The future of work lies in the present

By Hariharan S, managing director collaboration, Asia-Pacific, Japan and China, Cisco

Change is the only constant in life. This quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus is one of the most used phrases in the world, and the reason is simple - humans have an uncanny ability to adapt to change, and make the most of it.

In the past few months, we have seen billions of people across the globe make the shift from an office environment to working from home as governments raced to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies that traditionally have everyone physically present in an office daily now run their operations with all employees working remotely - and in many cases, smoothly.

However, humans are social beings. We love to meet our colleagues, customers, and partners and enjoy social interactions. So, as countries across the Asia-Pacific, including Singapore, start to open their economies, the key question on everyone's mind is: what does the future of work look like in a post Covid-19 world?

The office needs to be optimized to support flexible work arrangements. PHOTO: CISCO SYSTEMS

From remote to flexible

As companies gradually allow staff back to the office, employees' health, safety and security as well as regulatory compliance are top of mind considerations, along with continuing to enable staff to work from their home.

After all, the new normal will be nothing like what we have been used to; almost every company, big or small, will have to offer some form of flexible working arrangement to its staff. We will not be in a "work from home all the time" scenario, but we won't be returning to a "be in the office daily" situation ever again. This reality is what I call a perfect hybrid model that will shape the future of how we work.

The recent lockdown has yielded very interesting insights. Firstly, most organisations realise their employees can perform their duties remotely unless they have to be physically present at a specific location. Secondly, in terms of operational expenses, companies know that real estate cost is a big-ticket item on their balance sheet which can be reduced if they offer work flexibility to their staff. Thirdly, employees prefer to telecommute; a recent survey by EngageRocket in Singapore revealed that nine out of 10 employees want to continue working from home in some capacity even when the economy reopens.

Creating a conducive workspace

The success of this hybrid model hinges on companies' abilities to empower their staff with a smooth transition to carry out their jobs remotely, just as they would at the office.

This is where technology plays a key role. Employees need tools that enable them to collaborate effectively with their teams and continue to deliver the best results.

At Cisco, we believe data privacy is a fundamental human right. That is why we built Webex with security from the ground up, investing heavily to build a culture of security with checks and balances in place.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Webex has risen to the challenge, and we have seen an unprecedented surge in demand for it. The platform facilitates collaboration within and between teams regardless of where they choose to work, and ensures employees are fully engaged and more productive even outside the office.

Webex has replaced most forms of in-person meetings and done away with hours spent travelling with immersive and intuitive video meetings. Its digital whiteboards can be shared along with other content with working groups. It also provides recordings and transcripts of meetings; Cisco clocked 26 billion meeting minutes on the platform globally in May, compared to only about seven billion in February. This sharp increase is owing to employees working from home and doing more than when they were at the office.

Securing the flexible worker

A secure platform such as Webex is also essential to safeguard against data theft or breaches, ensuring that workers can collaborate within a secure technological environment.

With the rise of flexible work arrangements, staff will log in not just from their homes, but public places like restaurants and coffee shops via external wireless networks. These don't always activate the same security protocols companies manage in their own physical space. As staff work from multiple locations, they will invariably share sensitive and proprietary information across the collaboration platforms and generate vast amounts of data. Protecting the company's data and intellectual property is therefore critical.

Companies need to ensure that any collaboration tool they use offers adequate cybersecurity provisions to prevent malicious parties from gaining access to information or penetrating company networks. Anyone using these tools should be secure by default, without the onus of having to configure specific settings. At the same time, users need to ensure that their personal data is not shared or sold to third parties.

These tools have become critical to keeping businesses secure, and their importance will only increase rise in the new normal.

And so, organisations need to revisit and re-evaluate the security features of their collaboration tools. Making hasty decisions could cost them dearly, or put the entire business at risk.

Turn pockets of your office into video-enabled huddle spaces to facilitate collaboration. PHOTO: CISCO SYSTEMS

Reimagining the office

To serve as a more conducive workspace, organisations also need to reimagine their physical offices as spaces where employees can socialise, and products and solutions can be presented to clients. With flexible work arrangements, there is also an interesting opportunity for organisations to reassess their real estate footprint and think about designing contactless workspaces that allow for social distancing, with built-in flexibility and connectivity to ensure that work continues to be enjoyable.

To achieve this, they must leverage technology as the invisible glue that binds everything together. Think intelligent conference rooms that use facial recognition to identify meeting attendees, and prompt when it is too crowded according to social distancing policies; artificial intelligence-powered (AI) devices that enable you to start your meeting with a voice command; software that gives you a background of the person you are about to have a call with; or technology that helps you monitor the usage of meeting rooms and maximise space usage.

The list is a long one but Cisco strives to make things simple. So, we have designed the Webex Board, which incorporates all of the above-mentioned AI features with video conferencing, digital whiteboarding, and screen sharing into a single device that is intuitive to use. It effectively replaces the whiteboards, projectors, and conferencing phones in traditional meeting rooms. All activities can be done wirelessly to minimise the need for contact.

The Webex Board allows you to meet, whiteboard, and share screens wirelessly. PHOTO: CISCO SYSTEMS

The "future of work" is available right now. Organisations that take the lead in adapting and adopting these solutions will see the benefits it brings both in the short and long term. All it needs is a mindset tweak that work is not a place we go to, but a series of tasks that we can carry out from anywhere. And from there, we can empower our teams to operate as such.

Visit to find out more about Webex.

Use our Project Workplace tool to find inspiration and guidelines when designing collaborative workplaces for your organization.

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