Cisco Webex today unveiled several updates designed to enhance the employee well-being, including Connection Experiences, the latest addition to Webex’s Collaboration Insights tool.
Collaboration Insights offer detailed, personal insights into meeting-based activities, giving employees more control over their work and personal well-being by enabling more meaningful connections. The insights fall into four groups: Meetings, Work-life Balance, Focus Time, and the newly announced Connections.
Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration at Cisco, said the company realised that while productivity levels remained high during the COVID-19 pandemic, people found themselves overworked, lacking a work-life balance, and fatigued.
“[There’s] a level of anxiety that gets created as a result of fatigue, largely because you’re just moving from meeting to meeting but not really having time to feel fulfilled in your job or have any focus time,” Patel said. “So, we asked ourselves what we needed to do — given the fact that a lot of our customers are spending a lot of time with us on our product — to make it easier for them to get an assessment of how they're doing.”
The Meetings, Work-life and Focus Time insights allow users to track how many hours they’ve spent in meetings, the percentage of meetings they turn up to on time and how many of their meetings run late. They can also set preferred working hours, track how many meetings occur outside of that period, and schedule "focus time," so they can work uninterrupted.
With Collaboration Insights, Cisco is off to a good start in giving users insights to improve work-life balance, said Beth Schultz, vice president of research and principal analyst at Metrigy. She noted, however, that being able to pull in data from outside of Webex would help extend a user's view beyond how they spend their day.
While many employees like working virtually, Patel said, it's still difficult to build meaningful relationships with co-workers. He experienced that first-hand; having started at Cisco during the first lockdown in 2020, Patel didn't actually meet a single colleague until he had been on the job nine months.
Webex users will now have access to a new Connections tab that can track all the employees a person has interacted with in virtual meetings over different time periods — and which ones they interact with most. Users can "bookmark" colleagues they want to remind themselves to keep in touch with and track this progress.
While the insights are undoubtedly useful, Schultz said, users have to be open to using the data.
“[Employees] have to be willing to take action, be that making sure they are on time to meetings, always turning on video, cancelling routinely unproductive meetings, building in cushions between meetings, or whatever else the data might tell them about how they collaborate over time,” Shultz said. “Likewise, managers and corporate leadership need to place an emphasis on using the data, too.”
Employee empowerment, not surveillance
Because business interest in employee-monitoring software, sometimes called “bossware” or “spyware,” has grown during the pandemic, Patel said Cisco realised it had to make clear that Collaboration Insights can't be used by managers to monitor employees.
“Our goal was not to make a tool for managers or allow them to see what other people are doing. Explicitly, the goal was to make it for the people themselves, so that they can assess what they're doing. ...The privacy aspect was pretty important,” Patel said.
With that in mind, a message is clearly displayed at the top right-hand corner of the screen informing users “no one besides you can see this data.”
Shultz agreed that privacy has been a priority for Cisco: “Users should have no reason to be concerned about collaboration data's use for employee monitoring or for performance management, either.”
She noted that managers only have the ability to view an employee's data if that employee shares it with them.
Cisco Webex also announced several other hardware and software updates, largely focused on accessibility. These include:
- Webex Desks and Desk Minis get three new limited-edition colors – Desert Sand, Nordic Blue, and Woodland Green.
- A series of Webex innovations can be personalised to meet individual and organisational work styles and preferences – with inclusivity, usability, and accessibility at the forefront. They include interpreter integration; simultaneous interpretation (direct and relay) and bi-directional interpretation; automated closed-captioning (CC); and accessible keyboard shortcuts.
- Background noise cancellation to single out and boost the clarity of a user's voice while eliminating distracting background conversations
- New Keyboard Shortcuts for quicker access to Smart Audio, Managing Closed Captions, and Chat.