Remote work has reduced the time many workers spend commuting daily, but that doesn't necessarily mean people are spending less time in their cars. With hybrid and remote work that has lasted well beyond the peak of Covid stay-at-home mandates, people have enjoyed increased flexibility and more agency over their schedules.
The flexible schedule—particularly in organizations where trust has been established by consistently delivering productivity over time—has led to a work-from-anywhere mindset for many. The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class vehicles equipped with Webex Meetings and Calling delivers innovative connected car experiences that enable workers to take that mindset on the road.
Beyond Bluetooth and the commute
In a strategy that Cisco refers to as “good, better, best,” the networking equipment giant has moved the in-car call experience for its Webex platform from Bluetooth (good) to interfacing with the car's head unit via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (better) to building apps natively for car manufacturers (best). Cisco started this journey for Webex in 2022 with Ford Motor Company, allowing drivers to access Webex meetings natively in the car while pulled over.
With the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Cisco and the automaker are shooting for the best. "The mobile office cannot progress without the reliable and secure collaboration technology only Cisco can provide,” Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration at Cisco, said. "This partnership with Mercedes-Benz, a leader in automotive luxury, marks a big step forward in delivering the flexibility that the hybrid workforce demands."
Like many technologies, collaboration platforms and remote or hybrid work tools took a massive leap forward in innovation and functionality after the pandemic began. Meanwhile, for many of us commute time has also changed drastically, whether we are now in the office full-time, hybrid or fully remote. Regardless of any one person's office time, it is likely that workplace flexibility has, or will, lead to taking calls and meetings from unconventional places—say, the parking lot of a kid's soccer game. Unrelated to flexibility, car meetings are also a great backup in the event of power outages—something we've learned to plan for where I live in Texas.
The "optimal mobile office experience" pulls up in 2024 E-Class Mercedes
Cisco and Webex originally announced their partnership at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona in February. The first Webex-equipped cars are expected to come out sometime this spring. By using cellular or the car's Wi-Fi (if equipped), users can access the Webex app from the car's infotainment touchscreen without needing to connect by mobile phone.
While driving, the platform is available only for audio calls, though it still has nice features such as AI-powered noise cancellation to drown out the traffic around you for the sake of those on the other end of your meeting. Transcription capabilities can also capture notes from the meeting to let you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.
Although all mobile communication while driving—hands-free or not—is considered "distracted driving," the new E-Class cars’ capabilities do enable greater flexibility for the hybrid workforce while putting appropriate safety controls in place. We called out the importance of safety when considering meetings for the car when Cisco first introduced Webex for Automobiles, and I’m glad to see that prioritized.
The complete immersive Webex experience is accessible only while the car is parked. This includes the use of video with the in-dash camera, automatic AI-powered transcription, content sharing and emoji reactions. For iOS users, a scan of a QR code lets users jump between desktop, laptop, phone and car systems without interruption through Cisco's Move to Mobile app.
While the E-Class isn't the top-of-the-line Mercedes, starting at roughly $60,000, it isn't exactly affordable for the average American worker, whose median annual income in 2022 was $54,132. The Mercedes-Cisco alliance makes for a splashy announcement and a high-end experience, but I do hope to see Webex brought to cars that appeal to a wider variety of income levels. Wherever Mercedes-Benz and Cisco choose to expand its Webex integrations, I expect that the company will do as good a job educating about driver distraction as it does in designing safety as a feature.
As more and more car manufacturers have added access to third-party apps from the car’s control panel (essentially an in-car app store), I believe we’ll see collaboration tools like Webex available in cars that appeal to a wider user base and income range. The Volkswagen Group, for example, will start to roll out cars equipped with its in-house developed app store this summer. Webex will be available through the automaker’s app store for select Audi models, followed by Porche and Volkswagen.
Whether I’m in the office, at home or attending a conference, in airplanes and hotels and more, I'm always looking for the best way to connect with colleagues and clients—one that guarantees me the best meeting experience. Sometimes that means traveling with multiple devices or needing to enact tedious workarounds. With this cold reality in mind, it's nice to know that Cisco is helping evolve cars into a platform where meetings can occur effectively, rather than as a noisy call. For the sake of safety, it's also good that the best meeting experience you'll get in your car is when it's parked.