The remote work wars are still raging, but many workplaces seem to be settling into some kind of hybrid agreement—however fragile.
How to strike the right balance between connection and independence, however, has been complicated, and it’s keeping some CHROs up at night. Decreased team collaboration, as well as limited access to work resources and equipment, were among the top challenges to hybrid workers, according to a 2022 Gallup poll. Some workers also feel a type of “hybrid guilt” when they’re not in the office, and worry that in-person colleagues are getting better treatment.
Tech giant Cisco is betting that hybrid work is here to stay, and it’s redesigning its offices specifically with those workers in mind. Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration, says that they’re thinking about the way people treat the office when they do go in—as a way to connect with other people—rather than focus on the work they could be doing remotely alone.
“People are going to come into the office for engaging more with each other, rather than going out and getting work done in their cubicle,” said Patel. “We have to reimagine, fundamentally, what the workspace of the future is going to look like.”
In the company’s Atlanta and New York City locations, there are fewer offices, and video in almost every room. Employees mostly don’t have designated desks, but there are more “huddle spaces,” or open areas where small groups can hold impromptu meetings. Boardrooms are structured in a “triangular fashion” so that the people working in person can see the people calling in remotely, according to Patel.
“If there are five people in a conference room [and] two people are not in the conference room, those two people shouldn't feel like they're second-class participants in a meeting,” says Patel. “They should feel like they have an equal seat at the table.”
Patel says Cisco had an “unfair advantage” renovating an office for a hybrid workforce, because it already manufactures teleconferencing equipment. The cost for these renovations was “substantial,” he says, but offset in part by the company’s decision to reduce the amount of real estate it owns, and redirect it towards making the real estate they have more effective.
The company is not mandating that employees across the entire business return to the office on specific days, but gives individual teams leeway to decide how they want to work, and strongly encourage employees to come to the office for certain activities, such as for meeting customers.
Cisco plans to remodel its offices in most “tier one” cities and “just keep chipping away at them,” says Patel, who believes more companies will start designing for the future with hybrid workers in mind.
“I personally feel like that's the area where you will see a lot of movement from companies over the course of the next five to seven years,” said Patel. “Because as these patterns of work start to kind of change, you will want to have modernization of your facility.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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