimension of how to use the device to add value within the workspace.

In less than an hour, I built an AI-powered application in a system that is already present in meeting rooms without requiring any additional equipment or licenses.

I reached out to the the Webex Rooms R&D team and we decided this was just too good to keep underwraps. So we have decided to release this code today on Code Exchange for free to use and modify. Allowing all administrators to easily provision and adopt to their needs without the need to go and find a developer.

Download the macro.

This is just one of many ways Webex Room devices can do way more than video calls. Check out device programming  and the great sample library on DevNet.

Learn More

See all the Webex RoomOS releases

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Working smarter anywhere – Working remotely 

How to launch a community with Webex Teams

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Establishing and then running a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) isn’t easy. . In this post, we’ll focus on one of them: improving internal communications. Let’s look at some common challenges there, and how to solve them.
Manage rapid growth with these internal communication techniques

Effective internal communication tools

Establishing and then running a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) isn’t easy. Statistics show that most SMBs eventually fail, and sooner than you might think. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that within a given 10-year period, 70% of all businesses founded in the first year will fail. The failure rate increases steadily by year*, meaning that even if the business survives year one, each year after is just as important. Webex offers a solution that allows your entire team to harness the power of video, voice, messaging, and more from a platform that’s easy to use on any device.

There’s no obvious solution for avoiding failure, or else everyone would already be doing it. Instead, companies have to do the hard work of sustaining growth and profitability even in the face of multiple headwinds, such as hiring staff, buying insurance, and expanding into new markets. Keeping the growth engine going requires diligent action on multiple fronts. In this post, we’ll focus on one of them: improving internal communications. Let’s look at some common challenges there, and how to solve them.

1. Creating and following a clear communication plan

According to the Gatehouse State of the Sector 2018 report, 31% of internal communicators in North America did not conduct any formal planning. That means their communications are often reactive instead of proactive. Whether it’s communication during a crisis or just a routine event like managing a hiring process, inadequate planning for internal communications may leave employees confused.

A better way forward is to create and share guidelines for internal communications. It’s important to take a collaborative approach to such planning, by gathering input from all stakeholders and setting up a common shared resource that everyone can go back to. Look for a solution that can simplify this task by making it easy to share, find, and organize files in dedicated spaces accessible by entire teams.

2. Eliminating operational silos between departments

Silos – i.e., de facto separated units, cut off from the organization at-large – aren’t just issues for large enterprises; emerging businesses can struggle with this issue as well. For example:

  • An SMB’s finance department might be disconnected from its other teams, creating significant consequences for the entire company.
  • This may lead to accountants and planners making decisions without knowing the full picture of what’s going on elsewhere in the firm.
  • As a result of inaccurate budgeting and forecasting, an SMB with already-thin margins may feel even more squeezed.

Silo elimination requires better collaboration. Entire collaborative movements, like DevOps in software development, have emerged to address the silo issue in particular. But suitable tools are needed, too.

Integrated solutions for messaging, calling, white-boarding, and more help address silos by putting all important information and context in one place. Collaborators can enjoy a single “version of the truth”, instead of working on redundant and possibly disjointed workflows.

3. Consistently distributing feedback to employees

SMBs live and die by the engagement of their employees. Since their teams are relatively small, it’s especially important for each member to be as engaged as possible. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done, due to issues such as inconsistent delivery of feedback.

A Zenger Folkman assessment found that employees working under managers who provided clear, actionable feedback were three times more engaged** than leaders who weren’t. In fact, those leaders who weren’t great at providing actionable feedback had employees who were three times more likely to quit.

Consistently providing feedback can seem challenging for busy managers, more so if they have to oversee employees who routinely work outside the office. Weaving in tools such as video conferencing and instant messaging can make feedback delivery more streamlined than simply relying on emails (too easily overlooked in many cases) or in-person meetings (often hard to schedule and coordinate).

4. Creating infrastructure to support remote and mobile workers

For some time now, non-traditional remote and mobile working arrangements have been gathering momentum. Giving employees the flexibility to work from virtually anywhere has distinct benefits for them and for the SMBs that employ them. It can reduce costs for travel and office space, improve morale and productivity, broaden hiring searches, and enable more practical expansion.

If there’s a catch, it’s that employees can often feel lonely and disengaged outside the office. Buffer discovered as much in its 2019 State of Remote Work report, in which loneliness and communications and collaboration were cited as the top challenges when working remotely. These challenges of disconnection can dampen the prospects of a business.

The good news is that boosting engagement is realistic with modern collaboration software. Setting up a video conference can make a group of participants feel like they’re in the same room even when they’re far apart. Likewise, using unified collaborative spaces for file sharing and instant messaging can lessen a remote employee’s feeling that they’re somehow missing out on important information and context.

How to upgrade your internal communications

Realizing and addressing these challenges will set your business up for more sustainable success.

Learn more by getting started with a free plan today!

Learn More

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*Failure rate of businesses in the first year

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A broadcasters How to Guide to live stream Webex

Learn more about the broadcasting world, with step by step guides to stream Grid View, Overlays and to simultaneously stream to YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook with Webex.

Webex stream to YouTube.

Do you listen to podcasts? Watch YouTube or even Twitch? Then let me take you behind the scenes into the world of the tools used in live streaming. In this article, you will learn how to use the video meetings application, Webex, and set up virtual backgrounds, live stream in grid view, add overlays, and even stream to multiple platforms simultaneously. There are more things to learn when it comes to streaming, but this article is meant to get you comfortable with live streaming as a broadcaster. If you want to learn the simple way to live stream, check out this blog.

Below is a diagram of the various streaming workflows and applications you can use to achieve the broadcast of your choice. This guide is broken down into three sections: Live Speaker Overview & Setup, Broadcast Software Setup, and Streaming Platform Setup. Each section will go over the installation and configuration process to set up your live broadcast.

Live streaming tools and application workflow.

If you are new to streaming, check out this blog first on how to plan and set up your first Webex live stream.

Overview: Broadcast & streaming platform features

There are many other applications out there that can achieve your use case. This guide is not meant to be the ultimate solution, but more of a way to get your feet wet on streaming. Once you have decided what you want your broadcast to look like and how you want to stream it, this feature matrix helps break down various broadcasting software features from VBrick, REC.VC, OBS, and Restream.


Streaming Tools Feature Breakdown.

Section Topics
1. User 1 — Host: Install OBS, Loopback; Webex Tips & Tricks
2. User 2+ — Panelists and Virtual Background

Participant practice session. Webex Desk Pro (right) and Webex DX80 (left).

We will now break down the first column of the live streaming workflow. This section will go over OBS, Loopback, and Webex tips and tricks for the host and also tools that panelists can use for virtual backgrounds.

1. User 1 — Host: install OBS, loopback; Webex tips & tricks

You can refer User 1 as part of the studio crew or the video producer. They have three main tasks. They are to run OBS, Loopback, and manage the Webex panelists. The Webex host won’t participate in the video feed. This user will only manage the panelists, push users in and out of the Lobby, remove the floating icons, mute users, and pin the main video users in the grid view. Below is a short list of things the Host has to do.

Install OBS
To minimize Murphy’s law, make User 1, the dedicated machine to run OBS or Open Broadcaster SoftwareUser 1 will have a dedicated laptop to stream to the various platforms like YouTube. This must be a very high-end device as it will be streaming 1080p, which can max out its x264 encoder or GPU. Without a good laptop or machine, there can be a huge impact on the system, causing the framerates of your video to suffer and making the whole experience unenjoyable for the viewer. This software will provide the Grid View, or some would like to say Hollywood Squares or the Brady Bunch view. Basically, OBS is your desktop screen capture application that will send a stream out to your platform of choice. The Broadcast Software section will go over the setup process of OBS.

Install Loopback
Next, install Loopback from Rogue Amoeba. This is not a free application and it is a Mac app that reroutes audio from one piece of hardware or software to another. It’s best to think of it as a software pipe that pretends it has a hardware device on each end: audio input on one and audio output on the other. This application will be used to reroute audio from Webex to OBS. I also use this to also stream Spotify into the meeting and use my Cisco Headset 730 to monitor the session. We will go over the setup of this in the next section. Note: There’s a lot of other free virtual audio drivers out there, and for non-Mac users, you can use VB Cable or Virtual Audio Cable.

Webex Tips & Tricks
There are a lot of things to think about now that you are a broadcaster. A few things to be aware of:
CPU – 
Shut down unnecessary applications as OBS will consume a lot of CPU resources especially if you don’t have a dedicated GPU on your machine. It’s best to use devices with an NVENC H.264 New (GPU Encoding for Nvidia Graphics Cards) or an AMD H.264 (GPU Encoding for AMD GPUs).
LAN – 
Avoid WiFi. Hardwire if necessary as this is a live stream.
Disable VPN – You want to remove as much latency as possible.

Improve and control your meeting experience. Follow these steps to set up your stream. Here, you want to Mute users joining your meeting and disable sharing in the event someone accidentally shares their desktop. Once you have your Webex Meeting desktop application open, proceed with these settings.

Step 1: Go to Participant -> Mute on Entry and enable it and also de-select “Anyone Can Share.

Enable Mute on Entry & Uncheck Anyone Can Share.

Step 2: Go to View -> Show or Hide Meeting Controls. You want to enable this. In the following picture, you’ll see the meeting controls. You want to hide that during your broadcast.

Uncheck to Hide the Meetings Controls.

Step 3: Understand the Host Lobby feature. Here as you can have speakers rotate in and out of your call and you can control who is showing up on the video grid by pushing them into the Lobby.

Waiting in the Lobby function.

You can also move people into the lobby once they are done speaking by right-clicking on the participant name.

Move to the Lobby feature.

Step 5. Leave the Host “Un-muted” in Webex. If you do not, then no audio will pass through OBS and to the other panelists. Also, you don’t have to worry about any noise being picked up as the physical microphone is not connected to the virtual driver.

Unmute & Lock this thumbnail setting.

Step 6. As you hover your mouse over the participant, you can select “Lock this thumbnail video on a specific participant.” This option can lock the video focus of the main video on a specific participant, or the active speaker. Pins can help you determine whose video you and your participants see.

TIP: If you will be moving people in and out constantly or doing any of the above, then the Host privilege should be passed to another participant and you would leave Webex in full window mode for the OBS setup.

2. User 2+ — Panelists and virtual background

For your other users speaking on the live stream, the best hardware to use is a dedicated video device. I prefer using a Webex Room USB or what I’m using is a Webex Desk Pro as my dedicated SIP endpoint. It’s a 4K display that has a 12 MP HD camera, 71-degree field of view, 8 element microphone array with audio fencing with low audio latency, auto-framing, auto-focus, 3.1 directional speaker array, and overall fewer points of failures since I don’t need other external devices like hardware switchers, encoders, O/S and other applications running in the background found on a PC. Basically, think of the Desk Pro and Room USB device as a high-end dedicated webcam with a ton of advanced features. If you are using a laptop, make sure you have a headset. I have a Cisco Headset 730. It is boom less design coupled with adaptive noise cancellation and background noise reduction. If you don’t have a nice high-end headset, then a regular mobile headset can work very well too.

