Can We Get On With a Distributed Collaborative Workflow, Please?
Consider How the WFH Crowd Still Needs to be Connecting to Conference Rooms
With all the disruption to our daily lives lately, the topic of how to support remote / home workers has entered the mainstream press as businesses are trying to do the right thing by their workers and their larger communities to keep people safe.
Sometimes it takes disruption to lead to change. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind if your organization is full steam ahead in seeking to transform how people work and collaborate:
- Do replicate as much of the in-person collaborative environment to which your people are accustomed. Fortunately, the tools have matured such that teaming software, video conferencing, ideation and content sharing, all-in-one interactive touch displays, and file-sharing technologies can extend your collective reach to home office workers, mobile workers, and other offices. And if your knowledge workers are accustomed to working together in conference rooms in certain ways, see if you can duplicate those ways.
- Do not, however, replicate what’s broken. If your conference rooms and operations centers and training rooms contain collections of sticky notes and flip charts, and if your employees are accustomed to taking pictures of content and emailing them after the fact, now is the time to throw away antiquated practices.
- Do keep in mind that you are building for everyone. In other words, before rushing into a single solution to get technology into the hands of your remote employees, remember that they will still be meeting with conference rooms and office-based employees on the other end still located together. The solution needs to work for both ends of the call.
Webex Board 55S and Digital Transformation
Wainhouse recently evaluated the Cisco Webex Board 55S and came away with some strong opinions about what goes into an effective all-in-one touch display – and how that display can be an essential element in a collaboration experience that connects knowledge workers. This is because we think workplace transformation is about more than randomly placing digital tools into conference rooms and open workspaces. It’s really about providing a consistent set of capabilities that follow your knowledge and front-line workers wherever they need them – at home, on the road, or in the office.
In that evaluation we cover much ground examining the Webex Board’s functionality and manageability. We talk about the value it offers as a multifunction platform, whereby it can be used for local and remote meetings, ideation and brainstorming, and even as digital signage. Just as printers now contain faxing and scanning and wireless capabilities, the all-in-one interactive UC board is alive and well and packing in lots of functionality.
Our topline take on the Board is that Cisco has produced a truly remarkable user experience via the combination of the frictionless Webex Assistant, high-quality video conferencing and teaming applications, a clever and simple user interface UI, graceful touch and writing experience, whiteboarding, and the ability to add third-party apps.
Transformative Elements to Your Remote Knowledge Worker Strategy
A few quick items that I consider to be transformative, and that might fit into your strategy, include elements that reduce friction between users and meetings, and between users and the technology itself. These include:
- Webex Assistant, which enables meeting participants to use their voice in lieu of touching the screen of the board to control the system by saying “OK Webex,” followed by a command. We’re all getting used to speaking to devices at home; it’s only a matter of time for workplace tools to replicate that experience. Score one for frictionless meetings – it works great.
- Webex Teams, the paradigm Cisco has brought to extend the Webex meeting experience into a teaming experience. Webex Teams supports messaging, file sharing, whiteboarding, video meetings, and good old fashioned telephony – the ability to place calls with or without video. The beauty of Webex Teams is that it creates a consistent user experience whether one is working on a Webex Board in a conference room, a Webex Desk Pro at an executive desktop or home office, a home PC or Mac running Webex Teams, or a mobile touch device like a smartphone or tablet. Score one for a consistent experience for everyone.
- Spaces, the “container” Webex Teams provides that allows a team to see and share everything on which they are working. With Spaces, your employees can send messages, share files, create, and edit whiteboards securely. Roughly two-thirds of North American IT decision-makers told us recently that the top benefit of interactive touch displays and connected PCs is immediate access to content. Score one for a simple, consistent way to collaborate.
- Touch capabilities, which work well not only on the Webex Board but in theory on Cisco’s upcoming Desk Pro. Touchscreen finger annotation and erase need to be just as good as with stylus, while touch redirect supports control of content on a connected laptop. Score one for a consistent approach to touch in the conference room and at the desktop.
- Ideation / lightweight annotation tools, which need to be just enough to satisfy the needs of knowledge workers involved in exchanging concepts and building on one another’s ideas. To be successful, digital tools like sticky notes and pen and color controls should provide just enough of a platform for co-creation without overwhelming end users. Score one for ease of use and consistency.
- A high-quality meeting experience, which must extend across the enterprise to support both local and remote meeting participants. I can attest, having been on literally thousands of calls to conference rooms from my home office, that it’s essential that every meeting room configuration supports high-quality audio and video experience for the remote attendees. We’ve tested a number of interactive touch displays configured with video conferencing, and let’s just conclude by saying score one for a quality experience.
What We Like
There are other features we like, from the management of the Webex Board from the Cisco Control Hub to the ability to use Web Apps to access third-party tools, to the ability to pair a user’s mobile device wirelessly to a Webex Board. All of these can help to transform how knowledge workers get the job done. More to the point, they demonstrate that supporting your remote workers calls for consideration of devices, workflow, and the meeting room experience. In trying times like these, the last thing you want is to introduce barriers and boundaries between local and remote employees.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few things we’d like to see added or improved upon – we’re analysts, after all. You may click here to read our full, in-depth evaluation of the Webex Board 55.
Learn more about the Webex Board on Cisco.com
Alan D. Greenberg, Senior Analyst, and Partner at Wainhouse guest-authored this blog. Located in Austin, TX, Alan is an expert in collaboration and conferencing applications for meeting rooms and classrooms. He specializes in ideation technologies, touch displays and wireless presentation systems, video conferencing, personal meetings, and other video-centric products and services. Alan holds an M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.A. from Hampshire College, Amherst MA. He can be reached at [email protected].
 Wainhouse Survey Insight: Ideation and Workspace Collaboration – ITDM Perspectives – North America Q4 2019