If we decide how we want to work to be productive and upskill to take advantage of new collaboration tools, we will improve productivity, creativity and business results.

As I sat down to watch the keynote presentation at Cisco WebexONE today, the global conference for digital collaboration, I was expecting to hear about amazing new features and technology. I certainly wasn’t disappointed there, but I came out with the insight that it’s how we want to interact, meet, collaborate and create that drives our adoption of technology. And with flexible tools like Webex, we can shape the technology that our organisations assimilate.

I’d like to share some of my takeaways from today’s keynote, and it will be a mixture of technology, the human behaviours that are necessary for success in business and how they work together

It’s very easy to be constantly absorbed by meetings, and somewhere deep down, we think that if we’re busy, we’re getting stuff done, or we’re important, or something.  We tend to measure our day in terms of the number of meeting or the length of those meetings.  But it’s obvious on reflection that meetings are just a process for achieving outcomes.  However, the reality is that our behaviour unfortunately focuses on the process, ie, attending meetings, rather than outcomes.  In other words, we aren’t managing the productivity of meetings, because ‘start at 9, finish at 10’ is sacred turf.

And we are so easily driven by our meeting and collaboration tools that recommend half hour, or one hour time blocks.  How does that make sense?  Apart from these time slots being totally arbitrary, what happens, when we’re “back to back” is that we are constantly late for the next meeting, we don’t give ourselves time to prepare for meetings, nor any time at the end of a meeting to deliver on the follow up tasks.

I like the way that Webex is now starting to facilitate different types of meetings.  One is the ‘quick sync’ which could be, say, from 9am to 9:07am.  That’s it.  A timer runs through the meeting and the meeting is cut off at 9:07.  Now that’s a way to force a productive meeting!

Another is the ‘feedback’ meeting which manages the process of getting feedback from a group, regardless of their respective locations, which can be tricky because some people – often with the best ideas and insights – are reluctant to share.  A simple structure gives everybody their turn.

With Webex, it’s also now possible spontaneously huddle with a group of colleagues, or external parties, with a single click.  No scheduling.  The quick huddle is a valuable tool that has suffered as we’ve moved from the office to home.

In face to face meetings, we get so much information from body language and gestures, but with video meetings, we lose some of that rich input.  A new Webex feature allows participants in a meeting to provide feedback or convey how they are feeling, without interrupting the speaker through the use of emojis.  And of course, there’s the option to raise your hand if necessary.

A key principle in getting the best decisions, the best outcomes and the best ideas is to maximise the human input. In other words, being inclusive.  Collaboration platforms have certainly broken down geographical barriers, but a new feature within Webex, will go even further.   Real time captions will be available, plus instant language translation.  Initially, there will be 15 languages, but this will be expanded over time.

There’s been endless talk about the changing nature of work. It’s no longer a discussion:  it’s happening.  One interesting thing, as we work increasingly from home, is that we are in the process of creating new ‘professionalism cues’. To understand this, think about the office environment, where you give various signals to show your professionalism, customer focus and status. Things like ‘suit and tie’, polished shoes, grooming and watch/accessories.  These traditional cues are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I don’t think we’ve landed on what the new cues will be yet but portraying a professional home environment is likely one of them. You see people addressing this with customised backgrounds, and a new Webex feature, a function of Cisco’s purchase of Babblelabs, is noise cancelling for extraneous background noise – children, dogs and the neighbour’s lawnmower!  It’s actually unbelievable how effective it is.  Here’s a quick youtube video that gives a demo.  

A few other new features that were highlighted were:

  • ability to fully customise your Webex view. Like rearranging your meeting room!
  • Immersive sharing – the ability to blend your personal video into a document or slide that you are sharing. So people get to see you and your presentation in a single view
  • Option to post, edit and share meeting highlights, without needing to trawl through a whole recording
  • Ethical walls to control the flow of information within an organisation, for example, a company might be advising direct competitors and needs to implement ‘Chinese walls’
  • Webex Graph provides insights on who individuals are collaborating with, and which parts of the business your teams are engaging with.  The data is useful because time isn’t necessarily being spent with the right people or teams
  • And of course, lots of sexy new hardware such as ‘space-age’ desk phones with video and noise cancelling and desk hubs that can be re-set to individual preferences if being used in a hotdesking environment

So, I guess for me, there were two key takeaways from the WebexONE keynote.

Firstly, we need to be clear on the way we want to work, how we can best be productive, who we need to work with, how we can drive outcomes, then deploy technology to deliver on this strategy.

Secondly, and conversely, there are an increasing number of applications and tools that can shape the way we work, but competitive advantage will only come if we have the skills to make the most of these tools.

Either way, it’s our responsibility to decide how we want to work, and our responsibility to upskill to take advantage of the new tools that are available.