Virtual Backgrounds, Chroma Key: For your panelists’ that do not have access to a premium video conference unit, then a basic webcam or DSLR would work as well. With the USB functionality, you can use OBS Chroma Key, Manycam, or Snapchat’s Snap Camera to provide virtual backgrounds. These are some of the many applications that are out there, but this article won’t go into a deep dive into this.

Webex Desk Pro with Virtual Backgrounds.

TIP: Note that when you’re live streaming using a software encoder, you’re already putting the computer’s CPU at additional load. Most virtual background software apps require extremely beefy CPUs like a quad-core 4th-gen Core i7 or 3GHz processors with 8 cores or more. In this article, I have my Cisco Webex Desk Pro with the built-in background filters for my stream. It won’t consume any CPU cycles on my laptop since all the work is done on the endpoints NVidia GPU chipset.

Manycam

Manycam is a live-streaming service and a program that allows users to use their webcam with multiple different video conferencing applications and video streaming applications simultaneously for Windows and Mac computers. In this article, I will just focus on the virtual background setup.

NOTE: With one of the latest Webex Desktop updates, a new “hardened” security compilation method on OS X was put in place so that only libraries that are signed by Cisco or Apple are loaded. This applies not only to Manycam but other third-party applications such as CamTwist, Ecamm, CameraLive, EpocCam, Snap Camera, etc. Since they are from third parties, the Webex Desktop app (for Meetings and Events) will not allow them to load. The way to bypass this is to use the browser version for Webex Meetings.

Step 1. Open Manycam and go to Presets and Add a Video Source -> Webcam
Step 2: Go to Chroma Key -> (Toggle On) Virtual Background -> Blur or Replace to select your background in the drop-down window.

Background blur and Virtual background features.

Step 3: Open your browser. Since I’m using chrome, so go to the toolbar and enter -> chrome://settings/content/camera and select ManyCam Virtual Webcam

Google Chrome camera settings.

Step 4: Open up Webex in browser mode. Once you have set that up, you will now see the Manycam Virtual camera video sent to Webex Meetings.

Webex Meetings, browser mode with Manycam virtual background.

Section Topics
1. Admin — Webex Control Hub setup
2. Webex Direct Stream to YouTube
3. Loopback Audio Setup
4. Broadcasting Specs & OBS Setup
5. OBS: Audio
6. Audio Check
7. OBS: Grid View
8. OBS: Overlay
9. OBS: Direct Stream to YouTube

This section will be about User 1, the Host, as that machine will handle these configurations below. This section also demonstrates the “Direct Stream” YouTube use case and using OBS.

1. Admin — Webex Control Hub setup

Webex Control Hub: With the video hardware in place, your Webex admin needs to enable the RTMP streaming services in the Webex Control Hub.

Enable Common Platform Settings and End-User Settings. (Gif)
  • Go to the Webex Meeting Sites -> Common Settings and then check off the services you want. Personally, I like to enable everything to give the user all the options. Here you can enable IBM Video Streaming, Facebook Live, VBrick Rev, and “Other Streaming Services” which is the RTMP option for YouTube, Periscope, and Facebook Workplace.
  • Next, you have to enable Live Streaming for the End User. Go to “User” and the person you want the service enabled for and click on “Cisco Webex Meetings.”
  • Next, click on “Advanced User Settings and Tracking Codes
  • Once here, click on “Enable Live Streaming

End-User Streaming Test: Once the admin settings are completed, you can go test it out. Note that this is a “Direct Stream” setup.

Starting a live stream. (Gif)
  • Start Webex Meetings and then go to “Start Live Streaming.”
  • Then go to the streaming service you want to use. Here we will stream to YouTube which is found on “Other streaming services.”
  • Finally, add the streaming service information in the fields below. The next section will outline how to stream to YouTube and what data to enter in the fields. We will come back to this section later.

2. Webex direct stream to YouTube

The YouTube Live module can be used to broadcast to both desktop and mobile devices. This section shows how to obtain the Stream Name and Stream URL from YouTube Live as well as set up the Custom RTMP account. Note that if this is your first time doing a YouTube live stream, your account may take up to 24 hours to be approved and provisioned.

  • First, go to studio.youtube.com -> Create -> Go live
  • Go to Stream -> New Stream -> Create Stream. Make sure to enter the appropriate information such as Title, Description, Public or Private, and other options for your use case. For this exercise, we will pick Private to test the broadcast. Once you click Create Event, YouTube saves the changes and you’re almost ready to stream.

YouTube Studio New stream setup.
  • Next, you will copy the YouTube RTMP information and go back into the Webex Streaming Meeting fields. Remember that the Stream Key is a “key.” Keep it private.
  • Copy YouTube: Stream Key -> Paste into Webex: Target stream key
  • Copy YouTube: Stream URL -> Paste into Webex: Target stream link

API Key from YouTube to Webex.
  • Everything is now configured. You’re almost there. It’s now time to make sure that YouTube is receiving your live stream and that everything looks how you expect.

Preview the Live Stream: The YouTube Live Studio Event page is the best place to preview your video to see how it will appear when you go live. Note that the video preview is not available immediately after the stream is started. Depending on network bandwidth, it might take a few seconds to a few minutes after starting the stream until YouTube indicates that the stream signal is being received. Refresh the page at intervals to check.

  • When YouTube says the signal is Good, you know Webex is sending your video stream to YouTube.
  • Click Preview to prepare your stream for preview on the Live Control Room page; YouTube processes the stream for a moment.
  • Press play in the preview player to begin to play the event preview.

  • That’s it. You started your first stream! Just double-check and verify the “Stream Status” section for any problems or warnings. You can see that the live stream also includes a “via Cisco Webex” overlay in the top left corner.

3. Loopback audio setup

Now on to setup Loopback which will be used to bridge the audio from Webex to OBS. From this section forward, you want to make sure Webex is running.

Step 1: Make sure the Webex Meetings application is open. Then add the Cisco Webex Meetings app by clicking on the “+” icon in the Sources area.

Step 2: Edit the driver’s name by clicking on the pencil or edit icon. Here, I named it “Webex Live Stream Audio” and this will be exposed into the systems device drivers as this name. Note, going forward I will call Webex Live Stream audio, WLSA going forward.

Add a Virtual Driver name and add Webex as a Source.

Step 3: Once the Meetings app is added, click the down arrow and un-check “Mute when capturing”.

Step 4. Then go to your Mac. System Preferences -> Sound -> “Input” as well as “Output”. You will now see “Webex Live Stream Audio”. Make sure to select this for both.

TIP: Webex is optimized for speaking. If there is any other noise like a guitar or music, Webex will think it is background noise and will try to remove it. So if you want to stream from Spotify, just stream a podcast.

4. Broadcasting specs & OBS setup

OBS is a switcher, compositor, and renderer. There are OBS plugins that do a ton of cool stuff with the right support applications and has a steep learning curve. What I’ll share is just a tip of the iceberg of what OBS can do, but for now, we will just stick to a big use case, which is the audio setup, overlay and grid view.

First, to have a stable stream and avoid dropped frames, the information below will help you choose your encoding, resolution, bitrate, and framerate settings. These tweaks will provide the right balance live stream, internet speed, and your computer’s hardware. Here is a great article on the OBS forum with their Stream Bit Rate Calculator that you can calculate for your own broadcast.

OBS Stream Bit Rate Calculator.

I used a 2017 Macbook Pro, 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Intel i7 for this setup. Based on my Speedtest results and x264 specs. This is what I entered into OBS.

Step 1. Go to Settings -> Output Mode -> Advanced:

Enforce streaming service encoder settings: Un-check
Rescale Output: Un-check
Rate Control:
 CBR
Bitrate: 4000 kbps
Keyframe Interval: 2 seconds
Preset: Ultrafast
Profile: Main

OBS Output streaming settings.

Step 2Go to Settings -> Video:

Resolution: 1280×720
Downscale Filter: Lanczos
Framerate:
30 fps

Video Settings.

5. OBS: Audio

Now that Loopback’s drivers are installed, let’s now configure OBS.

Step 1: Open OBS and go to Settings. By default, OBS isn’t in Studio Mode. This is the view you are seeing below. You will have two screens. The right screen will be the active scene for your Webex meeting. The left screen shows a preview of the editable scene. There is a Transition button in between the two screens. You can choose the Transition button to edit a scene before you show it to your audience.

OBS in Studio Mode & Settings button.

Step 2. Select WLSA at: Audio -> Devices -> Mic/Auxillary Audio -> Webex Live Stream Audio and Advanced -> Monitoring Device -> Webex Live Stream Audio.

6. Audio check

With Webex running, make sure you set the Speaker and Microphone to WLSA.

Webex audio settings.

To close out the audio setup. Remember that there at least four different applications to configure to make sure that audio from Webex is streamed to OBS and to YouTube.

7. OBS: Grid view

Let’s now set up OBS to capture Webex Grid View.

Step 1: Once we add users to the call, we can enable Grid View in Webex Meetings.

Grid View toggle.

Grid View in 2×2 format.

With Webex now showing grid view, you need to open and configure OBS to stream this format out.

Step 2: Open OBS.
Step 3: Go to Sources, click the “+” button, and select “Display Capture” and create a Name if you like and click “OK.” Note that using the “Display Capture” which provides the best streaming results with minimal latency vs. the“Window Capture” option in OBS.
Step 4: Select the Display where Webex is on. I have a dual-screen setup so I select Display “0”.
Step 5: Go to Crop -> and select “To Window”.
Step 6: Next go to Window -> look for “Window: [Cisco Webex Meetings]” and select OK. You can now see that OBS is only capturing Webex and there is a red box on the black screen. The black screen is the area that will be captured and sent to your streaming platform.

Display Capture settings.

Step 7: With OBS open and now with users and the screen resized, you can see that it is capturing my desktop. On the left side is Webex Meetings and the Participants list open shown by the red arrow in Figure 1 below.
Step 8: In the OBS picture below, you can drag the window you want to broadcast by selecting the red borderlines in the right picture in Figure 1.

In Figure 1, you will see OBS only capturing the grid view. Obviously, you don’t want to share the Participants list. You will see with the red arrow that the rest of the Webex Meetings window isn’t being, meaning it won’t be part of the broadcast. This enables you as a host, to control the participants during your live stream. Overall, you just want to share the video.

Figure 1: Webex Meetings being captured in real-time in the OBS in Window Capture view.

Tip: Depending on your setup, you can change your video layout and learn to use the “Fit to Screen” option. To access this feature, Right-click window you want to select and go to “Transform” -> “Fit to screen.”

