Hybrid work is a big topic at the moment and without a doubt one of the buzzwords of the present day. Still, it doesn’t really work that well yet. Cisco has seen that too. During the recent Cisco Live conference, the company explained how it intends to solve the problems surrounding hybrid working. More hardware and better integrations play an important role in this.

We are not entirely convinced of hybrid work as it is being discussed nowadays as the way forward in professional life. That is, it’s not really working smoothly yet. Also, many organizations seem to like to see employees back in the office, with a few radical exceptions. The latter category includes organizations that have completely given up their office space. In addition, the traffic jams that are occurring nowadays seem to be broadly back to pre-covid levels. So has the momentum for hybrid work somewhat evaporated?

Cisco continues to invest in Webex and hybrid working

At Cisco, they continue to believe in the hybrid future when it comes to how and where employees work. As such, it continues to invest in the Webex platform and in hybrid work in general. We already interviewed Jeetu Patel, the EVP & GM for Security & Collaboration at Cisco, about this in detail. Please read that article again if you wish to know more about this. These investments are also necessary, according to Patel, because, according to a study quoted during one of his keynotes at Cisco Live, in the future at least one outside person will always be involved in 98 percent of the meetings.

98 percent sounds like a rather unrealistic percentage to our ears. Based on the road congestion cited earlier, it looks like, at least in our region, the vast majority is coming back to the office for the meetings. These people might dial into other meetings on other days of the week, of course. But the 98 percent that Patel is talking about seems somewhat too high to us. Or this must be the result of a tendency for more and more people to participate in meetings because they can now do so virtually. But then you can ask yourself whether that is desirable. More people in meetings is not necessarily better.

Big steps, but more work needed

In our opinion, Webex has undergone the greatest transformation in recent years of all the platforms that focus on collaboration, video conferencing and hybrid working in general. It has really made very big strides since the beginning of the pandemic. Webex has gotten a complete makeover and there have been about 800 improvements and updates.

Mind you, the big steps were necessary too, because the Webex of two or three years ago was quite dated. From the beginning of the pandemic, it was left behind by the competition. The market share that Webex lost during this period, it must now at least regain.

It is difficult for us to judge whether it is successful in this. Anecdotally, we can say that still do not receive any Webex invites, something we did occasionally receive before the pandemic. We do use Webex ourselves, but we notice from the calls that we have that hardly anyone we talk to uses it. Almost everyone has to install the client first (and is therefore late to the meeting). The fact that Patel said nothing on stage about growth of Webex, also makes us suspect that fast growth isn’t the case at the moment. Anyway, this is only anecdotal evidence and inference of course. We will have to wait for hard numbers.

There is still a lot to be gained in the field of hybrid work. That much was clear during Patel’s keynote at Cisco Live. Cisco continues to invest to make this happen. For example, it has a large hardware portfolio, which it continues to expand. There are also integrations with Apple CarPlay and with Ford cars. Finally, there is also a rather surprising integration in Webex with a competitor. We’ll take a closer look at these developments below.

Hybrid work doesn’t really work

As mentioned, Patel stated during Cisco Live that hybrid work does not really work yet. With this statement, he takes a completely different approach than about eighteen months ago. Back then he indicated that Cisco was going to make virtual meetings ten times better than physical meetings. That promise still stands, of course, but it seems as if there is also a bit more realism in the messages to the market.

Whiteboarding is one of the things about hybrid work that doesn’t work at the moment, Patel points out. There is, of course, whiteboarding functionality in Webex. However, that is not enough. Many meeting configurations will also have a physical whiteboard. The moment the physically present participants of a meeting start using it, they have lost the virtually present colleague or guest. That has to change. The solution to this problem is the Webex Board. This is a physical whiteboard that integrates with Webex and allows people in multiple locations to work with each other on the same whiteboard.

Another fundamental problem with hybrid work is that as a remote employee, you are on your own if something doesn’t work right. That is, you are your own IT admin. After all, you’re not on the same infrastructure as your colleagues who are in the office. To solve this problem, Cisco has the Meraki teleworker gateway/router. This turns your home office into a branch office. When it comes to IT admin tasks, the integration between ThousandEyes and the Webex Control Hub is also important. This gives you very good insight into causes for poor Webex performance. If you know where the problem is, you can respond accordingly.

Not the whole world works on Webex

We already indicated that Cisco has invested a great deal in Webex in recent years. The way Cisco has set up the Webex platform also takes into account other platforms. Jan Roggeveen, the Country Lead Collaboration at Cisco in the Netherlands, called Webex “the backbone for collaboration” in a conversation with us last year. You don’t always have to use Webex (consciously) to still be able to use Webex technology.

In itself, this is a healthy attitude, especially if you are not the biggest player on the market. This means that you have to assume that not everyone is using Webex. “If you have invested in other platforms, you should be able to continue to use them while working with Webex,” Patel says. Hence, Webex has been given near-native integration with Teams. You can start a Teams call from Webex without leaving the Webex environment. Specific features of Webex are also available in Teams. It is for instance possible to use People Focus (a Webex feature), which allows you to place participants in meetings in grids, also in Teams.

Conclusion

Cisco continues to invest heavily in hybrid working as a theme and Webex as a platform, that much is clear. Whether all these investments will ever deliver what Cisco has in mind remains to be seen. Webex is still the most secure and safe platform on the market, so it will always appeal to certain industries. Whether it will gain a lot of ground back over Zoom and Teams is a lot more uncertain. The fact remains that Cisco shot into action too late after the start of the pandemic. The major updates didn’t come before the end of 2020. By then, the damage was more or less done. To now take back market share from Teams, which virtually every Microsoft 365-based organization has at its disposal, and the simply very popular Zoom, is a major challenge.

Deep integrations with those platforms may well be the best strategy for Cisco, at least in the short term. The integration with Teams that we highlighted in this article is a good example. We expect a number of such integrations to follow.