March 17, 2023

Can everyone hear me okay? The secret to better remote collaboration

Matt McAuley
Collaboration Specialist
To say that the way we meet and collaborate has changed is obviously an understatement. Let’s avoid buzzwords (I didn’t say hybrid work) and get right to the heart of it.

We all use a combination of video conferencing software and hardware to connect virtually. Collaboration platform sprawl has grown out of control in recent years though, causing nothing but headaches and indecision.

If you’re anything like me, you have a device full of different collaboration software. Choosing between them can feel like standing in front of an overflowing wardrobe, where your choice of outfit will depend on multiple ever-changing factors such as the weather or who you’ll be meeting with that day. Making the right choice is often a delicate balancing act, especially if you’re not a fashion expert.

Your wardrobe and device aren’t all that dissimilar. Does this scenario sound familiar? There are three people in the office, plus five people working remotely, coordinating a call to discuss their project:

“I’ll start the Webex meeting and the 3 of us can all huddle around my laptop. Actually, wait – I just realised this is a Microsoft Teams meeting and I haven’t got Teams on my laptop. Has someone got Teams? Great, let’s use your laptop and we’ll start again.”

Or how about:

“Each of us in the office can go to a separate meeting room and join the Teams meeting from our laptops as it’ll be easier to manage for those working remotely.  If you close the doors, we won’t have feedback from each other’s microphones.”

Even if you have dedicated video conferencing equipment in your meeting room, how many times have your meetings started late trying to connect while using hardware you’re not familiar with:

“Where is the mute button on this thing? Has someone got the remote control so we can zoom out and see everyone? Can someone call IT to come and get this working?”

The point is, demand for virtual meetings has exploded and applications like Webex by Cisco, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom have rushed to fill the gap admirably. The competition between them all has pushed development to amazing levels, with features and capabilities that were rare just five years ago.

Virtual meeting hardware, however, hasn’t gone on the same journey. We all use whatever we have available which usually means a laptop or a phone, even if some of us are together in a meeting room on-site like in the scenario above.

For those of you who have been using Cisco’s excellent collaboration hardware, the story is a little different. Organisations love the devices, but it’s fair to say the Webex by Cisco software hasn’t been as widely taken up as it should have been.

The new industry-first partnership between Cisco and Microsoft represents a major leap in the collaboration space; Cisco’s range of enterprise collaboration devices are now fully compatible with Microsoft Teams!

In the months that have followed this announcement, we have seen that this new vendor-agnostic approach is a huge win for Webex, Cisco and Microsoft Teams customers. Let’s dive in to see what it means for the meeting experience.

Native interoperability with Microsoft Teams Rooms for Cisco devices

This isn’t just a basic connection. It’s native integration, which means customers can switch seamlessly between Webex, Teams, and Zoom without the need to reboot or reconfigure the device. For the end user, joining any of these meetings is as easy as pressing a button.

The solution is powered by Cisco’s RoomOS and Microsoft Teams Rooms platforms, with advanced device management made possible through the Webex Control Hub or the Microsoft Admin Console. Behind the scenes, this integration brings powerful capabilities. IT teams can use it to leverage solutions like real-time troubleshooting, analytics, workplace optimisation, user and device management, and much more.

No matter which application you use, you can introduce advanced hardware capabilities to your meetings, such as:

  • AI-based audio intelligence, to remove background noise
  • Background listening, to optimise audio for hearing the main speaker only
  • Cameras that detect faces and optimise views, so everyone is represented equally on-screen – whether they’re in the room physically or remotely

It’s seriously good hardware, and organisations that have been using Cisco collaboration devices for years can attest to it. These organisations no longer need to compromise on the hardware experience just because they’ve decided to standardise on Microsoft Teams.

But wait, what about all the Microsoft Teams Rooms (MTR) hardware that already exists?

Devices from other hardware vendors typically run on the Android operating system. It works perfectly well, but comes with a few drawbacks in comparison to RoomOS:

  • They don’t always allow you to change critical device settings whilst in a call, such as camera and audio settings
  • Other 3rd party management portals provide limited functionality, making it harder for IT teams, and therefore your team overall
  • The biggest issue is security – using MTR on Androids often doesn’t always meet a company’s security requirements, as it doesn’t keep up to date with the allowed Android versions in your environment

MTR powered by Cisco RoomOS delivers security and management features to combat security concerns

With Control Hub, users get a single pane of glass to manage their devices, with real insight that simplifies deployment and device management. Users can access all device settings – including camera settings, audio settings, and screen brightness – at any time with the swipe-from-right menu.

Network traffic, device security, and device updates are all handled by RoomOS, which has Cisco Security built in. It’s an invaluable upgrade, especially for government agencies and critical infrastructure services.

There’s no longer a need to compromise on hardware

Cisco has heavily invested in its enterprise-friendly device ecosystem, releasing a slew of hardware devices to suit multiple uses. They’re devices that have thought of everything – they use firmware upgrades to enable new features and are made from premium materials for unmatched longevity.

Cisco is currently rolling out its Teams-certified devices, with an extensive range including:

  • Board Pro 55 and 75
  • Room Bar
  • Room Kit Pro
  • Room Kit EQ
  • Room Navigator
  • Desk Pro
  • Desk Camera 4K
  • Headset 320 and 720.

The Room Kit Pro and EQ have become extremely popular as they work with any existing screen. Existing Samsung or LG panels can easily become video-enabled, eliminating the need to spend huge amounts on dedicated video screens.

Real-life use case

An international engineering and construction company had invested significantly in Cisco collaboration hardware and Webex by Cisco software. They’d also made a global decision to standardise on Microsoft Teams as part of the Microsoft 365 platform.

Previously, this meant they had no choice but to look for new hardware. They wanted to maintain the immersive, feature-rich meeting experience they’d become used to, but the alternatives weren’t stacking up.

The debut of Cisco’s new vendor-agnostic approach and integration of Microsoft and Cisco services was a game changer for this company. It allowed them to both keep the excellent user experience they’d grown accustomed to, and to have it on their choice of software.

So, what’s next?

This new partnership is more than a story of foes becoming friends as they work together to improve the meeting experience for their customers. It’s about customers coming first as they replace disjointed and inconvenient workflows with single-touch meetings, premium collaboration experiences and the ability to select the feature-rich devices of their choosing.

Speak to a Data#3 collaboration specialist to find out how you can be the first to deploy the Teams experience you know, on Cisco collaboration devices you love.