8. OBS: Overlay

  • To set up an overlay or watermark image. Go to Scene -> “+” icon -> and give it a name like “Live Stream
  • Next, we will add an image. For this example, I will use a “via Cisco Webex” overlay.
  • Go over to the next box, Source -> “+” icon -> Create New -> and give it an image name.
  • Next, you can resize and move your overlay to where you want it to appear on OBX for the live stream. Here, I placed the logo in the top left corner.

Scene Setup, Source Overlay, and image resize. (Gif)

Step 3: Make sure to bring the image to the front. Right-click on the image by going to “Order” -> “Move Up.

Overlay image “move up” feature.

Once complete, you can now see the overlay with Webex Grid View.

Grid View + Overlay.

9. OBS: Direct stream to YouTubeStep

Step 1. Finally, enter your YouTube API Key and click OK.

OBS Stream Settings for YouTube.

Viola! Congratulations on your first Grid view with an overlay live stream. Click “Start Stream” to begin streaming!

YouTube Studio Live Stream.

TIP: To ensure a smooth stream, check the stats in OBS to make sure there are no dropped frames. Go to: View -> Stats.

You will want Dropped Frames to be at 0%, this is the number of frames that you have dropped total. If frames are dropping that typically means you are over tasking your computer or internet. If you’re dropping frames, you can try setting your “CPU Preset” in OBS’ Output settings to something faster.

You will want to keep your CPU to be less than 80%. If this reaches 100% it can result in dropped frames. You can try setting your “CPU Preset” in OBS’ Output settings to something faster if this is an issue.

There are several articles online that can help you tweak these settings.

OBS Stats.

Section Topics
1. REC.VC: Grid View & Single Stream
2. Restream.io: OBS & Multi-stream

This section will cover streaming using REC.VCOBS, and OBS with Restream. As mentioned before, each application purpose based on your use case.

1. REC.VC: Grid view & single stream

The platform from MNS.VC is the simplest and quickest way to stream up to a 5×4 layout directly from Webex Meetings and even Webex Events. This can be hosted privately on REC.VC or publicly live-streamed to third-party RTMP destinations including Facebook, Workplace, and YouTube.

REC.VC captures the video, audio, and content by being a SIP/H.323 video participants in the Webex session. How does this look like? Take, for example, seven people are in a meeting with REC.VC. From your endpoint, you will only see 6 people and not yourself (unless you activate self-view). It is the same with REC.VC, it is just another endpoint receiving the video composition from Webex, excluding itself. Below is an example of the formats you can achieve.

Credit: MNS.VC — WebexGrid View layout examples.

Step 1: Sign up for a 14-day trial here.

Step 2: In the REC.VC user interface, enter your video address (SIP or H.323 URI) of the meeting. In the PIN field, enter the PIN with the format you want. The video composition can be preconfigured to one of the other Webex Video Layouts.

Step 3: Go to Source -> Video Conference.

Step 4: Toggle “Stream” to “On

Step 5: Enter the RTMP URL from YouTube.

Step 6: Go to studio.youtube.com and find your RTMP stream URL and Stream Key and copy them into the RTMP URL of REC.VC.

REC.VC RTMP setup.

Step 7: Enter the video address (SIP/H.323 URI) in the Source Address.

REC.VC Source & PIN configuration.

Step 8: Figure out your streaming format. Enter the PIN for the layout you want to achieve.

REC.VC PIN format.

Video layout setup via PIN codes.

Step 9: Click on the STREAM button.

Step 10: Go back to YouTube to check your steam. You will have to wait a few seconds to see it start.

The video layouts covered in this post is when content is not shared in the video meeting. If you want to share content, you can learn more here.

Finally, if you want to stream to multiple platforms simultaneously, that is possible with REC.VC by just adding another REC.VC SIP participant in the meeting.

TIP: For those with a dedicated Webex Rooms device, check out this cool live stream, One-Button-to-Push Macro from MNS.VC that uses a Touch10 to start a YouTube broadcast.

2. Restream.io: OBS & multi-stream

Restream is another cloud application that allows you to broadcast Webex on as many streaming platforms as you want simultaneously, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. Once you have everything in Section II set up, you can now begin this multi-stream.

Step 1: Sign up for a Restream.io account.

Step 2: Set up the streaming platforms you want. You will have to authenticate to these services.

Restream integrations.

Step 3: Once you enable the streams you want. You will also copy the Stream Key and paste it into OBS.

Step 4: Open OBS and go to Settings -> Stream -> Restream.io — RTMP and Paste the key and click OK.

OBS & Restream.io stream key setup.

Step 5: Once you are back at the main OBS Studio window, go to Start Streaming to begin your stream.

Start Streaming with OBS.

Now you’re all set! Your stream is seamlessly delivered to all your connected platforms.

Below you will see all the applications working together to stream to YouTube. Congratulations and welcome to the world of broadcasting!

Studio Dashboard: The final product stream to YouTube.

Conclusion

Don’t be overwhelmed. You can do this! Just practice and experiment. Once you have all this configured and setup, to execute another live stream only takes <5 minutes. Streaming can be confusing at first, but it’s not as hard to learn. These techniques can add some variety and creativity to your live stream and these are just the basics. It doesn’t have to be expensive and too difficult to set up, although every bit of effort you put in will show in the final product.

Happy streaming!

If you have questions, leave a comment. If you find this article helpful, please follow me on here and share this blog! 👍🏼

🐦 Twitter: @joshreola


Community Support

Have additional questions or want to learn more about Webex? Join the Webex Ambassador Community on Webex Teams and sign up as a Candidate and be a part of a global community of over 2,700 champions.


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May update of Webex Teams

MESSAGING

Introducing app update controls in Webex Teams

This May, Webex Teams admins will have access to product controls which will allow you to choose how often the app gets updated for your users. Options include updating the app monthly or quarterly. This means, if desired, you can reduce the number of updates presented to users. With this, you’ll also be able to defer the deployment of updates by up to four weeks for the monthly update option or two weeks for the quarterly update option. This gives customers a chance to complete any required validation of the new software update. For more details, check out this blog.

Isn’t there a space for that? (Windows and Mac)

We are all guilty of accidently making a new space where we could have re-used another. This feature will help you with that. You’ll get a chance to re-use old spaces as you’re trying to create a new one. If there is an active space with the group of people that you have staged, you’ll see a list of spaces you’re already in with those people. Similarly, when you start typing a space name, you’ll be shown a list of spaces with similar names that you are already in. This helps reduce the creation of unnecessary, duplicate spaces.

Create a Space

A new reaction! (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android)

You can now express yourself even more using reactions. If someone made you laugh with their message, simply react with our new (Haha) emoji! In addition to that, our existing Happy emoji becomes Smile and the Surprised emoji becomes the Wow emoji.

Development Agenda

‘Seen by’ for read receipts (Windows and Mac)
You might now notice the words ‘seen by’ appearing next to your read receipts in a space. This is to make it quick and easy for first time users to understand what the avatar read receipts are.

MEETINGS

See more people at the same time (Windows)

It’s here! The long-awaited grid view for Webex Teams meetings will be landing into your Windows app this May. You’ll now be able to see up to nine people at once during a meeting, making it that much easier to collaborate. The option will be available on the top right of your meeting window.

Grid view for Webex Teams

A new look for an in-space ‘meet’ (Windows and Mac)

Before, the green icon on the top left of a group space for starting an ad hoc meeting was a combined video camera and phone icon. This has changed to be more descriptive and understandable to users, it is now simply ‘meet’. You will see the same icon when you start a search and hover over a space to start an ad hoc meeting.

CALLING

Webex Calling

Fewer clicks to make a call (Windows and Mac)

You don’t have to click meet icon first and then choose whether to make the call with audio only or share your video. You can make that choice right away.

Single number reach (Windows and Mac)

With Single Number Reach, all incoming calls to your users’ work phones ring other numbers at the same time. You can add any numbers you want in your call settings.

We already support this feature in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on desktop. Check out this help page for more information.

Pull a call from one device to another (Windows and Mac)

You can easily move an active call from one device to another. Take a call on your mobile app, and when you get to the office, simply pull the active call to your desktop. The active call moves to the new device and ends on the old device.

High Definition (HD) video (Windows and Mac)

You can enable or disable HD video. Just click your profile picture, go to Settings (Windows) or Preferences (Mac), select Video, and then enable or disable the setting. You may want to disable HD video if your computer CPU is running high or you want to save network bandwidth during a call or meeting.

Direct callback from your call history (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

Just one tap and you can call someone back…simply tap the Call icon beside someone’s name or number in your Call History and you automatically call the person back at the number they called you. You no longer need to choose what number you want to reach them at.

We’re also making this available in Webex Teams calls.

Voicemail in Webex Teams (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

No more missing calls in Webex Teams. If you’re using Calling in Webex Teams (Webex Calling) on your iPhone, iPad, or Android, you’ll see a red badge counter (Message Waiting Indicator) next to the Calls tab letting you know you have a voice message. If you want to listen to your messages, go to the Calls tab and click on Call Voicemail to dial into the voicemail system. From your voicemail system, you also can record a personal greeting, delete a message, and so on. After you listen to your messages (from the app or your desk phone), the red badge counter disappears.

We already support this feature on desktop. See this help page for more details.

Merge two calls (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

When you’re on a phone call and you receive an incoming phone call in Webex Teams, you can merge the two phone calls into one and have everyone in the same phone call.

We already support this feature on desktop. For more information, take a look at this help page.

Start a conference call (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

We’re making collaboration even easier. Need another opinion while you’re on a call? You can add up to 6 people while you’re in a 1–to–1 call.

We already support this feature on desktop. See this help page for more details.

Call statistics (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

When you’re in a call or meeting, you can tap More button (three dots button) to check call statistics, such as packet loss, latency, and resolution rate.

View full screen share (iPhone and iPad)

When you’re in a call and the person you’re chatting with shares their screen, you can see what they’re sharing more clearly. Rather than their screen and video taking up equal real estate, their screen takes up your full view while their video just takes up a small space in the corner.

Switch to and from a bluetooth device during a call (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

During a call, you can switch from your headset or speaker to a Bluetooth device with the tap of a button.

Unified CM

Use desk phone control for Webex Teams calls (Windows and Mac)

When you’re connected to your desk phone from Webex Teams, you can make and answer Webex Teams calls. The audio and video goes through your desk phone but you can still share your screen from the app.

Use Health Checker for phone services status (Windows and Mac)

If you’re unsure whether you’re Phone Service is working properly, you can check out the status of your phone connection from the app. On Windows, click your profile picture and then go to Help > Health Checker. On Mac, go to Help > Health Checker. Health Checker tests your connection and lets you know if there’s a problem.

