People, spaces, technology and wellbeing: optimizing the workplace of the future

employee engagement modern workspace work style

For a long time, many business decisions were made in silos. HR would focus on employees, IT would look for the best technology to buy, facilities focused on the most cost-effective way to manage their buildings, and the finance team’s priority was to drive costs down and revenue up. Today, like never before, these four teams and elements are coming together to drive critical business advantage and growth.

However, this frequently puts pressure on traditional siloed procurement models and budget allocation. For the business to be successful, the executive leadership team needs to define a path forward before funding is sliced in four or more directions. This leads to piecemeal decisions and a lack of alignment to the wider benefit of the organization.

What we hear from our customers, and have learned from our own experience, is that there are five key focus areas.

To drive value:

• A need for greater agility

• Access and retention of the best talent

• The richest customer engagement

To optimize cost:

• Maximizing real estate utilization

• Office modernization initiatives

In fact, last year (2019) $1.2tn was spent by organizations trying to digitalize their business, according to management consultants McKinsey. The scary part is $1tn was wasted. Only 16% of the organizations realized the benefits they hoped for. This was due to making siloed decisions and looking through a technology-focused lens, without enough consideration of their employees.

Empowering frontline employees by involving them in the research stage, combined with the time and resources to learn about new technologies, will open the opportunity to experiment with new workflows and even improve or automate parts of them. McKinsey further found that 73% of successfully transformed companies had visibly engaged frontline employees.

“Someone on the C-suite needs to take control and align the four critical areas HR, IT, facilities and finance.”

Some organizations have started addressing this by creating a new role called an ‘employee experience director’ for each line of business, who sits at the C-suite level and has wide ranging decision-making powers. It is important other organizations follow suit. Someone on the C-suite needs to take control and align the four critical areas HR, IT, facilities and finance.

At Cisco, our own transformation started seven years ago. The results have been breath-taking financially and culminated in being named as the greatest ‘Greatest Place to Work’ in the world in 2019, and being named best place to work for millennials in 2020. We save $196m in operational expense (OPEX) annually and have sold almost $300m worth of buildings, all while increasing our workforce by 7%. We are a large company with more than 70,000 staff, but what we have learned from our own transformation, and the customers we have already helped, applies to all.

How we did it

We follow a blueprint for workplace transformation, linking workstyles, workflows and workspaces. All the activities rotate around the needs of employees and people.

In this paper, we will focus on Workstyles and Workspaces. Specifically, three key trends which impact all – the evolving workforce, the changing nature of work and the demand for flexible working.

“When planning transformation ensure you consider the impact on your people.”

Evolving workforce

For the first time, we have four demographics within the workforce, from post-war baby boomers through to digital natives born from 1995 onwards. This is important because each of these groups has a different value system, different motivations and different expectations. To be successful you’ll need to harness their individuality, while fostering employee engagement, collaboration and teamwork across the generations. In 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennials, so their needs and expectations will become the norm. In fact, at Cisco the millennial generation will soon become the dominant element of our workforce: our current average employee age is 41.

Our core focus from a recruitment perspective has always been to hire the best people first and worry about location second. Today, this approach should be the focus for all organizations, regardless of industry and size. This will increase the need to support a dispersed workforce with the tools to collaborate and add value, regardless of their physical locations.

At Cisco, 59% of our employees work in a different location to their manager (I have never had a manager on the same continent!), 48% collaborate with people in different time zones and pre-covid 9% of our staff work fully remotely which of course scaled to 100% during lock down.  Now we have been working this way for some time, for many organization this is a new approach, and those many habitual objectors to this approach have had it forced upon them during Covid, and realized (like many before) that remote workers are just as productive as when they are in the office, if not more so!

In addition to fostering great teamwork, collaboration and employee engagement across generations, you will also have to do it across distance. Cisco’s approach is ‘Our People Deal’.

‘Our People Deal’ brings together what an employee can expect from us, what we expect from them, and how we enable this via technology. This is simply explained as connect everything, innovate everywhere and benefit everyone.

Some of our key initiatives are highlighted here:

The values that enable this we call our ‘conscious culture’. The principles are:

• Give your best

• Take accountability

• Give your ego the day off

• Take difference to heart

• Give something of yourself

• Take a bold step

Our results show a 13% increase in engagement driven via weekly check-ins, 2.74x increase in retention rates and a 14% increase in employee confidence.

The changing nature of work

As we look across the four generations in the workforce today, the period they expect to stay in a role reduces. Baby boomers average seven years, generation X three years, millennials two years – and the growth of the gig economy is well documented. Your objective here is to figure out how to empower your employees, make them feel valued and fight this trend to leave. Once you have recruited the best people, understand how you can keep them, maximize the value you receive, while keeping them engaged and fulfilled. Currently within Cisco, we have an average employee tenure of 7.6 years, and we are continuing to make good progress. This engagement is a result of how we use technology and our holistic approach to employee rewards.

