Collaboration Platforms Are Critical To Successful Hybrid Work

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – eWEEK.

Webex CTO discusses how the shift to a platform approach changes the role of collaboration.

The terms hybrid work and remote work are used interchangeably, but they’re fundamentally very different.

Remote works refers to all employees working from home, as was the case at the start of COVID-19. Hybrid work can describe a scenario where no one is in the office, everyone is in the office, and every possible combination in-between. The latter is becoming more common post-pandemic, as organizations figure out the most effective work methods.

In short, hybrid work goes beyond technology. It’s a culture change that company leaders must help employees ease into.

I recently wrote a research paper in partnership with Cisco Webex, called Harmonizing Hybrid Work, which uncovered some big changes in the work environment. ZK Research data found that 51 percent of employees will continue to work from home two to three days a week, while another 24 percent will work from home at least one day a week.

In other words, 75 percent of the workforce will be hybrid. This means organizations will have to start equipping home offices with the right technology, and place better collaboration tools in the hands of employees to accommodate these changes.

In my latest ZKast interview, I spoke with Anurag Dhingra, CTO for Cisco Webex, about the future of hybrid work and what organizations should look for when considering a collaboration platform. Highlights of the interview, done in conjunction with eWEEK eSPEAKS, are below.

  • Organizations should opt-in for collaboration platforms that are flexible and can scale up/down as their needs change. However, simply deploying a platform is not enough. Security and compliance must be considered, as well as networks and observability. Organizations should have visibility into their network and application stack. All of these components come together to effectively and securely enable hybrid work.
  • Shifting to remote work during the pandemic forced many organization to make impetuous IT decisions. Collaboration tools were initially considered important, but it is really advanced collaboration tools that have become critical to business success. Advanced collaboration tools feature centralized security and administration, and they provide flexibility for line-of-business workers to configure their own apps/workflows.
  • Organizations should have a user identity that follows employees everywhere they go, inside and outside the physical office. They should consider how people are collaborating and what documents/files they are sharing. Therefore, policies should be applied consistently across all workloads, regardless of the devices being used.
  • It’s important to start thinking about platforms and not point solutions. What makes a platform is extensibility—a rich set of application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) that can be customized for specific use cases. This allows organizations to bring in other apps that boost the workflow and that are tightly integrated with the platform.
  • The foundation of a collaboration platform should be cloud native. Many software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms today are built using older technologies. If a platform isn’t using microservices or building containers, it cannot be agile. On top of the cloud-native foundation should be all the necessary APIs that enable flexible access to voice, video, messaging, artificial intelligence (AI), and other capabilities.
  • WebEx is an example of a cloud-native collaboration platform that organizations can build on. It includes centralized management for IT admins to be able to make changes and understand what they’re doing. The Webex platform goes beyond APIs and SDKs to deliver value to users in other ways. Organizations get visibility through the Webex Control Hub, whether they’re building apps on top of Cisco’s APIs or using packaged widgets to embed in other apps.
  • Security is often forgotten in collaboration. Complex systems are difficult to manage, so simplicity is key in security. With a platform approach, organizations get consistency in managing security policies. For example, when security and encryption are baked into a platform, organizations don’t have to worry about safeguarding video calls, messages, and file transfers. This is where a consistent platform policy plays a key role. WebEx is at the forefront of applying these policies to advanced technologies like AI.
  • Simplicity doesn’t mean that a platform lacks sophistication. It has to be presented to users in a way that’s easy for them to consume. The platform should take into consideration different personas—such as the end user versus the IT admin—and be customized to those personas. In addition to major SaaS players, Webex integrates with more than 100 apps like Mural and Smartsheet. Co-creation and whiteboarding apps are becoming especially popular on the Webex platform.
  • Webex has unique devices within its portfolio, such as WebEx Desk Pro, Desk Hub, and Desk Mini, a recent addition for the home office. Desk Mini is a portable device that a remote worker can easily take wherever they go—from the kitchen to the living room. Cisco wanted to cover all types of workspaces, with mobility being a key factor.
  • The backwards compatibility of the Webex platform allows organization to future proof their investments. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to collaboration. With an open platform like Webex, organizations can provide employees with experiences tailored to their needs without having to worry about interoperability and security. Everything is built-in and fully supported by Cisco.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.