Do you like your job? If you do, you’re in the minority. According to a Gallup poll, 2/3 of workers report being “disengaged” at work. That means about 82 million U.S. workers don’t like their jobs. The cost of this: Employee stress, worker turnover, and demonstrably lower profits. Businesses with the most engaged employees report 21% higher profitability than those with disengaged workers.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this problem, as a manager, as a corporate employee myself for 25 years, and for the past four years as the leader of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group.

One conclusion I have reached, along with countless researchers, is that we are social beings. Engagement on the job comes not just from having interesting work but from strong connections with co-workers.

Technology has given us incredible ways to make connections at work. So why are so many workers unhappy? Because, while we are not lacking ways to connect, we’re not always making the best kinds of connections. Connections that foster healthy relationships and lead to productivity and fulfillment.

Let’s start with business messaging. Chat is great because it allows us to have more conversations with more people, quickly and in real time. Chat is also less formal than email, and studies show that informal communication styles help to build trust.

Chat can also save time by eliminating some of the need for live conversation. Sometimes, the best meeting is no meeting. How many simply awful meetings have you been to? Most are inefficient, don’t result in real decisions, and keep you from getting actual work done. This may sound like heresy coming from the leader of a top-tier collaboration technology business, but I really don’t get much out of most meetings.

It’s no surprise that business messaging has exploded in the past few years. This is why we first launched Cisco Spark as a messaging service. But we never intended to stop there. Persistent, ambient connection doesn’t do everything we need. It can be both too much and not enough. The quantity and speed of text communication doesn’t always equal quality. Certain conversations just need to be live. Actually, more than that: They need to be face-to-face.

  • First, a face-to-face meeting requires the full attention of participants. Studies by London University and Stanford University show that our IQ goes down when we multitask, and we can’t pay attention or recall information as well. Being focused on a person’s face means we’re more likely to be in the learning zone and giving our all.
  • Second, face-to-face communication allows for incredibly important non-verbal cues – like the nodding head from your boss or the sidelong glance from a coworker during a project proposal.
  • Finally, while it’s true that chat has been proven to build more trust between teams than email, the best way to build trust is not this 😜…. it’s two people looking in into each other’s (real) eyes and sharing a live, vivid, human connection.

We need to connect face to face. It’s hard-coded into our neurology. If we can’t be in the same room, then very high-quality video and audio can be a terrific proxy. (And I stress high-quality because our emotional brains aren’t accustomed to seeing people as 6-frames-a-second flip-books.)

We have to get meetings right. But there’s one major problem: Technology.

An estimated 95% of meeting rooms are a technology wasteland. They‘re a morass of dongles, incompatible hardware, and wires. Actually starting the meeting can take more cognitive load than the meeting itself! And if you want to wirelessly connect to a screen to share your presentation – not to mention with people connecting remotely — you must know arcane magic.

There’s one word for the average conference-room experience today: Pain.

We can do better. Business success depends on it. Your team’s sanity depends on it. Wasting time and money fighting with technology — or worse, having people excluded from meetings because someone couldn’t connect or couldn’t hear or see what was going in the room. That has to stop.

We also need to stop letting the concept of a “meeting” determine how we connect and when. Collaboration happens on a continuum, not in discrete chunks dictated by someone reserving a room or writing an agenda. Meeting is part of an organic, ongoing connection between people. The best meetings never end.

Today, Cisco took a huge leap forward in fixing the meeting problem. We launched Cisco Spark Board and Cisco Spark Meetings new hardware and software that make in-person meetings more productive, allow high-quality face-to-face meetings to extend beyond the conference room, and let teams maintain close connections when they’re not “meeting.” Spark Board and Spark Meetings are affordable, too. Our aim is for teams to have better connections, and for some of those 82 million who don’t like their jobs to like them a lot more.

The opportunity to take meetings seriously is bigger than Cisco’s products and services. We estimate that only 5% of meeting rooms have high-quality video-conferencing products. There’s an enormous upside for all of us in turning meetings from misery to magic. It’s an important opportunity for technology companies, and a bigger one for the businesses and teams they serve.

Watch the replay of our launch announcement and learn more about the Cisco Spark platform.



Rowan Trollope

Senior Vice President and General Manager

IoT and Collaboration Technology Group