Fewer clicks to make a call (Windows and Mac)

You don’t have to click meet icon first and then choose whether to make the call with audio only or share your video. You can make that choice right away.

High Definition (HD) video (Windows and Mac)

You can enable or disable HD video. Just click your profile picture, go to Settings (Windows) or Preferences (Mac), select Video, and then enable or disable the setting. You may want to disable HD video if your computer CPU is running high or you want to save network bandwidth during a call or meeting.

Direct callback from your call history (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

Just one tap and you can call someone back…simply tap the Call icon beside someone’s name or number in your Call History and you automatically call the person back at the number they called you. You no longer need to choose what number you want to reach them at.

We’re also making this available in Webex Teams calls.

Call statistics (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

When you’re in a call or meeting, you can tap More button (three dots button) to check call statistics, such as packet loss, latency, and resolution rate.

View full screen share (iPhone and iPad)

When you’re in a call and the person you’re chatting with shares their screen, you can see what they’re sharing more clearly. Rather than their screen and video taking up equal real estate, their screen takes up your full view while their video just takes up a small space in the corner.

Switch to and from a bluetooth device during a call (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

During a call, you can switch from your headset or speaker to a Bluetooth device with the tap of a button.

INTEGRATIONS

Jira Server Bot
The latest updates to the Jira Server bot for Webex Teams support 2-way functionality, making it easier for your entire team to build, monitor, and release software in a timely manner. Now you can create issues like bugs, tasks, and stories from any space as well as setup real-time notifications for issues in your Jira project. Quickly see what’s been updated recently, assigned to you, or even list issues you’re watching from within a Webex Teams space. Learn more on the Webex App Hub.

Learn more on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams

Learn More

See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

Webex Teams product update controls

Love your meeting!

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Book named Indistractable by Nir Eyal, sitting on a table
Webinar: Indistractable — How to control your attention and choose your life

Webinar with best-selling author, Nir Eyal

Tomorrow.. Tomorrow.. I’ll love ya.. Oh wait. I don’t know you (or maybe I do). But that’s not the point.

Tomorrow is an exciting day! Webex is hosting a webinar with best-selling author, Nir Eyal. And trust me, you won’t want to miss it.

For years, Eyal has immersed himself in the psychology of distraction and even wrote a book about it called: Indistractable. Tomorrow, he is going to let us in on his research.

Key takeways

We’ll learn:

  • Reasons why we get distracted
  • Why we don’t do the things we know we should do (think: eating healthy, exercising, getting good sleep, etc).
  • How to master the internal triggers that make us uncomfortable
  • Cool tricks/ways to make a pact with yourself to do the work you say you’re going to do
  • How to cultivate self-compassion
  • AND SO MUCH MORE!

Register here today: https://use.webex.com/webinar-indistractable-with-nir-eyal

Date: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Time: 12 PM ET

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Using technology to create work-life balance

Leveraging technology for better work/life balance

There’s no doubt about it: Work-life balance is essential for today’s employees. People have a widespread desire to address both personal and professional responsibilities. And everyone needs a little time to relax and unwind.

A survey from project and resource management company MavenLink also found a majority of employees of all ages – 62% – believe work-life balance is the most important part of a successful work culture. (1) Happy, healthy, and well-rested employees tend to be more productive, after all.

How can your company use technology to create and improve its employees’ sense of work-life balance?

Give them tools to automate repetitive tasks

Some of your staff’s most important responsibilities involve repetitive work, from creating budgets to organizing projects and allocating resources. However, the many computations and calculations involved are often best left to an application or program. Human error is inescapable, and can easily be introduced into these efforts despite the best efforts of staff and supervisors.

Tools as simple as spreadsheets and budgeting software can help employees complete this kind of repetitive but important work more quickly and with fewer opportunities for error. This modest investment can cut down on the time your workers spent on such tasks, helping them avoid late nights and early mornings. It also removes a potential source of worry that can follow them home and disrupt their work-life balance. Learn how to work smarter and get more done with Webex in 2020.

Use tech to improve mindfulness and health

Technology doesn’t need to specifically address a professional responsibility or task to help improve work-life balance. Locating and vetting resources, then sharing them with staff as part of an employee wellness program, can provide benefits inside and outside of work time.

There are a number of potential apps that employees can use to address self-care needs and improve quality of life. Those interested in diet and exercise can use a variety of free meal and activity trackers, for example. Providing information and encouraging use without requiring it can help create a supportive and accepting environment. This shows staff that their employer cares about them and recognizes they lead lives where work is important, but not the only thing they want or need to address in their lives.

Another option to consider when it comes to these resources is apps that support mindfulness and a sense of presence. Forbes contributor Jaspar Weir, the founder of TaskUs, an outsourcing company, highlighted how his company uses the Headspace app to promote meditation. (2) Creating a sense of peace and presence in the current moment can help employees take a short break as well as better plan and complete their tasks for the day. Take instruction to Webex: stream live pilates lessons.

Empower them to use their calendars

Digital calendars are incredibly valuable tools for modern workplaces. A meeting organizer can easily check stakeholders’ calendars when inviting them to an internal meeting or discussion with a client. That’s not the only benefit digital calendars provide.

Encouraging staff to block off time for lunch and breaks in line with company policies can help them stay refreshed and organized throughout the day. It also provides a window to set up an appointment or check in with family and friends. With digital calendars already so prevalent, embracing this type of policy doesn’t require a major shift in organizational strategy. Employees just need to be encouraged to take advantage of this benefit early on.

Allow them to work from home

Technology has advanced to the point where professionals in many different careers can not only function but thrive when working remotely. Recent events have accelerated companies’ plans to expand work-from-home.

Solutions like video conferencing platforms connect staff to their colleagues, whether in the office or also working from home, in a much richer environment than is possible with conference calls or emails alone. The right video conferencing tool can even enhance collaboration and support recall through automated recordings and document sharing. Here’s more tips for WFH when everyone else is home.

Working from home has some obvious benefits when it comes to supporting work-life balance:

  • Staff can effectively work from wherever they are currently located. They may be at home, traveling as part of their jobs or even bringing their children to a travel sports tournament. As long as they have a computer and internet connection, they can perform capably in their roles.
  • Commuting is no longer a drain on time and energy. While staff still have to prepare themselves for the work day, they don’t need to spend the time and money required to drive to the office or make sure they get on public transit in time.
  • Employees can be present at their homes without having to take time off. A mild illness or appointment with a tradesperson doesn’t mean an employee can’t work. Caring for a sick child or training a new puppy requires some attention, but not enough to require many full days of time off. At the same time, these concerns often require a staff member to be absent from a physical office. With a supportive environment and the right technological tools in place, employees can make a seamless transition to working from home.

Technology offers crucial support for employers that want to improve work-life balance, from directly supporting staff as they complete complex tasks to allowing them to effectively perform in their roles no matter where they’re located. See more ways on embracing the rise of remote working.

Learn more about Cisco Webex video conferencing solutions and their role in enabling a better work-life balance: get started with a free plan today

References

(1) Work/life balance leads to successful work culture

(2) How TaskUs uses Headspace app to promote meditation

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Webex Device Management – The power of search!

Advanced search feature in Webex Control Hub

There has always been a debate about hierarchical folders vs. indexed based searching. When we developed device management features in Webex Control Hub we really wanted administrators to have easy access to any information they might need. Because of this, we decided to implement an advanced search feature to allow for multiple ways to manipulate and view your devices list view. This allows admins to quickly find the devices they are looking for.

implement an advanced search feature to allow for multiple ways to manipulate and view your devices list view. This allows admins to quickly find the devices they are looking for.

Enhance and simplify the admin journey

Let us take a quick look into how we can use the devices search functionality to really enhance the administrators journey on an average day.

When you load up the devices page you can click on the search bar to expose a list of potential filters. The first one is a brand new one that we recently released, called “Type.” This allows you to quickly filter on “Webex Rooms” , “Headsets” or “IP Phones”. This acts as a quick way for administrators to filter the view to look at the devices selected.

Product Tab lets you specify the exact type of device grouping you are looking for

 

The Product tab is lets you specify this even further by the exact type of device grouping you are looking for. For example, you can select Webex Boards. You can also combine these filters, so let’s say we want to file all the Webex Boards which are “Online with Issues” – this can be done by combining both of these functionalities together!

Real-time issue searching

However, it is not just about finding devices that are online or offline or in a specific grouping. One of the features that makes the devices search so powerful is real time issue searching based on the issue diagnostic. This means we can easily see which devices have the same issues. This can be really useful if there is an issue at a certain location and we can easily narrow down which devices in that location have the same problem.

Real-time Issue searching

 

Search by location

One of the questions I get all the time is: “How do I find the devices that are in the New York vs. London offices?” This can be easily achieved using a feature we call tags, where you can place one or multiple tags on any device. This feature allows you to have multiple ways to search and slice and dice the view to get what you want. Maybe you place one tag for location and another tag on the device to explain that it is in building A on campus? The possibilities are endless. Tags can also be searched via our developer APIs check them out at here! (Link to https://developer.webex.com/docs/api/v1/devices )

Search by Location

This is just some of the ways you can use device search to enhance your admin workday, quickly finding the right device to configure, monitor or troubleshoot! Stay tuned for more new features coming to Webex Control Hub for device management in the near future. These are just some of the tools available for Webex Rooms customers in Control Hub and we are adding more updates monthly to What’s New in Cisco Webex Control Hub

Get Control Hub today

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Improvements over RoomOS releases from Control Hub

Administrators’ 3-step guide to managing devices remotely

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Happy Mother’s Day from Cisco Webex

Mother’s Day- a time to remember and celebrate

I am a mother. I have two beautiful daughters who are all grown up. Well, mostly. They are in college, but are now sheltering-in-place with me. What a blessing to have them back home! I still remember when I was pregnant with them – and especially my first. I wanted so much to meet her, but at the same time wasn’t sure I was ready for motherhood. Obviously, it turned out OK and I am grateful every day that I get to be their mom.   

 

The Ellen Show welcomes first-time expectant mothers!

Which is why I was so excited to watch the Mother’s Day Show on The Ellen Show last week – the producers brought 25 first-time expectant mothers together using Cisco Webex as the platform.  

These soon-to-be new moms joined from the comfort of their homes, laughing along with jokes about pregnancy and cravings (banana splits and pickles!).

These soon-to-be new moms joined from the comfort of their homes, laughing along with jokes about pregnancy and cravings (banana splits and pickles).

Making mom feel special

And because social distancing has put a halt to most baby showers, The Ellen DeGeneres Show threw one for all the guests, complete with gifts – all perfectly selected for first-time moms!  

I love that our own technology can play a part in celebrating Mother’s Day and making it special for these women.  

