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Cisco tackles 'seismic shift' to the hybrid workplace

Cisco said the switch to the hybrid workplace could create a divide between in-office and remote workers. New Webex features could help counter the problem.

Companies embracing a hybrid workplace during the pandemic will experience a "seismic shift" in how employees interact, according to Cisco executives. To assist in the change, the company has introduced technology that treats in-office and at-home workers as equals.

At this week's Cisco Live event, the company unveiled People Focus in the Webex meeting platform to deliver location-agnostic video conferencing. Cisco also lowered the prices of the video hardware used by in-office workers to meet virtually with employees in remote locations.

Compared with the pre-pandemic office, a hybrid workplace needs different methods for keeping all employees healthy and engaged. It also needs IT infrastructure to secure the gear used at home and remodeled offices to accommodate a workforce dividing the week between the house and the office. The changes required are even more dramatic than when companies switched to nearly 100% remote work at the start of the pandemic.

"We believe that there's going to be yet another seismic shift," Cisco executive Jeetu Patel said. "I actually believe this mixed mode [of work] is going to be far more difficult."

Cisco's latest Webex announcement attempts to equalize how the product presents in-office and remote workers. Rather than have the former shown as a group in a meeting room, People Focus uses AI to frame each participant. As a result, people can read facial expressions and body language better, Patel said.

Cisco's Webex Desk Hub
Cisco's Webex Desk Hub is designed for the hybrid offices.

Cisco plans to release People Focus this year.

The lower hardware pricing applied to Cisco's Webex Desk portfolio. The company slashed pricing for the Webex Desk Pro touchscreen monitor by more than half, from $5,990 to $2,499. Cisco also reduced pricing for the Webex Desk, Webex Desk Camera and Webex Desk Hub introduced last December.

The Webex Desk, a cheaper version of the Desk Pro, will sell for $1,249. Cisco said a bundle featuring the 4K USB Desk Camera and the Desk Hub, a video phone intended for hot desking, will cost $699. Hot desking is when multiple workers use the same desk at different times.

Technalysis Research analyst Bob O'Donnell predicts companies will spend an "absurd" amount on video conferencing equipment to accommodate hybrid work. By discounting its offerings, Cisco could benefit from the boom.

"They've had some very nice products, but they were just way too expensive," O'Donnell said.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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