Webex bets on the home office

Hybrid work could mean big business for IT vendors. But how many devices do remote workers need?

Jeetu Patel, who heads Webex at Cisco, shows off the new Webex Desk Mini, a portable video conferencing monitor.

Hybrid work means big business for IT vendors like Cisco Webex, which released new and updated videoconferencing monitors, digital whiteboards and Webex features that improve the meeting experience.

Photo: Allison Levitsky/Protocol

Virtual meetings and remote work aren't going anywhere, and companies that sell collaboration tools hope that means big business.

"We're seeing that at Cisco," said Jeetu Patel, the executive vice president who runs the company's Webex division. "We're actually sending out kits to people's homes."

Many companies ponied up for knowledge workers to buy monitors, webcams and other home office necessities when the pandemic started last year.

But with most companies planning for a hybrid future, Patel is hoping that wave of investment won't end anytime soon. On Tuesday, Webex started hawking new, hybrid work-focused conferencing tools.

The portfolio includes newly portable video conferencing monitors, enhanced digital whiteboards for the conference room and new Webex features that improve the experience of meetings that involve remote participants (which will describe 98% of meetings going forward, Patel said).

Before the pandemic, Patel told Protocol, it was mostly IT organizations asking for these tools. Now, HR and facilities teams are weighing in on IT investments.

"This is not a short-term change. This is a structural change," Patel said. "Companies will take responsibility for equipping people when they're not working in the office."

How many devices do remote workers need?

One of the new offerings from Webex is a 15.6-inch portable that the company hopes employers will buy for their executives and employees to pick up and use around the house — say, in the kitchen or living room.

The $995 Webex Desk Mini is a smaller, cheaper version of the Webex Desk, a more standard conferencing monitor that stays in one place.

Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research, sees value in buying tricked-out conferencing devices for employees, both as a way to compensate for reduced in-office perks and in order to make workers look and sound more professional in external meetings.

"If I'm a salesperson working at home and I do a lot of customer calls — in that case, I really do want a really good-quality experience," Kerravala said. "I do think we're in the midst of a bit of a market change, but I think it's something that hasn't really been top of mind."

IT departments may scrutinize the usefulness of these types of specialized tools, but he said they may be wooed by benefits like high-end cameras and microphones that filter out background noise. It's up to vendors to make the case.

Not all conferencing tech experts agree that these devices will succeed.

Mike Fasciani, a senior research director at Gartner focused on digital workplace applications, questioned the usefulness of a standalone, separate device for joining meetings.

Laptops, smartphones and tablets can all be easily carried from room to room, he pointed out, and other unified communications vendors — including partners of Microsoft and Zoom — have put forth similar devices over the years. They haven't sold well, he said.

"Why don't you just use, like, an iPad?" Fasciani asked. "I just don't know how many devices we really need."

How will companies keep investing in the home office?

Daniel Hong, a vice president and research director at Forrester, said that companies will continue wanting to set up employees to work remotely in a way that's both productive and a good experience.

But he anticipates that IT departments will want to pick out any hybrid work devices rather than forking over stipends for employees to make their own purchases.

"Troubleshooting with 'bring your own device' is hard," Hong said. "That's always been an issue of BYOD and having the proper IT support, especially if that is compounded in terms of complexity with the IT support being remote."

And not surprisingly, most of the IT investment will still go to the home offices of company leaders, rather than rank-and-file employees.

"Somebody who has to talk to the board, maybe a senior salesperson, is going to get everything," said Johna Till Johnson, founder and CEO of Nemertes Research. "They're going to get the ring lights, they're going to get the Rode mic, they're going to get the high-quality camera. They may even get a professional makeup artist to come and get them done for big, important events."

For some executives, elaborate at-home conferencing setups have actually made them less mobile than before they worked from home, Johnson said. She spoke with one senior executive at Zoom who has become more stationery in the era of hybrid work.

"In order to do the presentations that he has to do for his day job, he actually has to have the lighting set up right," Johnson said. "It means you can't just pack everything up and go. It's no longer just a laptop."


Wall Street is warming up to crypto

Secure, well-regulated technology infrastructure could draw more large banks to crypto.

Technology infrastructure for crypto has begun to mature.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Despite a downturn in crypto markets, more large institutional investors are seeking to invest in crypto.

One factor holding them back is a lack of infrastructure for large institutions compared to what exists in the traditional, regulated capital markets.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at or

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

How I decided to go all-in on a federal contract — before assignment

Amanda Renteria knew Code for America could help facilitate access to expanded child tax credits. She also knew there was no guarantee her proof of concept would convince others — but tried anyway.

Code for America CEO Amanda Renteria explained how it's helped people claim the Child Tax Credit.

Photo: Code for America

Click banner image for more How I decided series

After the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March 2021, the U.S. government expanded child tax credits to provide relief for American families during the pandemic. The legislation allowed some families to nearly double their tax benefits per child, which was especially critical for low-income families, who disproportionately bore the financial brunt of the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at


This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at


Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Latest Stories