So, on behalf of Cisco Webex, and this mom, I wish you all a very Happy Mother’s Day! 💐 

See how Cisco supports The Ellen DeGeneres Show 

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Improve engagement with students with these tips

Cisco Webex Research Blog Series

The Design Group at Cisco is a global team of Red Dot Award winning creatives who explore peoples’ needs through research and empathy to make the world a better place to work. This series explores their research and some best practices to make everyday interactions more effective. 

Read all the blogs in the series

Tips for better student engagement

One of the growing concerns for instructors delivering online lessons is how to understand if their students are engaged and how to increase engagement in class. At Cisco Webex Research, we spoke with 34 students and instructors to understand what helps students to be engaged during an online class. One of the things that stood out is how the class behavior is different based on the class size.   

Here are some tips to help your classes, based on the number of students in them. 

Improve engagement with students with these tips

  • Small- sized classes (Less than 10 students): Small sized classes open up the possibility of a discussion-based class which is great to increase engagement. A discussion-based class will provide the opportunity for each student to talk about their perspective. Encouraging students to have their video and microphone on ensures they take the class from a quiet space that enhances their focus. Another method of encouraging participation is having students share content during class, and having them lead the discussion.
  • Mid-size classes (10-30 students): Typically, in mid-size classes, instructors tend to have a discussion-based class along with group work where students work in break-out groups. In these classes, sharing content with students as well as the video of the instructor will help increase engagement. Additionally, having students turn on their video while they ask questions will help other students know who is asking the question. Another method of improving class participation is by engaging with students via chat – answering their questions or sending out a poll will drive students to ask more questions via chat if they are hesitant to turn their video on.
  • Large classes (Greater than 30 students): A pattern seen in large classes is that all students tend to have their videos and microphones off. In such a class environment, it helps to ensure the instructor has their video turned on. Most of the students prefer to ask their questions via chat, and to keep the class engaged; it is necessary for the instructor to monitor the chat and interact with students on this channel. An additional way to improve engagement in class would be to work with a group of students and have them present some portion of the lecture. 

We would love to hear from you. If you are an instructor or student who would like to share about your online learning experience, please email us at webexresearch@cisco.com

Connect with all of our blogs in the series here 

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Blackboard Learn and Webex join forces to expand the reach of education

(Contributors: Varshine Chandrakanthan, Kathryn Parkes and Mani Pande) 

 About the Cisco Webex Research Team

Kathryn Parkes, Senior UX Researcher
Kathryn is an experienced user researcher based in Dublin, Ireland reporting into San Jose. As a member of the UX Research team, she leads research projects across the Webex Suite working with various Cisco Collab teams in Ireland, US and across Europe. The team use a broad variety of research methods, including user interviews, usability testing and benchmarking studies, to get a deep understanding of Webex user needs.

Varshine Chandrakanthan, Designer User Experience
Varshine loves observing people and their actions – hence she decided to become a User Researcher. She is passionate about creating an impact to people’s lives and loves to volunteer for education and human rights programs. Her interests include designing tattoos, illustrating for books, eating cake and meditating.

Mani Pande, User Experience Manager
Mani leads the user research team in San Jose. Her team is responsible for understanding the needs of Webex users to inform product strategy and direction, and ensure that the software we ship is not only simple and easy to use, but also delightful. You can find her and her team members huddling with Webex users understanding how they use our software and mapping opportunities of improvement. In another life, Mani worked as a reporter for the Times of India, India’s largest selling newspaper, covering media and crime. Outside of work, Mani loves to travel, cycle, run and cook. She posts photos of food that she cooks and places she visits on Instagram.

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Young hipster man with tattoo sitting on floor and playing acoustic guitar
Times are changing, so is music

Virtual music change

Usually at this time of the year my friends and I begin the banter and planning associated with our annual pilgrimage to the Isle Of Wight Festival. Although we weren’t able to participate this year, I am always seeking ways to keep music an active part of my life.

Live music especially is an important part of my life. The energy and anticipation in a room just before a band comes on is electric. The difference between a great gig and an “Epic Gig” is marginal but in my opinion, the venue, sound system, and people form an essential combination to reach “Epic Proportions”.

I was a bit cynical about the virtual gig concept. How can it possibly be the same?

No people, a tinny sound, and I’m in my front room!

Support with playlists

Then Chris Martin partnered with Global Citizen. Seeing the performance in a stripped back and relatively unproduced manner reminded me just how good Coldplay is. It even made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

So much for no energy! Those tunes touched me, and the atmosphere came from the situation we all find ourselves in.

A few days later I decided to create a playlist ‘Isolation Station’ for my team- just a few songs and a little irony to put a smile on their faces.

Finally, one last virtual music event that really reset my perception that I needed to be in the venue, surrounded by like-minded souls was the Hacienda House Party, a live dance music event based around some of the original superstar DJ’s of the Hacienda in Manchester, England. This event provided my family with a backing music soundtrack for a lovely sunny Saturday. It was brilliantly produced and when pumped through the home sound system, it sounded awesome! Boom, we were raving at home.

Together at home

And whilst I’m waxing lyrical about virtual music events, check out the links below that caught my eye- irony and comedy in musical form.

Oh My God (Stay Home Edition) | Kaiser Chiefs

Reworking of a great anthem following a tweet by a fan to a UK radio station

The Rolling Stones perform “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” | | One World: Together

Check out Charlie Watts drum kit! I’d love to know the story behind this. Taken from the Global Citizen gig at the weekend which Cisco sponsored.

As the Chilli Peppers once sang “Music the great communicator.”

Live From Home weekly livestream

At the other end of the spectrum Cisco has done a good job of using Webex to showcase performing artists of all practices during the weekly series, Live From Home. Presented by AppDynamics and Cisco, Live From Home is using Cisco technology to directly benefit the performers and to provide top-notch entertainment for the public. They are also fundraising for art charities in need. My favourite was ‘Indie Night’. It certainly inspired me to pick up my guitar and start dusting off the old campfire favourites!

We all get so much from the arts which we can often take for granted. Streaming lets us listen to what we want, where we want, whenever we want, and whilst that is a good thing, it’s live music that now really keeps artists afloat. It’s not just for the mega bands touring the world on private jets, but more importantly it’s for the bands and musicians playing at bars and small venues, who are completely shut down for now.

In the clear

So, when all this is over and we can actually go to a venue with a sticky floor and a musty smell, let’s go show our support and help the next Coldplay or Billie Eilish breakthrough.

You can do that on May 5th during the Live from Home event on Cisco’s Virtual Experience Hub for the public.

To conclude, my perceptions were proven wrong….virtual music can move me and bring entertainment to the masses. Music plays such a huge part in all our lives, whether you play it, write it or just hum along because you don’t know the words, it’ll put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. Right now, the power music has is remarkable and can help us all get through this together.

Stay Safe and tune into the next Live From Home event on 05/05

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Securing users and devices in Webex

Common security challenges with users and devices

Today there are too many security challenges to the applications used by organizations, and many different vectors need to be secure:

  • User identities
  • Content
  • Devices
  • Transport

Security challenges to the applications.

The way that we protect the applications is crucial. We need to protect the application access, but also the identity of the user.

It is the job of the IT manager to prevent rogue agents from hijacking user identity and have access to all the different resources that the user is entitled to.

Identity theft has been identified in the Verizon 2019 report as the most common data breach, and if we add phishing attacks and stolen password, we get more than 50% of them. (1)

Breaches. Top threat action varieties in breaches

Protecting user identity

IT departments already understand that passwords are no longer an efficient way of protecting user identity.

It is difficult to manage application access based on passwords, as there are too many challenges:

  • Strong password complexity makes them hard to remember
  • Passwords should be unique to each app, which make them hard to remember
  • Passwords should rotate often which makes them difficult to manage and remember
  • Password manager web utilities can also bring security breaches

When deploying Webex, Cisco always recommends that our customers deploy it with a stronger authentication solution; at the same time, we recommend that the devices where Webex applications run are secure.

Strong authentication solution

Many customers want to enable all their applications with stronger authentication. Organizations realize that identity theft is the biggest security concern, and the traditional mechanisms for authentication are no longer effective.

Our customers talk about multifactor authentication (MFA), which means that their users need to provide two different types of authentication. There are three types of authentication mechanisms:

Strong authentication solution

Many vendors deliver these kinds of solutions; normally, we see them associated with Identity Provider (IdP) solutions. Those authentication policy servers, enforce the right authentication policy based on the different factor (location, application type, device type, etc.)

Today there is another trend in the identity market, where authentication mechanisms are people-centric and follow the Zero Trust mode. This allows secure connections to all applications (whether on-premises or in the cloud) based on the trustworthiness of users and devices. The Zero Trust mode enables the customer’s IT to set and enforce risk-based, adaptive access policies, and get enhanced visibility into users’ devices and activities. This concept is also known as Adaptive Authentication.

Cisco Webex right architecture

Cisco Webex has the right architecture to support the Zero Trust mode and allow secure connections based on the trustworthiness of users and devices.

Device validation and health

Device Validation and Health

Device assessment is a must in today’s organizations, identifying risky devices, enforcing contextual access policies, and reporting on device health.

Today organizations are mandated to follow many compliance goals, and they can achieve most of those using device access policies.

Verifying device health before granting access, to preventing exposing your applications to potential security risks is one of the best practices in modern application deployment models.

There are multiple types of devices that an organization’s users utilize every day when they use collaboration tools. Some of the devices are managed by the IT department, which already delivers some security insurance – but it isn’t enough. Some are unmanaged and owned by the employees, which brings interesting challenges from a security perspective.

Corporate managed devices/applications

CorporateManagedDevices:Applications

Normally there is a mix of solutions that can be used for corporate or managed devices, depending on the device type.

Some organizations use MDM/MAM for mobile devices, which allows them to create policies for the corporate application, for example:

  • Forcing PIN-lock
  • Preventing copy and paste
  • Disable screen capture
  • Remote wipe
  • Preventing tampering with devices
  • Requiring a minimum version of OS
  • Support for ECM
  • Requiring a minimum version of the corporate application

But since IT departments don’t manage only mobile devices, we also need to find a solution for desktops, and there we need to make sure that the corporate – managed applications are also aware of the security policies, and those apps could be aware of features like:

  • Versions of Browsers
  • OS versions and type
  • Disk encryption
  • Status on OS, Browsers, and Plugins
  • Firewalls
  • Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware

The protection of the application can be done by using the validations when the user logs in to the applications or during the application usage. The right mechanism, method, and deployment model needs to be chosen by IT administrations when they are in the deployment stage of those applications. The application vendors need to support any policy defined by the IT departments of those customers.

Cisco with Webex Collaboration doesn’t mandate any security strategy to protect the application, but we can integrate with any policy defined by our customer.

It is important that any application that deals with all the IP (Intellectual Property) produced by a company can follow all the policies that exist for devices and applications.

