Time for a 'great experiment' says Cisco as it lets team leaders set place of work

Fewer than one-in-four staff want to be in the office for more than three days a week


Less than a quarter of Cisco's 77,000-strong workforce want to spend three days or more in their office when COVID-19 restrictions lift – and so Switchzilla is embarking on a "great hybrid work experiment."

“We know that the office has changed forever, and we won’t be returning to the office or using physical space in the same way as before,” wrote Francine Katsoudas, Cisco exec veep and Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer.

“While about half of our employees were in the office four to five days a week pre-pandemic, less than a quarter want to be in an office three or more days a week when offices re-open.”

It feels as though most tech corporations in the past year have said they do not foresee employees commuting to and from the office regularly as before. Dell, for example, said 60 per cent of its 165,000 staff want to mix up their week on site, at home, and with customers. Fujitsu is going one further in Japan and closing 50 per cent of its office space in a lurch toward flexibility.

As for Switchzilla, Katsoudas said individual managers can decide the office-home balance for their staff. It will "leave it up to teams themselves to determine how they'll work best in this new hybrid world. That means no set mandate from the top on numbers of days in-or-out-of the office."

She described this as a "learn-as-we-go process and a challenge for our leaders." Of course, Cisco will "check in" with those managers every few months to see what's working and isn't.

"For us to succeed, we have to establish new and elevated level of trust and transparency within our teams and our company as a whole," she said. Naturally, the networking equipment giant has drawn up a so-called "collaboration commitment" for its people to abide by.

"We know that the move to a hybrid world is not going to be easy. There will be growing pains, messiness, and uncertainties. But the challenges of hybrid work are our opportunities for innovation," added Katsoudas.

Cisco boss Chuck Robbins earlier told financial analysts on a Q2 earnings call that some people weren’t enjoying working from home and yearned to be back at at the corporate altar of dreams AKA their desk.

"I think we sort of moved into that phase where people actually struggle mentally. People are, they're not enjoying it. One of our employees said to me the other day, 'I don't mind the option of working from home. I don't like being forced to work from home' ... It's going to be hybrid."

Part of the rationale from Cisco and others is to help ensure the mental well-being of employees, though striking a work-life balance both execs and employees are happy with is no easy feat. Some 57 per cent of 5,500 people surveyed by tech-worker forum Blind last year stated work and play had been skewed toward the former in lockdown.

“There used to be some delineation between work and home life – now it’s gone,” said one Googler, “Not working from home, just living at work.”

It seems predictions, surveys, and discussion papers about are shifting from theory to reality. In June, the font of reliability Gartner predicted that almost half of knowledge workers would be work-from-home come 2022, almost double 2019's levels.

It also found a groundswell of support for a "hybrid workplace" with around seven in ten employees expected to be working remotely for at least some of their 9-5.

Meanwhile, a poll by Okta found that office workers want greater freedom to choose, whether that’s returning to the office, working remotely, or a mix of both.

Register readers, often but not always the most sane voice in the room, voted with their clicks early in 2021, the majority of those voting in our poll favoring a three-day week spent in their PJs and two commuting to the office.

Not everyone in the tech industry seems willing to experiment. Apple was recently forced to backdown on calling time on home work, and then of course there is Workday and its ebullient chief exec who reckons his staffers have had it with family time.

As Katsoudas at Cisco said: "Work is not where you go, it’s what you do.” Let's see if Switchzilla is still saying that in two years. ®


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