Over the past ten years, we have dramatically transformed our work environments to support the evolving needs of our business.  In order to address the increased expectations of our workforce, the changing nature of work and rise of agile work practices, we have re-thought how space design, workplace policies and technology come together. In turn, it has allowed us to transform how our employees work, where the work and how work gets done.

As we start to look towards the next normal, where hybrid working becomes the norm and where collaboration becomes the dominant activity within the workplace, technology will play an even more critical role. When employees do go to the office, video collaboration will be pervasively deployed, not only in conference rooms but in the open plan, allowing people space to socially distance as they see fit. All interfaces will be hands free, either through artificially intelligent (AI) powered speech commands or via trusted devices (laptop or mobile phone).  Data will be harnessed from devices across the entire workspace including; wireless access points, building systems and video devices, giving facilities personnel insights on how the workplace is performing and enabling a new set of employee notification, and wayfinding services that ensure people move safely within the work environment.

Our collaboration tools have been reimagined so that mobile participants have the same capabilities of those in an office, maximizing their productivity. This is an important innovation when you consider that 60% of millennials choose to work from mobile devices, so we support that preference with Webex, our collaboration platform.

We see a huge increase in collaboration intensity: for example, ten years ago 60% of work was collaborative and today it is 90%. That is a huge increase in a short period of time. This growth applies to your ecosystem as well: technology group PGi has found that there has been a 35% increase in innovation and creativity with people outside of the organization. The important thing to remember is that your collaboration tools must provide secure, compliant collaboration with an external audience as successfully as your internal teams. Webex does, but many other tools still cannot provide this today.

With people working longer than in the past, and with four generations in the workplace, we see that they all have different needs from a remuneration perspective. To address this, we have focused on a holistic rewards structure and the ability to provide flexibility over pay.

Flexible working

Enabling flexibility has become a must with the impacts of Covid. From a positive perspective, research shows that when supporting flexible working you can expect to see a 2-3-fold increase in your retention rates, in addition to keeping your staff virus free. This needs to become your go to workstyle for the long term even in a post lockdown world, you can also expect a positive impact on your recruitment, with more than 90% of millennials placing flexibility as the top priority when selecting workplaces.

As your employees increase the time they spend working remotely, there are several considerations that make this approach successful. The most important one is access to video. When people first work from home, their propensity to feel distanced from their colleagues can increase. However, by ensuring all employees have access to a video first experience, distance reduces, rapport builds and they can still understand visual clues from the people they are meeting with.

An audio call provides none of this. Our home workers use video endpoints to ensure they have the best experience possible, the highest quality video, the highest quality audio and a choice of device that fits their needs.  

Successful flexible working is about more than enabling staff to run a meeting for an hour at home, its about supporting them to do their entire jobs from home securely. They will need; enterprise calling, meeting and team collaboration tools, the ability to brainstorm and iterate over ideas, rapidly share large files and provide loyalty building customer service from anywhere. All these experiences are part of the Webex platform. With all these capabilities residing on Webex, you also have a single location which you can easily integrate with existing software, to make those experiences even better and more collaborative.

A focus on outcomes, not hours is a key mentality shift: flexible working doesn’t just mean being at home, it means working the hours that allow you to be the best version of you every day. Everyone has their own natural rhythm, night owls to early birds, and when flexible working is practiced, support for these individual preferences can provide better productivity, improved wellbeing and better outcomes for the business.

With teams in different time zones, as 50% of Cisco’s are, the flexibility goes both ways. If the odd late or early meeting is required, then so be it. The focus is relentlessly on execution of the outcome, not clocking hours.

Where businesses are facing this massive rate of change, much of it forced upon them with very little warning this year, it can be challenging for all. The role of employee wellbeing is an even hotter topic today than in the past – for example, it has been reported that 25% of the workforce is suffering from mental health issues. Poor health reduces individual productivity annually by six weeks, and with every 15-minute break you can expect a 25% increase in productivity. Not only is a focus on wellbeing the right thing to do for your employees, but it plays a key role in achieving organizational objectives. We address this by providing support across four areas: physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, social wellbeing and financial wellbeing. We call this ‘the whole you’.

To summarize, when planning transformation ensure you consider the impact on your people. Plan how you can effectively bring them on the journey. You need to think about workstyles, workspaces and workflows. Support your employees’ different preferences in workstyles, motivations and value systems. You will need to consider physical, emotional, social and financial wellbeing to be successful. We are proud to say that we have seen great results from our journey, culminating in being named #1 greatest place to work. Our next challenge is staying there.

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