How to create an inclusive hybrid workplace

As we start to think about life after the pandemic, Cisco execs share tips on how to make the hybrid workplace more engaging, inclusive and collaborative — for employees and their customers — during this week’s virtual Cisco Live conference.

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Many of us experienced a slew of challenges as we transitioned to working from home at the start of the pandemic. But now, a year later, we’re on the cusp of a whole new set of challenges as we slowly transition back to the office.

While the pandemic isn’t over just yet, we’re starting to think about what our world will look like in the coming years — and how we will work. In a Cisco survey, 77 per cent of employees say they’re embracing a flexible work style and 98 per cent of all meetings now include remote participants. So if the future of work is hybrid, how will offices adapt?

There are a few things to consider as you plan a move to the hybrid workplace, according to Javed Khan, senior VP and GM of Cisco Collaboration, who spoke during a virtual presentation on accelerating the future of work at this week’s Cisco Live.

Employees will want to know how to find a space to work in the office, how they’ll know that space is safe and how they can stay connected to colleagues who are still working from home. Employees working remotely might experience FOMO: Will I still be seen and heard in meetings? Can I still make the same impact?

Improving the employee experience

While it may sound ‘buzzy,’ Cisco’s idea of ‘inclusive collaboration’ is critical to the success of a hybrid workplace. But making sure everyone is engaged during huddles and meetings isn’t easy to do at the best of times. But when some participants are remote, and some are live, this poses unique challenges.

“To ensure everyone always has an equal voice and feels included in the conversation, we’re rolling out inclusive features [in Webex] like gesture recognition and real-time translations,” says Khan. “These features allow users to easily express themselves and to participate in the language of their choice, breaking down common collaborating barriers and leading to a better experience for everyone.”

But video fatigue is a real problem, acknowledges Khan. To deal with this, Cisco is allowing Webex participants to have more control over their virtual experience.

For example, they can move images around — similar to how a weather forecaster is superimposed on weather maps. “That is exactly how immersive sharing works,” says Khan. “You can now combine your video with the content you’re sharing, allowing you to become a part of the story you’re telling.”

Investing in the hybrid workplace

hybrid workplace

The network also has a role to play in this. “Thanks to the cloud, calling is undergoing a massive transformation as it becomes more embedded in our everyday workflows,” says Khan. The Webex app, for example, provides an end-to-end enterprise-grade calling experience between soft phones, devices and the network, so users can move seamlessly between calls, messaging, meetings and sharing.

“You also need to invest in new technology — things like Wi-Fi 6,” says Scott Harrell, senior VP and GM of Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Business. “And that new technology will enable the best application experience, the best collaboration experience.”

Organizations will also need to invest in the next-gen hybrid workspace, such as hot desking that allows users to customize their desktop or conference rooms that can accommodate remote workers. Eventually, offices will also get ‘smarter.’

“Everything in my house is wired up — my lights can be controlled by an app, I can walk into a room and talk to the systems, and they’ll speak back to me. It’s amazing how smart our homes have gotten — our buildings and our offices ought to be just as smart. Unfortunately for most of us that’s just not the reality today,” says Harrell.

Read more:

How hybrid work will change the post-pandemic office
Reshaping the network for a post-COVID world
How UC can create an in-office experience anywhere

Improving the customer experience

While that speaks to the employee experience, organizations also need to be thinking about the customer experience. In this new hybrid world, how do you make a customer interaction feel personal when it’s not?

Customers should be able to interact with a customer service rep over the channel of their choice, including social media apps. Cisco is addressing this by combining the Webex contact centre and omni-channel with customizable capabilities. Low-code and no-code development platforms will make this approach faster and easier for organizations to build these “customer journeys.”

“A year ago, none of us could have predicted what our future of work was going to look like. A year later, there are still a fair number of uncertainties about what the future will be,” says Khan.

“But there are a few things we know for sure: The future of work is hybrid and the quality of the experience you provide to both your employees and your customers is more important than ever.”

Images: Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock; JohnnyGreig/iStock

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