Non-managed devices

non managed devices

Devices that are owned by the users should not be excluded from the usage of a collaboration application. Examples of that are home computers, personal tablets, and mobile devices. Those devices are especially relevant in scenarios of working from home.

That is why corporate applications need to do extra check to make sure that they follow the minimum-security requirements imposed by the company security policies, for example:

  • The device has the firewall turned on
  • The device has an endpoint security tool, to protect against malware and viruses
  • The device doesn’t have a tampered OS

Normally these kinds of policies, for devices that are unmanaged, need to be enforced at login time.

Device/application visibility

Device:Application Visibility

One of the fundamental principles of good security is to understand your environment. But as environments get more complex with increasing reliance on cloud applications, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) allowances, and mobile and remote work, it’s progressively more difficult to gain that understanding.

For IT administrators, it is important that they have visibility on what devices each application is running; they also need to have visibility on the major characteristics of those devices.

Endpoint visibility also helps you understand and track important user behaviors such as how quickly end-users update their operating systems, browsers, or plugins. It also builds an understanding of when and how frequently end users log into work applications from their personal devices. Tracking these behaviors not only helps you set informed access policies but also helps tailor a more empathetic approach to different groups of users.

When it comes to security, trust Webex

Whether it’s the security of the Webex application itself or securing the devices that connect to it, Cisco Webex has security and privacy built into its DNA. Cisco has invested heavily in building a culture of security with the right checks and balances in place. Webex chooses secure default settings out of the box, thereby enabling users to start collaborating freely without having to worry about configurations. At the same time, Webex delivers a great user experience – one that doesn’t compromise security. That’s collaboration without compromise. That’s the Cisco security difference.

To learn more about Security and Compliance settings, go to the Cisco Webex Control Hub web page.

Resources

(1) Verizon 2019 report

Learn More

Administrators’ 3-step guide to managing devices remotely

Collaboration Without Compromise: A Security-First Approach to Remote Working

The World Has Changed — Security Should Transform to Stay Ahead

Read more
April update of Webex Teams. Man using laptop at home
April update of Webex Teams

Another month and another exciting update of Webex Teams! Let’s talk about this April’s new features…

MESSAGING

Webex Teams Supports XMPP Messaging (Windows and Mac)

Are your colleagues using Jabber, Pidgin or another XMPP app? Now that Webex Teams supports XMPP, you’ll have the ability to send a plain text message to someone using an XMPP app. Your administrator can enable the XMPP communication and ensure that you can only communicate with people on XMPP apps from specific domains or organizations.

Webex Teams Supports XMPP

 

Webex Teams Supprts XMPP Messaging (Windows and Mac) _2

 

Make the Most of Your Message Area (Windows and Mac)

In group spaces (especially larger ones), when lots of people leave or are added around the same time, your message area can get clogged up with notifications that – maybe – aren’t all that important to you. Sometimes, this can cause you to lose context of messages sent before or after these in-space notifications. From now on, you’ll see these notifications grouped and collapsed, with the option to expand if you want to see more detail. This allows users to focus on the important stuff.

 Make the Most of Your Message Area (Windows and Mac)

Actions on Any Message (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android)

Sometimes you need to add a comment or context to a meeting that has been scheduled. Now you can! With this update, you’ll be able to perform all your messaging actions on a calendar invite in a space. This includes starting a thread, quoting or flagging the calendar invite when it appears in a space. On desktop, you’ll also be able to forward the calendar invite information to another space.

Actions on Any Message (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android)

 

Edit Message on Mobile (iPhone, iPad and Android)

How often do we send a message on mobile before we see we’ve misspelled something or forgotten a word? Too often!

We introduced Edit Message on desktop a while back, and now we’re excited to announce the arrival of this feature on mobile. No matter the mistake, you can now go back and edit your message as soon as it’s sent. No more embarrassing blunders! After you confirm the update, a note next to the message indicates that it’s been edited.

April Updates

CALLING ­

Webex Calling

Audio Quality Enhancements

Opus codec for calls is now supported between Multiplatform Phones, Webex Teams, and room devices. You’ll experience better sound quality and lower bandwidth usage.

Desk Phone Control (Windows and Mac)

Dial a number from the app on your desktop and your call goes through your desk phone. Pick up your handset, use your headset, or talk over your speakerphone on your phone.

We’re making this available in Calling in Webex Teams (Webex Calling). We already support desk phone control in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop. See this article for more information.

Transfer a Call (iPhone, iPad and Android)

Sometimes if you’re on a phone call, you need to transfer that call to someone else. Now you can. You’ll also have the chance to let the person know why you’re transferring the call to them.

Add a Pause to a Dial String (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android)

You can add a pause to an entered phone number, which you might need if you’re joining a conference call and need to enter numbers in response to the automated system. You can add a comma (,) to the number, which gives a 1-second delay in the dialing. You can add several commas in a row to extend the delay. You could enter something like: 95556543123,,,,56789.

We already support this feature in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop. See this help page for more details.

Emergency Calling (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

If you make an emergency call in Webex Teams, the call is made using your device’s phone app, making it easier for Emergency Services to pinpoint your location through your network carrier.

Pull a Call from One Device to Another (iPad, iPhone and Android)

You can easily move an active call from one device to another. Take a call on your mobile app, and when you get to the office the office, simply pull the active call to your desktop. The active call moves to the new device and ends on the old device.

Direct Callback from Your Call History (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

Just one tap to call someone back! Simply tap the Call icon beside someone’s name or number in your Call History and you automatically call that person back at the number they called you on. You no longer need to choose what number you want to reach them at.

Unified CM

Auto-Discovery of Service Domain (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android)

Your admin can make your life a lot easier by getting your service domain added automatically to your Phone Services settings in Webex Teams. That way, you don’t need to manually enter a domain and can sign in right away to use the advanced calling features available to you.

Adjust Your Device Volume and Preferences (Windows and Mac)

Get a wide range of audio options during your meetings or calls. When you’re in a call, you can adjust the speaker or microphone directly from the call or meeting window by clicking the three dots menu button and selecting Audio Options. You can also choose your preferred speaker and microphone, so that any new plugged in devices don’t get automatically selected. If you wish to go with your operating system’s devices, you can choose Use system setting and Webex Teams will follow suit. You can also access these options in Audio Preferences.

Make it Easier to Handle Calls from Anywhere (iPad, iPhone and Android)

Don’t worry about missing that important phone call because you’re away from your desk. You can have your work calls ring any phone number so when you get a call, Webex Teams rings plus any other numbers you set up. Unless you’re setting up phone numbers, you no longer have to go to settings.webex.com to turn on this feature. You can turn it on straight from the app.

We already support Single Number Reach in Calling in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop. Check out this article for further information.

Direct Callback from your Call History (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

Just one tap to call someone back! Simply tap the Call icon beside someone’s name or number in your Call History and you automatically call that person back at the number they called you on. You no longer need to choose what number you want to reach them at.

Check your Voicemail (iPad, iPhone and Android)

No more missing calls in Webex Teams. If you’re using Calling in Webex Teams on your mobile, there will be an option in your Calls tab to manage your voicemails. There’s a red badge counter that lets you know how many voice messages you have. You can check out the details of a message, play it, mark it as read, delete it or call back the sender. After you’ve listened to your messages, either with Webex Teams or your deskphone, the red badge counter disappears.

Answer Calls without Sharing Video (iPhone, iPad and Android)

Bad hair day? On-the-go? You can choose to answer every Webex Teams call without sharing your video.

We already support this feature in Calling in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop. See this help doc for more details.

Emergency Calling (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

If you make an emergency call in Webex Teams, the call is made using your device’s Phone app, making it easier for Emergency Services to pinpoint your location through your network carrier.

Forward your Phone Calls to Another Number (iPhone, iPad, and Android)

If you’re going to be away from your desk but don’t want to miss an important phone call, you can forward your calls to another phone number. Or, if you don’t want to be interrupted, you can send all your calls to voicemail instead.

We already support Call Forwarding in Calling in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop. Take a look at this help doc to find out more.

SECURITY

HITRUST certification for Webex Teams

“Developed by healthcare and IT professionals, the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF) helps organizations by providing an efficient and prescriptive framework for managing the security requirements inherent in HIPAA.” (Source: HITRUST)

We know how important security is to our users. We are proud to announce that in Webex Teams, we are now HITRUST certified. This certification supports customers who must meet HIPAA compliance, such as in the healthcare industry. This work validates HIPAA compliance on Webex Teams, Control Hub & Webex API as certified platforms for storage of Personal Health Information (PHI). This expediates contracts & security reviews in addition to ISO27001 certification and SOC2 Type II reports.

HITRUST certification for Webex Teams- Wording TBC

For more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page 

Learn More

See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

Creating digital teams in Webex Teams series: Chapter 3: Whiteboards, no line on the horizon

How to launch a community with Webex Teams

Read more
Webex Meetings April 2020 Update: Better usability and more intelligence for smarter meetings
Webex Meetings April 2020 update: Better usability and more intelligence for smarter meetings

Webex Meetings is evolving every day to meet the needs of our customers especially with the rise in remote working. New features being released this month span from enabling more live streaming capabilities to support virtual events, to control hub enhancements for more secure meetings, to short cut integrations with Slack for improved usability, to enabling a better mobile meeting experience with more intelligence. In addition, we’ve expanded language support to now include Czech, Polish, Romanian and Hungarian – starting first on the mobile app and will soon to the desktop app.

Live stream your virtual events

One of the most significant features of this update is the ability to live stream Webex Meetings and Webex Events to more streaming platforms. In addition to existing support for Facebook Live, IBM Video Streaming and Vbrick, we are now also support streaming to YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Workplace for Facebook, and any other platform that supports the Real-time Messaging Protocol. With the number of virtual events on the rise, Webex Meetings and Webex Events are providing many more options to help you reach the widest possible audience. You can read more details in my recent blog on planning large virtual events.

Control Hub enhancements: Have you ever experienced an issue during a meeting and then have it disappear when IT comes to help? I think we all have, so we created a solution for this. As a new feature in Control Hub, IT admins can now join an “in progress” meeting from the troubleshooting page and experience the problem for themselves. Since more and more business-critical meetings are taking place via video conferencing, there has been an increased need for IT to be able to monitor those meetings and jump in to assist if things are not going well. This gives the IT admin more insight into the problem that the meeting participants are experiencing, ultimately allowing for a quicker resolution process.

Refining Webex integrations for better usability

Slack just recently introduced new shortcuts that provide simple, visual ways to interact with apps from anywhere in Slack. Users can quickly access shortcuts using a new lightning bolt icon next to the message input field, which gives you a pop-up menu with the following Webex actions:

  • List recordings
  • Schedule meeting
  • Show upcoming meetings
  • Start Webex meeting
  • Version information

When you select the action you would like to take, for example Start Webex Meeting, you will choose which channel or 1:1 conversation in which you would like to start the meeting, and then the Start Meeting/Join Meeting buttons will be displayed in the selected conversation. These shortcuts make it easier than ever to access Webex Meetings within the Slack channel – and it means no more slash commands.

