"Real Estate for a Purpose": Cisco unveils hybrid work plans and tech to support distributed teams

After a year of WFH, companies are offering a mixed bag of flexible work arrangements. In the hybrid work era, the traditional office is getting a makeover to assist workers on-site and elsewhere.

remoteworking.jpg

Image: GettyImages/Westend61

On Thursday, Cisco published two blog posts outlining its hybrid work strategy and company tech enabling distributed workforces. While the articles provide a specific glimpse into the strategy and approach for one tech titan, the underlying concepts of enabling remote and on-site teams are front and center for companies worldwide in the age of hybrid work.

"All companies are facing the same dilemma when it comes to their future plans, as the traditional aspects of the workplace experience are being called into question. On one hand, the desire for flexibility is paramount for all, but on the other hand, people want and need the experience of social connection and an inclusive learning culture where physical space matters," said Jewell Parkinson, chief people officer at iCIMS.

Office redesign strategies

In the last year, companies have adopted a host of new office redesign strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in-house. This includes installing plexiglass dividers, bolstering HVAC systems, social-distanced office arrangements and more. In a blog post, Cisco outlines its vision to build "real estate for a purpose." Pre-pandemic, the post says that virtually all (95%) of the Cisco workspaces were "allocated to individuals" adding that this ratio "needs to change."

"We must transform the purpose of our offices to be centers of collaboration—places that people can come together for rituals, collective work and connection. For some teams that will happen a couple days a week, while for others it could be coming together once a month. But the purpose of coming into the office should be exactly that—purposeful," said a portion of the post.

SEE: IT expense reimbursement policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Citing company surveys, Jeetu Patel, Cisco EVP and general manager for security and collaboration, said 63% of Cisco's workers wanted to be in the office three to five days each week before the pandemic, and, when surveyed again in June, 77% planned to work remotely three to five days a week.

"We decided the best action is to fully focus on hybrid and employee choice. We believe there's no one-size-fits-all approach because of differing workstyles and preferences for individuals," he said.

Rather than focusing on where the office is located, Patel said Cisco is putting the emphasis on the work itself and "transforming" its offices into "spaces optimized for teams to innovate, collaborate and connect" to best utilize these areas.

"We're transforming our offices to be centers of collaboration—places that people can come together for rituals, collective work and connection as they choose. Some people may come into the office a couple days a week, while others choose to come in for a gathering once a month, for example. The purpose of coming into the office should be purposeful," Patel said.

Soon, Patel added, Cisco will showcase its "offices outfitted with hybrid-first technologies."

"Hybrid-first" tech and security

Over the last year, round-the-clock video conferencing and "pings" have replaced traditional in-person collaboration for many, giving rise to employee burnout and new lexicon additions a la " Zoom fatigue ." To mitigate burnout and "help people work smarter," Patel said the Cisco team is developing solutions with features designed for the hybrid work era.

"Features like automatic background noise cancellation, real-time translations, gesture recognition, and much more, ensures a hybrid world that can level the playing field whether you're in or out of the office," he said.

Network security has been a hot topic of conversation in light of a string of high-profile cyberattacks on U.S. critical infrastructure. For companies, the switch to remote and hybrid work environments presents new cybersecurity challenges as employees log on from their home networks, and, at times, working around IT protocols.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids' education is a mammoth task. Here's how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

With the switch to remote work, Patel said Cisco realized that "troubleshooting work-from-home connectivity" existed as one of "the biggest pain points," while noting that the "home office needs to be as connected as anywhere else" in the age of hybrid work. Over the course of five months, Patel said Cisco rolled out zero-trust architecture internally, covering 120,000 endpoints "as security concerns elevated" with a distributed workforce.

To assess networks and applications regardless of employee location, Patel said Cisco uses solutions such as ThousandEyes to provide "end-to-end visibility into edge domains that customers don't own, such as cloud networks and the internet."

Patel said "security must be at the forefront of all hybrid work conversations" adding that Cisco's goal is to "make security radically simple, despite increases in complexity." Making note of solutions like SecureX, Patel said people can manage and remedy security "threats more rapidly despite an expanded attack surface."

"We are also doing this by bringing networking and security technologies together in the cloud to help customers," Patel said. "We're delivering on our secure access service edge (SASE) vision to combine best-in-class networking, security and more into a single subscription service with observability to the edges of the network."

A focus on sustainability

Earlier this year, NEXT Energy Technologies released a report titled "The Case for Office Space: How Buildings Need to Change to Suit a Climate-Conscious, COVID-Weary Workforce." According to the report, the top sustainability factors employees want companies to address include "reduced reliance on single-use materials" (51%) and renewable energy (66%). At the new hybrid office, Cisco is bolstering sustainability efforts.

"We are rethinking space utilization, developing sustainable and regenerative products, and designing energy-efficient and carbon-reducing buildings as we transform for hybrid work and understand the impact we have on the world around us," Patel said.

At company offices, Cisco is boosting renewable energy usage, and this will be accomplished via solar solutions onsite, "green power contracts with local utilities, and power purchase agreements" to send energy to the utility grid locally, Patel explained.

As for other sustainability-focused Cisco solutions for hybrid work environments, Patel made note of DNA Spaces, explaining that the platform "gives smart building managers a single view of operations and power consumption" ranging from smart lighting to Wi-Fi performance.

Also see