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How to make hybrid work more inclusive, flexible, and caring

There’s no telling what we can accomplish.

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A smiling man is on the phone, sitting in a home office with his laptop on his lap. Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated change in some deeply challenging ways. But it also revealed our remarkable ability to adapt, grow, and work in entirely new ways.

And there’s no going back. The next phase in the future of work will be hybrid, as workers demand a blend of office, home, and all manner of spaces in between. This massive, ongoing cultural shift goes beyond working from anywhere at any time (not that that isn’t amazing!). It’s a transformation that’s as much about work culture as work technology. And in today’s age, culture helps determine the difference an organization makes in the world.

I believe we have an opportunity to create a vastly more inclusive workplace experience where the barriers of language, geography, personality type, learning style, and technical expertise fall away. Where people and teams feel deeply connected and every voice is heard, and where empathy is a personal and organizational superpower.

And there’s no time to waste. Across the planet, there are more than three billion unconnected workers, many of whom are shut off from the online world of ideas, learning, and opportunity, which means we are all losing out, collectively. We can no longer afford to waste the ideas, perspective, and outright genius of all those with the ability to innovate, no matter where they’re from.

I believe that if we make the right decisions today, we can level the playing field for those three billion potential digital workers and make work more creative, flexible, and engaging along the way. In the end, we’ll all benefit.

By leveraging the latest networking advances and new technologies like 5G to make connections cheaper, more powerful, and easier to deploy than ever before, we can connect the unconnected in innovative ways. The future of the workplace also demands virtual experiences that are 10x better — no matter where you live or work, and that starts with putting people at the center of everything — culture, strategy, purpose, and, of course, innovation.

That’s why I’m so excited about the work we’re doing at Cisco. We’re providing solutions that are flexible, inclusive, supportive, and secure and helping organizations successfully transform their culture and technology in a world where people can work from anywhere.

Flexible

Hybrid work is about creating an experience that gives employees flexibility and choice in where, when, and how they work. A rigid nine-to-five office schedule might work for some. Others might want to come in only two days a week, or collaborate from another city, country, or continent. Smart companies will accommodate all kinds of workers and work styles, while creating a culture of trust and transparency — which will help them retain and attract talent.

At Cisco, we’re building products that unlock new dimensions in collaboration and innovation that help break down organizational silos and enhance the sharing of ideas, perspectives, and creativity, from anywhere. Webex makes it easy to interact in many different ways, with our solutions for meetings, calling, messaging, and even large-scale events. We support both real-time and asynchronous collaboration, including file sharing, team messaging, whiteboarding, meeting recordings, and transcriptions. And we make it simple to connect with colleagues for unplanned or ad hoc conversations, because we don’t want to lose those spontaneous “water cooler” moments even if we’re thousands of miles apart.

Inclusive

Cisco’s mission is to power an inclusive future for all — and a key to achieving this is providing everyone with the tools they need to collaborate and do the best work of their lives. Simplicity in technology is democracy. Some of the newest Webex features include gesture recognition, noise removal, and speech enhancement. And as an immigrant whose mother has struggled with English, I’m particularly excited about our real-time translation feature, which translates from English into more than 100 languages.

I envision a world in which we have access to great ideas from people all over the world. It’s critical to include all types of personalities, backgrounds, perspectives, and talents — innovation and problem-solving needs artists, designers, storytellers, introverts, extroverts, young, old, visual learners, right brain, left brain, and so on. In short, we all need to come together to collaborate freely and simply.

Supportive and Secure

To enable hybrid — and inclusivework, companies need solutions that directly support cultures of trust, transparency, and empathy for the well-being of all.

A great collaboration platform like Webex supports it all. We can show employees private insights about how they spend their time so they can make decisions for better work-life balance. We support a safe return to the office with things like conference room occupancy monitoring and wayfinding. And we’re incorporating AI and machine learning into Webex to make it even more seamless and simple to connect and collaborate — from anywhere, and in whatever way leads to a creative solution.

We also recognize that security is much more than a defensive strategy; it’s a critical enabler of connectivity, innovation, and growth. That’s why we provide built-in security with end-to-end encryption, along with the rock-solid secure networking capabilities that Cisco is known for.

At this point, pretty much all our previous assumptions about work have been upended. And that’s good! Because now we can focus our energies on a future that’s far more creative and inclusive.

After all, when innovative, flexible technology meets open, inclusive cultures, there’s no telling what we can accomplish. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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