WebexMeetingswithinthe SLACKchannel

We’ve also done more refinement with the Microsoft Teams integration, including the ability for hosts to share recordings directly within a Microsoft Teams channel. All meeting participants who are also in the MS Teams channel will be able to play the recording once it has been shared. This convenience means attendees will have recordings at their fingertips rather than having to go searching through email for recordings. In addition, meeting start/end notifications for meetings taking place in a Webex Personal Room will appear in the channel conversation stream.

WebexPersonalRoom

Smart mobile enhancements

This month, we’re bringing a number of features to make your mobile Webex meeting even more intuitive with low battery detection, People Insights on mobile, deeper Ford Sync 3 integration and video pin capabilities:

  • Webex Meetings will detect when your phone battery is low, proactively offering to turn off video and switch to audio only mode. This is available for iOS and Android devices. This feature is created to minimize disturbances during a meeting
  • Mobile Webex Meetings users will now be able to view People Insight profiles in the mobile app instead of being redirected to a browser. You now have everything you need to be prepared for a meeting in the mobile app. Meeting with a new co-worker or customer? Join the meeting prepared with some background information that will help break the ice.

Background Info

  • You can already start or join a Webex meetings from any Ford vehicle with Ford SYNC® 3 AppLink® enabled. While listening to a meeting, users will now be able to view who is actively speaking from their Ford SYNC 3 touchscreen without touching or looking at their phones.

Ford SYNC

This feature will help you be more in tuned with whoever is speaking while you’re participating from the road.

  • Video pin support: When hosting a meeting, it can be important for everyone to view the same speaker or content. Now on mobile, hosts can now pin a specific video for all the attendees to view. Keep everyone on the same page and help your meeting participants follow along.

For more details about Webex Meetings, please visit the Webex Help Portal

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Using a video conferencing tool to manage outside vendor communications

Secure, First-Party Recording Transcripts in Webex Meetings

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Serious woman using laptop checking email news online sitting on sofa, searching for friends in internet social networks or working on computer, writing blog or watching webinar, studying at home
How to create a video conferencing agenda

Hold engaging video calls with a meeting agenda ahead of time

Meetings can be a waste of time if not run properly. In fact, a 2019 study revealed the cost of poorly organized meetings would be $399 billion dollars, in the United States alone (1).

An important way to ensure meetings run smoothly and efficiently is to set an agenda prior to the call. Setting an agenda is important, so all attendees can come prepared. Often participants join a meeting, not knowing how to prepare, or what the meeting will be about. And as a result, a follow-up meeting is needed, making the first meeting more of a time-suck than a productive call.

Prioritize your time and energy

Before setting an agenda, consider these three things:

    1. Understand that you don’t have to solve every problem in one meeting

Think about what can be accomplished.

Meetings have different goals and priorities. While some are brainstorm meetings, others are status updates, or presentations on collected information or metrics data. The list goes on, but a single meeting shouldn’t try to fit everything into one. Before you set an agenda, understand what type of meeting you want to have. This will aid in how attendees prepare beforehand and in knowing how long to set the duration of the call.

      2. Consider making meetings shorter

Participants may be more engaged and less likely to multitask in a shorter meeting, knowing they can get back to their work.

Video conferencing calls don’t have to be a designated 30 minutes or 1 hour long. Yes, it’s true that sometimes that amount time is needed, but consider other approaches. For example, let’s take a brainstorm call. Try setting the meeting for 20 minutes and have participants come prepared with ideas they can share for the first 10 minutes. Then, in the second half of the call, have people try and think of additional ideas as a group. After the call, you can narrow down the ideas and send them out, and let people vote. Or set up a second, 10-minute call to walk through the top three and do a final vote.

For a read-out call, sometimes people fill space with information that is too in-the-weeds if there is not clear direction given. Consider setting a shorter call and instruct the presenter to give the top three bullet points and top three lessons learned. Or top three things that can be improved upon. This will shorten calls and keep people focused. If people are interested in more information, they can follow up outside the call.

3. Don’t be afraid of trial and error

Meetings can look and feel different. Try various methods to see what works best for your company.

People work in different ways. What may work for someone, may not work for others. After a meeting, ask for feedback. You may be surprised in what people have to say.

How to plan for and contribute to meetings

What should your agenda look like?

Based on the meeting type, consider:

  • What is the objective of the meeting?
  • How long the meeting should last?
  • How many people need to be on the call?
  • Who will need to talk/present?
  • Should everyone on the invite actually be on the call? (this is important because you don’t want people to feel like their time is being wasted)
  • How long each of those people need to convey information?

An example agenda:

Objective of call:

Example Agenda

At the bottom of the agenda (or within it), you can request what each person needs to do to prepare, or what they need to bring to the meetings. For example, do they need to send slides over beforehand? Should they come with one question to ask, etc.?

Additionally, it’s important to let presenters/participants know how much time they have, beforehand. In fact, to keep a meeting on track, you can give a 2-5-minute warning before the transition to the next topic and presenter. Because everyone will have seen the agenda and time allocated, the switch will be smoother and it won’t feel like someone is being cut off.

One last note

Remember, meeting templates can look very different based on the type of meeting. So, create yours to fit your business needs and detail it with as much or little information as it needs. You can experiment to see what works better with your employees.

Preparing for every meeting with a clear objective and thoughtful agenda will ensure a more productive and efficient use of time for everyone involved. Taking the time up front, will go a long way to ensuring you get the most out of each and every meeting.

And if you don’t already have Webex, you can sign up for the free offer, with an unlimited meeting time!

Reference

(1) 2019 study on poorly organized meetings

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Irene and Troy
Irene and Troy – A Webex wedding!

A virtual wedding on Webex

Irene Ingham and Troy Mitchell entered 2020 as a newly engaged couple with all the excitement and anticipation of being wed in the company of loved ones. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, a monumental pivot would be required if the wedding were to take place and so the couple decided to get married on Webex.

“This simply worked for us because we were able to share this special day with my entire family from the comfort of their own homes.” said Irene, “A lot of them are on the East Coast and my dad is older, so we knew that travel would not be easy. This was the best way to get everyone together and we were able to include more people than would have otherwise been possible. Plus, it gave us all something to look forward to! Most importantly, I was still able to get married and we were able to do it in a truly memorable and unique way thanks to the support of a company I love working for, Cisco.”

How one connection changed everything

Irene, a communications manager at Cisco, met Troy two years ago on Bumble, the social networking app where women make the first move and must initiate the conversation. Needless to say, that first conversation took place and the couple began their dating journey as they bonded over similar interests including their Christian faith and love of family, fitness, food and fun. Irene shared that she’s never laughed as much as she has with Troy and that this light-hearted, joyful approach to life is what made the shift to a virtual wedding so easy.

“At Bumble, we’re believers that one connection can change the course of your life, and we love that Irene and Troy are a great example of this,” said Chelsea Cain Maclin, Bumble’s Vice President of Marketing. “During this time, we see that our community of 90 million worldwide is practicing physical distancing at home. That said, we don’t want our users to distance socially just because they’re physically apart. It’s incredible to see how our community is being creative during these times, whether it’s by going on a virtual date with someone you matched with on Bumble or an entire virtual wedding experience.”

Focusing on an authentic experience for the couple and their guests

The wedding took place on Friday, April 24th in the scenic backyard of Irene and Troy’s El Dorado Hills home. Physically present with the couple were two of their daughters, Alexis and Sage. Everyone else, including family, friends, and colleagues, joined online. Everyone was dressed in their own wedding attire, brought their own drinks to toast, and watched the nuptials via a private Webex video sharing session. In preparation for the big day, Cisco went the extra mile to ensure an intimate experience for all the guests of this online wedding experience. The Cisco collaboration team provided the couple with a Cisco TelePresence SX10 Quick Set, a video system that sits atop a flat-panel display, and uses a VPN router for remote control of the camera during the wedding. With the display positioned in front of the couple, it was as if each excited attendee was actually there, celebrating this moment with the couple in their own backyard.

Cisco TelePresence SX10 Quick Set

Blessing for the union goes beyond measure

Weddings are one of life’s most joyous occasions and this wedding was no different. While friends and family joined from all over the country via Webex, everyone brought their love and joy to share with the couple. Joining from South Carolina, Irene’s father was unable to physically walk his daughter down the aisle and instead provided a recording to be shared with all expressing, in his wonderful Greek accent, the depth of his love and happiness for Irene. “I said Dad, just say what you’d say if you were standing at the altar giving me away,” said Irene.

Angelo Kornaros

Guests get transported to the ‘I do’

The ceremony incorporated as much of their family as possible. Irene’s brother, David Kornaros, ordained minister and Cisco employee officiated the wedding over Webex from South Carolina. Irene’s other brother Steven joined from Mariposa, California, and with his two daughters serenaded the couple with a wedding song. Special video messages expressing their joy for the couple were sent by Irene’s parents from South Carolina, Troy’s parents from Nevada, and their two other daughters who were in Washington and Texas. With over 200 people attending the virtual wedding from their homes across America, this was truly a country-wide gathering with social distancing of one to 2,400 miles.

webex wedding party

“We both love hi-tech and have always worked for innovative companies so it’s perfect that we have the opportunity to get married in such a unique way.” said Irene, “One of the things I love most in our relationship is that we’re always trying to find the positive in situations. Video conferencing is part of our daily work life, so we’re very comfortable bringing our wedding into a virtual setting where we can share our joy and make it fun for everybody, including ourselves.”

webex wedding

A Webex reception to remember

To round off this incredible occasion, Cisco and Bumble joined forces to bring the happy couple and their virtual guests one final surprise. Joining live from Nashville via a Cisco Webex Desk Pro was Billboard’s Top New Country Artist and ACM New Male Artist of the Year nominee, Jordan Davis. Irene and Troy enjoyed their first dance as husband and wife to the hit, Slow Dance in a Parking Lot which was then followed by 2 group dances (Singles You Up & So Do I).

Jordon Davis

With so many events having been cancelled or postponed, this wedding is a great example of how technology and creativity can come together to deliver a uniquely beautiful and memorable moment that brought joy to the couple and all who attended.

“We are so grateful that Bumble brought us together to fall in love and that Webex was there to help us tie the knot.”

See how others are staying connected with their #LifeonWebex

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How videoconferencing supports the triple bottom line.glass planet in a forest with sunshine - Usa map
How videoconferencing supports the triple bottom line

Here at Cisco we are all about collaboration – especially real-time, face-to-face collaboration. The adoption of video collaboration technologies also has important implications on a company’s triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. So, in the light of Earth Day 2020 we thought we would reiterate some of the benefits video conferencing technologies bring to businesses, the people that work for them, and for the planet we live on.

