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Cisco enhances Webex for hybrid with ChomeOS, wellbeing support

Despite the partial return to offices, the new world of work has meant rich experiences through communications and collaboration tools are still as essential as they were in the early days of lockdown, and to address these issues, Cisco has made technology enhancements to its core Webex platform and added support for wellbeing.

Webex by Cisco has had a long-standing technology innovation partnership with Google to improve hybrid work collaboration – across software and devices alike. Previously, Cisco had built web-based versions and an Android version optimized for Chrome OS, and the key technical enhancement is that Webex on Chrome OS-based Chromebooks is now available as a Progressive Web Application (PWA).

This means that Webex Meetings now offers a videoconferencing experience presented as a desktop application, available directly from the user’s launcher and the shelf on Chrome OS. Cisco said this means customers can have the simplicity of web-based technology and the robustness of local applications.

Users can install it on their Chromebooks like any desktop app and join meetings with one click from the launcher without opening the browser to enter the URL. A user working across multiple browser tabs for online research, live documents and browser access to other tools doesn’t have to worry about managing yet another tab for their meeting. It can help users minimize switching across browser tabs, drive focused work and engage better in live interactions.

A potential business benefit is that from an IT administrator’s standpoint, the Webex Meetings PWA provides more control over managing Webex on their Chromebooks. Webex can now be pre-imaged and installed on Chromebooks before distributing to users.

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, Cisco said it is essential to measure the impact of new work practices on mental health, with Webex promoting videoconferencing that promotes wellbeing. Indeed, the company points out that while hybrid work can unlock advancements in terms of work-life balance and financial wellbeing, it was more important than ever that companies place an emphasis on empathy and wellbeing.

Cisco noted that the past few years have flipped the modern enterprise, and its ways of working, on its head, and the reality of hybrid work presents new challenges. The company cited a study of meeting fatigue by Dimensional Research, where 81% of participants indicated experiencing physical ailment at the end of a day filled with video meetings. Even though they felt greater flexibility and increased productivity working remotely, the rise in video meetings caused wellbeing to be negatively impacted.

Cisco said under a hybrid working model, intentional design and powerful technology have “incredible” potential, and that it can design meeting experiences that reduce fatigue; design a workplace that’s more sustainable; build inclusive experiences that connect minds around the globe; and make where and how work gets done more flexible than ever before.

Principally, the company is unveiling the Webex Room Bar, a device that turns huddle spaces and small and medium-sized meeting rooms into a hub for engaging collaboration, so that people can thrive when faced with distance.

The device uses artificial intelligence (AI) to make sure everyone in the room is optimally framed, giving all participants equal presence on the call – wherever they work. Spatial audio makes it feel like dispersed team members are in the room with you. AI-enabled background noise removal keeps distractions to a minimum, and ensures participants can hear clearly, without strain. Third-party video interoperability, meanwhile, provides unparalleled flexibility to join any meeting, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet.

In addition, the company is launching the Cisco Desk Camera 1080p, featuring omni-directional microphones and face-detection to deliver optimal auto-exposure, auto-focus and white balance. Simultaneous Interpretation is now available for devices. With this feature, meetings are translated by a live interpreter, and enterprises can overcome geographical and language barriers.

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