Thursday, 21 October 2021 16:30

Shifting from working from home to hybrid working

Cisco ANZ head of people and communities James Comer Cisco ANZ head of people and communities James Comer

Offices and other workplaces are re-opening, but there is a 'third way' between working in the workplace and working at home.

Hybrid working has been part of Cisco's culture for decades, according to Cisco ANZ head of people and communities James Comer, and 90% of its employees make a daily choice about where and when to work.

One of the effects of the COVID pandemic has been to introduce people to working from home, and a lot of them – around 90% on some accounts – found they like it.

But the easing of restrictions will mean they are no longer required to work from home.

Taken together, this suggests Melbourne and Sydney in particular are likely to see an upswing in hybrid working.

So what can be learned from Cisco's experience and research?

At the start of the pandemic, work-from-home mandates meant there was a "'lift and shift' into our homes," said Cisco ANZ CIO Julie Canepa, but it didn't take long to realise that people were losing their connection to the organisation.

Mitigations included streamlining the login process, helping employees with their home networks (after all, Cisco is a networking company at heart), and providing self-help tools for tech support.

That was just the technical side. The company also helped people change their behaviour, especially in virtual meetings, working asynchronously, and drawing boundaries between work and the rest of their lives.

Interestingly, Cisco ANZ regional manager for collaboration Glenn Smith observed that "I treat my home office as an extension of Cisco."

Furthermore, "hybrid is not remote work," Canepa noted. Cisco aims to provide the right tools for working anywhere with enterprise-class collaboration experiences, as well as turning offices into "culture centres" for collaborating with others whether or not they are in the same room.

"Every person in every organisation is interested in this conversation," said Cisco ANZ head of workplace technology Chris Anderson.

What they want, he suggested, is flexibility, as around nine out of ten people do not want to return to the office full time, but hardly anyone wants to work at home 100% of the time.

The significance of this desire for flexibility is that 64% of employees say that being able to work from anywhere (or not) affects whether they leave or stay in their job, Canepa noted.

To achieve this flexibility, many processes will need to be digitised (if they aren't already), he said, but Comer pointed out that everything done digitally should humanise the enterprise.

Organisational leaders have an important part to play, even if – as Canepa observed – they haven't been trained to work in a hybrid environment.

"Communication is key," said Smith, and that includes top-down communications.

Cisco's country and site leaders are encouraged to use multiple communications channels, said Comer, because their preferred channel might not match their people's preferences.

In addition to keeping all the channels open, it's also important to foster a culture where "people can put their hands up."

And leaders "need to model the way," for example by visibily following the recommended wellbeing measures such as taking the appropriate amount of time off.

Cisco's Hybrid Work Index, compiled from telemetry and surveys, can be found here.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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