Navigating communication and collaboration issues in hybrid work

This article is sponsored by StarHub and Cisco.

Image courtesy of Ofspace Digital Agency on Unsplash.

Although hybrid work can present compelling cost savings for businesses, it comes with its own challenges, particularly with regard to the tools used for communication and collaboration. For instance, how do companies navigate the technical complexity of messaging platforms and collaboration apps to ensure that the quality of work is never compromised?

During the “Collaboration & Communication for the Future of Work,” forum hosted by StarHub and Cisco and organised by Jicara Media, senior IT experts sought to find solutions to problems commonly associated with hybrid work. One key concern observed among enterprises, whether big or small, is the heavy utilisation of the free versions of video conferencing platforms.

Harville Tan, Senior Product Manager, Workplace Collaboration, EBG at StarHub, noted that video calls with the free versions typically last for only 40 minutes. After this, participants would have to restart the call. “What’s the impact of that? Isn’t it really about professionalism and loss of productivity,” he asked.

From a security standpoint, this scenario might also cause long-term problems for employees and management. Employees, for instance, would have to search and retrieve information across multiple messaging platforms. “Because your information is all over the place, it’s going to get messy,” Tan remarked.

He also raised several critical concerns for businesses:

  • Where does the company’s confidential information go?
  • On which communication channels are confidential information allowed?
  • Since employees also make work-related calls or texts on their personal mobile devices, what happens to this information when they leave the company?
  • How will the company communicate with people outside the organisation who the departing employee worked with?
  • What kind of applications do companies allow or block on the corporate network?

The bigger picture

From conference rooms and auditoriums, most meetings now take place across various video conferencing platforms. From a technology perspective, the hardware and software behind these meetings cannot be just any other run-of-the-mill solution, because not all meetings are the same, noted Shiv Nayar, Director, Collaboration Sales, ASEAN, Cisco.

“For example, my team meeting every Friday differs from an all-hands meeting. A board meeting is different from a customer meeting. Then we have a massive event in the US, where 1,000 employees attend physically and 10,000 more dial in virtually, so it’s a high-stakes and high-scale meeting,” he said.

Although the requirements for each type of meeting varies, one constant aspect is that there is no room for failure. Hence, stepping into the shoes of customers is always the first step in customising team collaboration solutions.

“The question is, how can we be flexible enough to give them the right tools to work from anywhere? How can they be secure if, for example, they work at a coffee shop? How can enterprises know that the confidential information employees are sharing during a call is not being leaked through a public Wi-Fi? Moreover, how do we ensure this whole thing is managed? In the past, it was easy; you’re all sitting in the same office, and your IP address was dedicated inside the office infrastructure. Any ‘good’ collaboration platform needs to address these concerns,” Nayar said.

Rightly so, security is a paramount consideration when it comes to online collaboration tools. During the pandemic, as people increasingly held meetings online, incidents of unwanted participants trying to sabotage group calls proliferated. The damage is more severe, for instance when online sessions, such as webinars, are broadcast live.

It certainly does not help that business departments have turned to shadow IT to manage different apps and platforms. “Shadow IT is causing integration problems. It also leads to fragmented user experiences because you have one app for internal calling, and another for external, and often they are from different vendors,” StarHub’s Harville Tan observed.

Finding the right solution

Every enterprise will have unique needs; therefore, from a communications and collaborations standpoint, it is important to take a step back, and compare the needs of the company with the direction the market is moving, noted Tan.

Tan also touched upon how enterprise communication tools have evolved over time, from chat and instant messaging platforms, to VoIP and to cloud-based unified communications (UC) solutions. “When we talk to different organisations, they are actually at different stages of IT modernisation, following the evolution of business costs management. Often, the quickest way is to do patch work and see collaboration as a silo. You just add a licence for collaboration solutions to your existing PBX,” he said.

However, organisations have an opportunity to be ahead of the game, through the adoption of UC as a service, due to the fact that it will deliver a complete experience not just for employees, but also for business associates and partners.

To address the challenges of hybrid work, StarHub developed SmartUC, which combines collaboration tools, such as IP telephony, web and videoconferencing, desktop sharing, and instant messaging into a single cloud-delivered solution.

“SmartUC eliminates the need for on-premises hardware, so you don’t need your on-premises PBX nor the costly PBX maintenance services. Essentially, we have our SmartUC Fixed, which is basically fixed lines for the physical office itself. We also have it for hybrid users, and these cover your typical analog devices, your VoIP-type of telephony, and fax machines,” Tan elaborated.

Aside from this, StarHub has also launched its SmartUC with Webex to facilitate easier calls, regardless of location. “Hybrid work is really a complete working experience. Whether you’re working physically in the office, walking on the road, or working from home, all that really constitutes hybrid work. We have to take it that way, because there’ll be different people, in different parts of the organisation, with different needs. Hence, we should actually address each of these needs, and make sure that we find the appropriate solution that is future-proof for that,” he continued.

Meanwhile, in response to integration challenges as a result of having too many communication and collaboration apps, Webex has enabled interoperability with other platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, and Slack.

“The big advantage of doing these integrations is the user experience, since you’re spending much less time toggling windows. Most of your tasks are being done from a single pane of glass. If you put Webex calling and meetings into MS Teams, you’re not switching to a different app,” Cisco’s Shiv Nayar added.

In terms of security, Cisco is soon launching an audio watermarking feature for Webex, which will pinpoint the source of a meeting’s recording in case the audio file is leaked. “If somebody captures the audio and leaks it, our platform can actually detect who did it, as well as which device they used,” said Ryan Kim, Head of Solution Architecture Collaboration ASEAN and Korea, Cisco.

To enable the Webex audio watermark feature, the meeting host selects the audio watermarking option when scheduling a meeting. The meeting will then be embedded with unique audio identifiers that are undetectable to the human ear, and are nearly insensitive to added noise, audio compression, filtering, and noise suppression processing techniques. Each endpoint device will then have a unique audio identifier, which will make verification easy in case of a data breach.

Collaborating for the future

To propel businesses on to greater heights, all of the experts agree on one factor as crucial to success — platform integration and the ecosystem at large. 

“The ecosystem is really important. We can’t really just do everything ourselves, so we are grateful for the partnerships with Microsoft, for example. Moreover, we have so many other smaller application partners, and when we work together, the job gets easier,” Cisco’s Ryan Kim noted.

Indeed, with all of the collaboration among tech vendors and visionaries, customers ultimately triumph in the end as a result of improved business solutions, and the evolution of new use cases of enterprise technology.

As StarHub continues its partnership with Cisco, enterprises and working professionals can rest easy, knowing that they can communicate and collaborate securely, and more efficiently. No matter the distance, time zone, or working arrangement— businesses can run smoothly amid a changing digital landscape.