At its Cisco Live conference this week in Las Vegas, Cisco introduced new products and innovations across its networking, security and collaboration offerings. An evident theme across the offerings was the intent to provide flexibility and simplicity to customers. From a collaboration perspective, the focus was very much on hybrid work and enabling customers to embrace flexibility on where and how work takes place. Knowledge workers will spend part of their time in the office, part at home and part anywhere in between and this is a reality most businesses will face.
There is the office, where it is all about delivering a purposeful experience. It is not about making the office enticing but rather about making it fit different needs than before the pandemic, both from an employee and business perspective. Health and wellness have become a top priority as employees are still nervous about a return to the office. Monitoring density and access location analytics to maximize occupancy while keeping employees safe can help create a trusted workplace. All businesses have sustainability goals to achieve and enable carbon-neutral facilities operations with eco-friendly lighting and sensors that drive heating and cooling efficiencies. Buildings can also rely on Technology and automation to reduce physical staffing and utility costs. As much as some leaders are still worried about productivity in a remote work context, it is, in fact, the return to the office that can negatively impact productivity.
There is the home, where it is all about managing your screen time, especially for video meetings. While many remote workers complain about video fatigue, the lockdown has forever changed how we collaborate, and video will continue to play a significant role in our day-to-day lives. The meme “it could have been an email” highlights the real issue, which is about being able to when a meeting of any kind is necessary over email or chat. With written communication, we have gone from asynchronous with an email to synchronous with chat and messaging. Aside from strong personal preferences, we seem to be able to differentiate between what requires an immediate response and what doesn’t.
Interestingly, with video, we are still learning that some exchanges could be asynchronous. A video message recorded for later consumption can be highly effective and time-efficient. Vidcast, part of the Webex Suite, allows users to record, edit and share both within and outside an organization. At the conference, Cisco previewed a really impressive AI-powered feature that enables users to create much more polished videos. The feature allows users to use the transcript to clip/edit the video, remove filler words and soon, leverage custom text-to-speech models for insertions or overdubbing. In the demo I experienced, a speaker forgot to add the name of a product in their video. They inserted it in the script, used a computer-generated voice that matched theirs, adjusted the ambient sound to match the initial recording, and swapped out the segment in a few clicks.
And, of course, there is the commute. Over the past two years, most knowledge workers freed themselves of commuting time. While that time might have served as a buffer to catch up on emails in the morning and wind down after leaving the office in the evening, nobody is really looking forward to wasting precious time while driving in traffic. So, the newly announced ability for WebEx to integrate with Apple CarPlay might not have come as a surprise. The new feature allows you to start a WebEx meeting on your Mac or iPad and move it to your phone by scanning a QR code. Once you get to your car, you connect to CarPlay and the call will transfer to your car’s console. Once your call is over, you can view your upcoming meetings and join directly from CarPlay as an audio-only call. Cisco also announced a deal with Ford for in-car integration of Webex Meetings.
I have been underlining how the core of hybrid work is really how we work and not where we work. Whether working from home, from a different office, or just three desks down the corridor, workflows incorporate chats, video calls, shared documents stored in the cloud, digital whiteboards, and so much more. This underlines a reality that most knowledge workers live daily—workflows are very diverse. Let’s acknowledge that how we work has changed forever.
Most organizations are thinking about keeping their employees happy and engaged and rethinking their office spaces. But the impact of hybrid work and the geographical redistribution of talent will affect entire cities and regions.
Last April, Cisco launched a research project involving 16 early-in-career Cisco employees from Italy, Spain, France and Greece who relocated to Venice for three months. The Venywhere “work from anywhere” project is run in collaboration with the Fondazione di Venezia and Ca’ Foscari University and focuses on how people’s expectations of work have changed, ways that people, teams and organizations can work better together, attract new talent and connect with the communities they live in. Alongside their regular jobs in virtual sales, the group is also conducting in-depth surveys and interviews about their experiences and helping co-design new practices and solutions for hybrid workers.
A crucial part of the research is recognizing the importance of belonging and connection – for remote workers and the communities they’re living in. The participants volunteer their time with local organizations and projects focusing on climate change, economic growth through hybrid work and recycling. Their experiences will help shape a new model for ‘digital citizenship.’ Cisco’s People & Communities organization is actively engaged and will share its findings at the end of the three months.
Venice has attracted people from different backgrounds, religions and cultures for centuries. This inclusive culture makes it the perfect place to experiment with new ways of working, living and collaborating, powered by the latest digital technologies. Gianpaolo Barozzi, Senior Director of HR at Cisco, explains: “Technology allows us to take a call or attend a meeting practically anywhere. This ability has the potential to redefine spaces within the city. What if my office for the day is a park in the middle of the city and a bench becomes my desk?” Barozzi argues that while we usually talk about smart cities in terms of connected infrastructure, the real potential that connected and intelligent cities have is to redesign themselves to better fit the needs of those who live and work in them.
Nearly 5 million Americans have moved since 2020 because of remote-work opportunities. According to the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank in Washington, D.C. and more are likely to follow, as large companies struggle to force people back into the office. In the same way, we are redefining the office and our home, we should not miss the opportunity to redefine our cities, not to lure people to move back but so that the people who are still there and those who visit have a better quality of life.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.