People

Video conferencing empowers people to own their schedule, better integrate their work and personal lives, and offers them the freedom to get stuff done wherever they are. Employees are not only employees, they are parents, siblings, friends, errand-running multi-taskers that need the flexibility of structuring their own workdays. In a study by Forrester on the economic impact of deploying Cisco Webex Meetings + Webex Rooms, companies  found that employees described that the “simplicity afforded by being able to start meetings and share content from a mobile device or to connect to a Webex video device makes movement between the home office and work office effortless.”

Cisco Webex Meetings + Devices also removes some of the barriers that comes with siloed organizational structures. Video provides a human-centric way of collaborating, and allows employees to make deeper connections within the company by reading into body language and non-verbal cues. The importance that connecting with and trusting your colleagues holds for wellbeing in the workplace cannot be underestimated. When physical lunchbreaks and watercooler conversations are out of the question, employees can still meet face-to-face with videoconferencing technologies. See how to create a virtual watercooler with your team (internal and/or external members).

Staying up to date with technology in a fast moving world, concept. A young Asian woman is using an innovative future technology to view her phone data and functions in holographic display around her

Planet

One of the most crucial benefits that videoconferencing can have on the planet, is reduced CO2 emissions from business travel. With Webex Meetings + Webex Rooms, you can interact with colleagues, partners and customers from remote corners of the world with the touch of a button. International, executive, c-suite meetings shouldn’t be equivalent with airline miles: with dedicated room systems such as the Cisco Webex Room Panorama, you can meet eye-to-eye and feel like you are in the same room from across the globe.

According to the 2017 data from Global Workplace Analytics, remote workers have the same effect on air quality as planting a forest. They also estimate that remote workers who work outside of the office 2-3 days a week have the potential of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons every year. By deploying and adopting Cisco Webex video collaboration software and hardware you are empowering your employees, helping reduce travel-related greenhouse gas emissions, all whilst experiencing true meeting magic.

Cisco Webex video collaboration software and hardware.Cropped shot of a handsome young man making notes while working at home

Profit

Then there’s profit. Not always the most exiting topic, but it is something that is essential for maintaining a healthy business. Forrester found that businesses that implemented Cisco Webex Meetings + Devices reported productivity increases from reduced time starting meetings, saving over $21.3 million dollars in productivity costs.

Further, less miles travelled means bigger travel cost savings: “After organizations got a taste for how real the video and holistic collaboration experience was, they started exploring ways to reduce travel costs. Interviewees reported IT teams choosing to hold annual meetings virtually instead of in-person, saving over $100,000 in their first year.”

Read the full Forrester TEI report here

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Employee whiteboarding with a house design guide, and making marks using the webex coloring tool
Creating digital teams in Webex Teams series — Chapter 3: Whiteboards, no line on the horizon

Creating digital teams in Webex Teams series

The “Creating Digital Teams in Webex Teams” series will spotlight techniques in managing and inspiring remote and #WFH teams.  Learn how the Webex Platform and Webex Teams can help transform your remote team into an engaged, creative and productive team no matter if people are across the hall, town or globe.

Managing a digital team using Webex Teams

As a people manager at Cisco, I manage a team spread across multiple time zones and countries.  There are many #WFH resources out there these days but for this series of blogs I thought I would focus on how to build and manage a digital team using the Webex Teams Platform.

For this blog we will be covering helping unlock your team’s creativity and engagement with infinite whiteboards in Webex Teams.

No boundaries

If you haven’t guessed already, at Cisco Webex, we work remote…. ALOT.  We can empathize with what it takes to work remotely better than most companies on the planet.  So, when we set out to build tools for our customers, we strive to make the virtual experience just as immersive, engaging and maybe even better than being there in person.  One way we do this is by bringing humanity and creativity into the collaboration workflow using what we call, Infinite Whiteboards.

In talking to our customers and looking at ourselves, we know that people collaborate in a lot of different ways.  Inside Cisco, we use whiteboards everywhere, it’s just part of our culture.  Many would agree that it’s easier to just draw out what you mean to communicate a new idea or a way to think about something different or just have fun.  In many of our physical locations, whiteboards are prevalent everywhere, even most of the walls are whiteboards.  So, we thought to ourselves, how do we reimagine that very human experience of collaboration and digitize it?  Answer, infinite whiteboards.

Get started with whiteboards

Get Started with Whiteboards. A whitebard dasshboard with Big Ideas Room Creativity Workshop and the tabs reading messages, people, content , and schedule

Click on the space in Teams that you want to meet/chat in and you will see in the space categories (messages, people, content and schedule), click on Content (green arrow) and then Whiteboards where the maroon arrow is located to get to the whiteboards.  From there you can select a new whiteboard from whatever device you happen to be using (laptop, tablet, phone etc) and just start drawing.  If you happen to be in a meeting, everyone in the same meeting (virtually or in the same room) will also see and be able to engage with the whiteboard using whatever device they have in their hand or in the room.

It’s alive!

Get Started with Whiteboards. A whitebard dasshboard with Big Ideas Room Creativity Workshop and the tabs reading messages, people, content , and schedule

Once you have opened up your whiteboard and started working on it with your team, all of the changes you make are automatically saved.  Anything you draw, add/remove stickies, etc all are saved magically.  Anyone that is invited into the space can pick up where you left off in the whiteboard and continue.  This makes working with teams really dynamic and fun.  Why is this important? As a manager, you can be much more inclusive with your team members when the tools can help facilitate everyone’s input when and how they want to contribute.

Share It

post snapshot and download. Image of the bottom right corner of the whiteboard that shows a Post a Snapshot and Download buttonOn the bottom right corner of each whiteboard there is a share button.  When you select that button, you will be able to Post a Snapshot of that whiteboard into the Teams Space you are in or you can send it out via a text message, email or post to another site as a PDF.

Examples of where to use whiteboards

With my team we often use whiteboards in many of the planning and strategy sessions we do both internally and externally (yes, you can do this too with people outside of your company). However, some other examples of using whiteboards:

  • Daily / Weekly stand ups or reviews with the teams
  • Project kick offs
  • Customer discovery sessions
  • Network topologies
  • Marketing Events
  • Storyboard design
  • Executive Workshops
  • eLearning / Concept development

Hopefully whiteboards was something that you are able to incorporate into your next remote team building session.  Stay tuned for Chapter 4: Webex Teams and Microsoft, the sweetest thing.

Experience the future of work with Webex

Learn more

Connect with all blogs in the Creating Digital Teams in Webex Teams

See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

How to launch a community with Webex Teams

Webex Teams — say hello to the new in-space design

Read more
Working remotely with Webex. Office desk workspace and table background from top view above flat lay objects. Modern minimal design desktop for creative working. Minimalism concept.
Tips for WFH when everyone else is home

Stay on track from home with Webex

So, you’re working remotely how’s it going? If you’re like most people, its an entirely new experience. If you’re like me, you’re dealing with parenting, homeschooling, limited personal space, and cabin fever, all while keeping up with work. 

I’ve been a remote worker for six years now, thanks to tools I use every day like Cisco AnyConnect VPN, Cisco Webex Meetings, and Webex Teams. The transition to working remotely was easy for me back when I was all alone in my home office, my husband was away working in his office, and my kids were in school. Now that everyone in my household is working and schooling from home, I’ve had to make some adjustments. 

I’ve gathered a few real-world tips here for any of you who, like myself, are not only remote working, but also at-home parenting, teaching, self-caring, and everything else we’re doing in our homes now. 

1) Wake up, take a shower, and get dressed

  • Keeping some semblance of a normal routine has been crucial for me. I’ve gotten some time back in the mornings since I’m not getting my kids up, making them breakfast, and getting them off to school early in the morning any longer. Now, I get to enjoy a shower, drink my coffee, take care of my appearance, and revel in a little quiet time before all my new “coworkers” are awake and my workday begins.
     
  • When getting dressed, I go for a “business on top, yoga on the bottom” look. I’m on video meetings all day long, so maintaining a professional experience is necessary (usually, I can only be seen from the waist up). However, there are times I have to stand up and walk around, so being appropriately dressed on the bottom is important! No one wants to be that Webex legend who was on a meeting with no pants. Yikes!
     
  • I recommend dressing all your new “coworkers,” too—kids, spouses, partners, or anyone else who’s at home with you. Unexpected cameos in video meetings are common, and we’re guessing your family doesn’t want to be Webex legends either. Here’s my husband crushing the look. 

I recommend dressing all your new “coworkers,” too—kids, spouses, partners, or anyone else who’s at home with you. Caroline Wright's husband wearing a dark blue jacket a lilac button up shirt with purple and lilac tie wearing khaki shorts

2) Make it clear to family or roommates when you’ll be available and when you will be in meetings

  • I have a 14yearold, a 9yearold, and a 47yearold. They all need me or want to speak with me throughout the day. I have learned to set clear expectations for when I’ll be available and when my office is off-limits. I typically accomplish this by yelling at everyone about five minutes before my meeting starts: “I am about to start a meeting! I’ll be done at 3 pm!” or “I am in a customer/public meeting until noondo not come in my office, and NO FIGHTING!”
     
  • This won’t always be successful. My sons and husband have wandered into my office at times. If this happens to you, don’t sweat it. Life happens. Everyone is settling in to this new way of working, so forgive yourself and others if this happens to them, too. If your kids are feeling lonely, share your space with them. My younger son likes to bring his laptop into my office and sit next to me doing his quiet work while I’m on my video meetings–he knows how to stay out of camera view, and it’s fun for me to have him there beside me, both of us working sidebyside.
     
  • Be aware that others are in the same boat, juggling kids and priorities while doing their best to show up professionally as well. Grace and patience are something we all need to keep in mind for ourselves, as well as the people we’re working with.

3) Make the most out of your remote work environment

  • If you’re going to be on video meetings, make sure you have soft, natural lighting and that your surroundings are “video ready. Working from your bedroom? Make your bed and scoot that pile of dirty laundry out of view. Working from a shared space? Buy a screen to place behind youit will block out any of your surroundings so the focus can be on you. Many online retailers sell a variety of beautiful folding screens that can be used while you’re working and folded and put away when you are done. 

CarolineWright'ssonphotobombinghermeeting. Son peaking in from behind the door wearing red hoodie while Caroline wearing a white dress jacket and black glasses sees reflection and shows a smirk

  • A personal video endpoint device like the Cisco Webex DX80 is a gamechanger, but video works great with laptops and mobile devices, too! For the best video experience with any device, ensure your video camera is at an ideal level. You’ll want your camera at or above eye level to avoid the unfortunate “camera up the nose” look or the dreaded double chin.

    If you don’t have a fancy laptop stand, use a stack of books, puzzles, or an empty box to ensure your laptop and camera are at an appropriate viewing angle. You want to make sure you