Cisco preps now for the hybrid workforce

Cisco says its employees will work from home part of the time and be supported with its networking gear.

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Work-from employees will no longer be treated as a second-class citizen, which means they will get best-in-class technology including SD-WAN appliances, cellular backup alternatives, zero trust security support and maybe even battery backup.

That’s at least part of the plan for hybrid workers now and moving forward, said Cisco’s Todd Nightingale, executive vice president and general manager of the company’s Enterprise Networking & Cloud business. “The ‘return-to-office’ concept is a myth--it’s a world we have left behind.”

While the hybrid work strategy may be a plan for developing and selling Cisco’s enterprise networking products and services, it’s also the plan for its own workers.

Cisco's embracing of a hybrid workforce means its emplyees will have options for how they put in their work weeks. Some will work five days per week at home and gather in person occasionally for team activities and personal connections. Others might go to the office five days per week and use collaboration tools such as WebEx to interact with colleagues working at home and around the world.

But essentially every Cisco employee will be a hybrid worker, wrote Francine Katsoudas, executive vice president and Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer of Cisco in a blog announcing the plan. That means no set mandate from the top about numbers of days in or out of the office, she stated.

The idea of enabling a hybrid or remote workforce isn’t particularly new to Cisco -- pre-pandemic only a third of its employees were in the office full time --  or many other large companies but it is something that has been wrestled with in other high-tech vendors and many enterprise companies. 

For example, Google recently said that 20% of its 135,000 employees will be required to work in the office, another 20% will be allowed to be fully remote, but 60% will be allowed to work remotely two days per week. Microsoft and others haven’t decided what to do yet.

A story in the Washington Post recently took the pulse of workers potentially returning to offices:  “Most workers described a strange office environment bearing little resemblance to the one they left behind — a world of complicated social interactions, lingering anxieties about masks and vaccinations, and simmering frustrations about inflexible work policies. Companies spoke about the challenge of getting a workforce that has grown accustomed to working from home fired up again about office culture.”

And everyone is involved.  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the resultant massive increase in remote workers, the need to fully support a hybrid workforce is an issue confronting many businesses right now.

Gartner recently stated that by the end of 2021, 51% of all knowledge workers worldwide are expected to be working remotely, up from 27% in 2019 and that remote workers will represent 32% of all employees worldwide by the end of 2021, up from 17% in 2019. Gartner defines knowledge workers as those who involved in knowledge-intensive occupations, such as writers, accountants, and engineers. It defines remote workers as those who work away from their employers' sites at least one full day a week (hybrid workers) or who work from home all the time (fully remote workers).

The lasting impact of remote work is resulting in a reassessment of the IT infrastructure that shifts buyer requirements to demand work-anywhere capabilities, said Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner.

“Through 2024, organizations will be forced to bring forward digital business transformation plans by at least five years,” Atwal said. “Those plans will have to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world that involves permanently higher adoption of remote work and digital touchpoints,”

Digital products and services will play a big role in these digital transformation efforts, Atwal stated. 

“This longer strategic plan requires continued investment in strategic remote-first technology continuity implementations along with new technologies such as hyperautomation, AI and collaboration technologies to open up more flexibility of location choice in job roles,” Atwal stated.

The hybrid workforce will need every technology from SD-WAN and SASE to a full stack collaboration suite--in Cisco's case WebEx--and best-in-class security and Wi-Fi and failover options, Nightingale said.

Cisco will support these workers with networking technologies including home  SD-WAN routers that include a wireless connection for back up, and Cisco's Umbrella security support to let users access applications remotely and securely. 

Other possible options include a Wi-Fi router that is an extension of the corporate network that can be managed remotely from Cisco’s DNA Spaces package, for example.

No matter where employees are, Cisco says it will use its products to monitor network and application performance. These include tools like ThousandEyes, which provides end-to-end visibility into edge domains that customers don’t own, such as cloud networks and the internet.

Other offerings such as like Meraki Gateways and Cisco desk phones are key to helping remote workers communicate effectively, no matter the location or industry.

“The other part of the hybrid work equation is the experience IN the office – how we make sure conference rooms are hybrid workspaces, having a modern office hoteling applications that reserve desktops and conference rooms to make sure you have a modern workspace to go into if you want,” Nightingale said. 

Katsoudas wrote that for Cisco to succeed, we must establish new and elevated levels of trust and transparency within our teams and our company.

“To do that we are laying out what we’re calling Our Collaboration Commitments--a set of expectations and beliefs laid out for individuals, leaders, and teams around topics including accountability, inclusion, and well-being,” Katsoudas stated. 

“We know that leaders will have a central role to play in creating and maintaining this conscious culture. It will be our team leaders who will model our hybrid work philosophy, leading with empathy and proximity to their teams. We know this is asking a lot of our people, which is why we’re experimenting with new methods of team and leader learning to support the transition into this new way of working.

And if we can get it right, we know that a spirit of flexibility and adaptability will allow us to meet our business needs while playing to the strengths of our people and their preferred workstyles,” Katsoudas stated.

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