One resounding trend that has emerged from the disruption of 2020 is that the way that we are working is changing. These changes are huge, but interestingly, they are changes that have long been anticipated. Take remote working for example. The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff, a book published by Jack Nilles in 1973, was the first example of a vision for the modern remote working environment being flagged as the future.\nIn the decades since Nilles\u2019 book there has been various work policy inhibitions that have prevented many employees and enterprises from being able to take full advantage of remote work. However, COVID-19 and the social and legal pressures around social distancing delivered a simple choice for many executives in many enterprises: enable remote working, or don\u2019t get any work done at all.\nThat is changing again as restrictions start to relax and professionals can return to offices. Now we are headed towards \u201chybrid\u201d work environments which blend people working out of offices and people working from home. Cisco research suggests that over half (58 per cent) of the workforce expect to continue working at least eight days per month from home post-pandemic. As offices reopen in full across the globe, professionals are returning to the office when needed, but they will also want to save themselves the commute and promote a healthier work\/life balance where they can.\nHowever, while offices are re-opening, there remains a need to do what can be done to maintain best practices around social distancing and the minimise potential spread of disease via touch. Cisco is leading the way to this new way of working by example, with its Singapore office outlining a vision for the future of office environments, and how they will interact with employees and customers outside of the office.\nThe Singapore experience\nAs demonstrated through a recent blog post and video, Cisco\u2019s Singapore office has been embracing a newly re-designed environment to promote the philosophy that the office should be \u201cnot a space to work, but a space to collaborate,\u201d and it is leveraging its Webex Room devices (including video devices and digital whiteboards), as well as AI and machine learning-driven technology to create a sanitised, safe environment to work. Contact with people and objects is kept to a minimum through a virtual check-in system, through to the minimised need to touch objects in meeting room spaces. For example, entire meetings and screen-sharing on the Webex devices in each room can be controlled from a person\u2019s own phone or laptop.\nMeanwhile, AI has been tuned to recognise when a person enters a meeting room, and monitor how many people are in the room (to remain compliant with social distancing requirements). Further minimising the requirement to touch spaces, meetings with the AI-enabled Webex Room devices can be started with simple voice commands. In addition to providing enhanced safety, the AI system also leverages cameras to provide the best visual clarity and meeting room experience with the remote participants, resulting in higher quality, better interactive meetings.\nEnabling better ways to collaborate\nFor this highly flexible, hybrid model work environment to be successful, enterprises are going to need to invest in a cohesive and comprehensive strategy to better leverage the communications potential of IT.\nCurrently, a massive 96 per cent of professionals want to see their work environments improved through intelligent workplace technology. In the mad scramble to enable remote work as lockdowns came into effect, there was little consideration put into the user experience, but as the hybrid between office and remote work becomes long term and ingrained into the culture, there will need to be a lot more focus placed on this. A PWC report broke down three key challenges that enterprises will need to manage:\n\nThe life situation of the individual, with remote work isolation anxiety, domestic disruptions, and a lack of motivation stemming from feelings of alienation.\nTeam working, including the orchestration of people, setting up systems of accountability, and ensuring the flow of information through the organisation to avoid teams becoming siloed.\nPhysical and tech constraints, ranging from bandwidth and cloud application reliability, through to the collaboration solutions rolled out and the security of the overall environment.\n\nFurther Cisco research found that 98 per cent of people report frustrations with the video conferencing experience when working from home. As a cornerstone of effective collaboration with remote professionals and teams, the video conferencing challenge is the most pressing issue to resolve.\nIt is one thing to give access to a simple video conferencing tool. That has got many teams through the immediate need to communicate through 2020 disruptions. For hybrid work to become the new normal, however, CIOs will want to look at a more comprehensive communications solution. Ones with features including:\n\nThe provision of high-quality headsets and dedicated video meeting equipment to ensure communication is clear.\nA digital assistant that captures meeting notes and action items automatically.\nDigital whiteboarding technology so teams can interact and brainstorm while on a call.\nA seamless, easy-to-use cloud-based management tool, to provide effortless troubleshooting, an easy overview to the communications environment and analytics of how all remote teams are using it.\n\nDelivering productivity-boosting communication\nWebex started life in 1995, and was acquired by Cisco in 2007. For 25 years, it is a company that has been focused on delivering leading remote communications solutions. With so many organisations now taking Web-based communications seriously for the first time, Cisco Webex has been able to rapidly implement features and tools to help deliver what these customers have needed to make the most of the communications environment.\nWebex now heavily leverages AI to improve the quality of the video conference, for example. Following the acquisition of BabbleLabs, Cisco Webex has been able to implement a solution that removes ambient noise while enhancing the speaker\u2019s voice so all of those on the call can hear in crystal clarity.\nCisco\u2019s communication devices, meanwhile, actively monitor environmental conditions including temperature, air quality, ambient light and room acoustics. It can even \u201ccount\u201d the number of people in a room to ensure compliance with room limits and social distancing. For those office environments, when people are around to use them, streamlined management and booking tools help ensure a disruption-free conferencing experience, and will allow office workers to tell at a glance when meeting rooms are available (and which are) at any point in time.\nThe cumulation of all this investment is that Cisco Webex offers a 10X better experience in meetings than has been possible previously. Not only will this help maintain the productivity within an organisation as it standardises its hybrid approach to remote working, but it will address the critical challenges and concerns that professionals have had with video conferencing through the disruption of 2020, offering a future vision that delivers all the benefits of video collaboration with none of the frustration.\nFor more information on Cisco Webex and delivering leading video collaboration solutions to your staff, click here.