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2020 meant big changes for most of us. For many of us, it meant a transition to working from home and making use of remote meeting tools such as Webex or Zoom. Both companies were able to scale and adapt to make working from home possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. This took significant efforts, and I can only imaging the pressure they were under and the efforts they took to keep the rest of us working. Some estimates say there are 1 billion remote call instances a day (counting each person joining a call).

Prior to 2020, the number of people working from home was around 4.6 percent of the U.S. workforce. In 2020 this was estimated to have risen to over 50 percent and many are predicting that in 2021 this will likely shrink back to about 25 percent.  Even at 25 percent, that will be a 500 percent increase in the corporate market in the course of two years and will have changed the way we work and the way we view remote work. 

This is all seemingly good news, but what worked for a few people working remotely from primarily office-based teams may not work when more people are out of the offices. Anecdotally we typically used Webex to enable one or two remote people to join in meetings that were primarily office-based. We used Webex for pre-planned meetings, and generally the remote participants were less active.  

In short, we are now using tools designed for planned presentation style meetings for everything and whilst we are making do, they are by no means ideal. As with all things in this world, there is no one tool to solve every problem and even though they are amazing tools that probably saved us in 2020, they are not the answer to every situation.

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Understanding the gaps 

We have all heard of "Zoom fatigue" and how it has become a significant and serious problem for businesses to address. 19 percent of home workers are reporting loneliness as their biggest challenge. 20 percent report communication as being a problem. 54 percent of IT professionals see security as being an increased problem. And Google reports a spike in searches for team building. 

It seems quite clear that we still have some way to go in improving remote working tools. From my own experience, I have found that Webex caters very well to business meeting scenarios where the desire is to focus on the people in the meetings and the topic or presentation. It is less successful is for scenarios where people are collaborating on work where the focus shifts from the participants to the work being undertaken. 

With casual ad-hoc or social interactions, Webex and Zoom create a formal feel to conversations and I see a resistance or guilt associated with small talk or friendly chit-chat -- when most of us understand that those casual conversations build relationships, and those relationships lead to more productive work. They are a valuable and necessary aspect of a high performing team.

The outcome is very likely a flurry of new team collaboration tools which previously were absent due to home working being such a small niche. In many ways this is fantastic -- innovation in this field will really help -- but we have to face the reality that video communication is complex, security is critical and scalability for you and your customers is a hurdle in rolling out any new tool. Not to mention that creating a tool like that is extraordinarily expensive to do well.

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Building on the shoulders of giants 

By working closely with the Cisco Webex team, WWT leveraged the Webex SDK (software development kit) which enables you to build customized software on top of the Webex platform. This provides all the security, stability and scalability of Webex, but we're able to tailor the interface to match your way of working and cater to customers and employees.

custom software in Webex SDK

Example 1: Medical clinic 

As an example, let's consider a Medical Clinic. Their users are varied in technical skill and so there's a strong desire for the patient's interaction to be a simple as possible. They should not need to be aware of Webex or Zoom and may have additional needs like inviting a family member or interpreter to the visit. 

On the other side, the medical team has processes in place for visits, such as collecting insurance information and payment and a follow on with a nurse to assess basic medical information before handing off to a doctor for the consultation. In the standard Webex, this would be a complex and cumbersome operation and a limited experience for the patient.  But a tailored solution could dramatically improve that experience. Check out our use case videos for a more detailed demonstration: Nipper for Nurses and Nipper for Doctors.

Example 2: Software team 

Another example is an agile software delivery team. The team normally spends all day together in a single room. They break out into "pairs" to collaborate on work. The team will frequently regroup to ensure consistency on designs and technical decisions or to ask clarifying questions. 

Dynamic and frequent conversations are routine, so it's necessary to have almost continual access to the rest of the team. But this likely doesn't involve video calls for most situations where audio is sufficient and less intrusive. In this scenario, the software needs to be discrete and responsive. The ability to have a sense of where your team is becomes crucial to the dynamic nature of the work. 

We are experts in custom application development and as a Cisco partner, we are able to build on the Webex infrastructure to create an interface that matches you and your way of working, leveraging the benefits of Webex while enabling your specific solutions.

We understand that all companies have a way of doing things and that can be what makes them successful. We believe software should adapt to support and enable your way of working rather than having to adapt your way of working to match the software. We can share our experience leveraging the Webex SDK to help organizations create fit for purpose technologies while delivering the scale and security of the Webex platform.

Nipper and WWT


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