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As many companies downsize their pricey corporate real estate, an increasing number of Canadians are shifting from a busy office environment to working from home for all or part of their week. (Getty Images/Bonnie Jacobs)
As many companies downsize their pricey corporate real estate, an increasing number of Canadians are shifting from a busy office environment to working from home for all or part of their week. (Getty Images/Bonnie Jacobs)

Earlier discussion

How to make flexible work options work for you Add to ...

Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada, believes Canadian companies are being held back by their reluctance to embrace flexible working options.

“This is one of that things that is hamstringing Canadian businesses, and I think it’s slowing down our innovation and productivity,” he says.

At Cisco, they use the company's TelePresence HD video-conferencing platform and Directory, the company's own version of Facebook, to ensure employees have flexible working options.

More related to this story

“Our folks have access to these tools every minute of every day,” Mr. Kawale notes. “On top of that ... everyone’s enabled on their devices and everyone’s enabled at home. So what happens is 48 per cent of our work is done off-hours and off-premise.”

So can flexible working options really cut costs and increase productivity? And what's the best way to organize a telework initiative in your office? Nitin Kawale joined us for a live discussion earlier.

2:14

Niamh O'Doherty - Hello everyone, my name is Niamh O'Doherty and I'll be moderating this live chat today. Please feel free to send in your questions now.

2:20

Niamh O'Doherty - Everyone, please allow me to introduce Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada. Nitin, in your opinion, is the flexible working trend here to stay?

2:22

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Hello everyone...it's great to be here!

2:23

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

yes, absolutely. I think flexible work environments are definitely here to stay and will proliferate every work environment. It's a reality! And one that our company uses for tremendous competitive advantage.

2:23

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Nitin, and welcome. On to the first reader question then, from Robyn:

2:23

[Comment From Robyn Bews]

What is the greatest impediment to large scale adoption within organizations?

2:25

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

I think it's history and inertia. Companies are accustomed to working certain ways and have opinions about what work is and isn't. We need to focus less on the buildings people are in and the hours they work. We need to focus on the results they produce...regardless of where they are and what time it is.

2:25

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda]

Hi Nitin. Thanks so much for initiating discussion on such an important topic. Many Canadian firms are embracing the importance of flexibility in the workplace and the benefits to both the employer and the employee. I had a chance last March to try Cisco Telepresence last year and it's awesome. Do you see it being used more broadly in more geographical areas soon?

2:27

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Thanks Jacqueline. We all know that video is a game changer for both businesses and consumers. Using video for business benefit is not a trend...the train has left the station. Our telepresence product line is now five years old...and is among our fastest growing solutions. Working this way is second nature to our employees.

2:29

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Nitin. I know working from home has a bit of an image problem; do you think people who work from home really contribute as much as those in the office?

2:30

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Without question. There's a stigma about working from home. But if you focus on what people actually deliver...and if you work in a collaborative environment then things are self-correcting when people aren't producing.

2:31

Niamh O'Doherty - So, if you want to encourage your boss to let you work from home, what's the best way to go about it, in your opinion?



2:31

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

You definitely know it when someone isn't pulling their weight or breaks the value chain. Peer pressure in remote working situations is often stronger than direct supervision.

2:32

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Work with your boss to set aggressive metrics that both of you can live with. And track these metrics, together.

2:33

Niamh O'Doherty - So you believe productivity will increase with flexible working, Nitin? Have you seen evidence of this in your own corporate culture?

2:33

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

I'd also add that at Cisco, 48 per cent of our work is done outside of regular business hours. I dare say that we probably get more time from people outside the office.

2:33

Niamh O'Doherty - Readers, do feel free to share any questions you might have, too.

2:34

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

As for you next question...absolutely. Our goal at Cisco Canada is to grow our productivity 15 per cent each year. We consistently achieve that. I'm confident that the way we work is the reason. Our employees say they're more productive and are much happier in their jobs, as they are able to balance their work/life integration.

2:35

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

Hi Nitin, can you give us an indication of how Cisco is utilizing the technologies you are talking about in its own organization, and what you recommend as the first steps for a company just starting on this path?

2:37

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Our collaborative environment spans many integrated technologies...everything from WebEx to telepresence, our own internal social media sites, our show and share (youtube-type site) and much, much more. What's important is to understand your business processes and try to figure out how to deconstruct then reconstruct them in a fashion that utilizes collaborative tools. My advice for starting out is to begin with one process...and prove it out.

2:38

[Comment From Robyn Bews ]

I promote flexible work for a living and see firsthand the resistance... do you think trust is the primary impediment? (I do) or is there something else that is making the adoption so slow? Thanks

2:39

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Trust yes. But that's only part of it. Change is frightening and difficult. The ways we've worked in the past served us well. To perhaps bend your thought somewhat, I believe the major issue may be the courage of management to drive important change. Today, they have a choice. Tomorrow will be another story.

2:40

[Comment From Sam Ottil ]

Did Cisco have to change the way employees are evaluated or how managers view the performance evaluation process as you adopted the teleworking culture ?

2:41

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Not really, Sam. We are a result-driven organization. That's where we focus. We're less concerned with how and more concerned with the end result.

2:41

[Comment From Robyn Bews ]

how do you measure the "productivity" of a knowledge workforce?

2:42

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

it's simple - revenue per employee. That's how we do it and how I look at it. You can overthink these things.

2:42

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

That's an admirable percentage of your staff that works outside of regular business hours. What type of skills do your hiring managers look for when seeking hirees capable of working with less over the shoulder supervision?

2:43

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Great question! We look for team players that are comfortable leading and following. They need to be results rather than activity driven. Most importantly, they must have a cultural fit.

2:44

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

My experience is many organizations are still practicing activity based management. Flexible work by its nature requires they shift to performance based management requiring different skills and behaviors from managers, but many are still not comfortable with that.

2:45

Niamh O'Doherty - Great point Glenn. Flexible working does mean there needs to be a shift in management style...what do you think, Nitin.

2:46

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

You're absolutely right, Glenn. But the next generation of workers - who we will all need based on the demographic challenges of Canada - will demand something completely different.

2:46

Niamh O'Doherty - Does this mean the end of 9-to-5 culture, Nitin? Of course, flexible hours can make it harder to switch off. Have you experienced any negative impact on those working from home?

2:47

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

My advice is to get ahead of the curve. Even if you're uncomforable with it...start experimenting with collaborative and remote working.

2:47

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

What is 9 to 5 culture? I've been at Cisco for 16 years and it's a term I'm not familiar with ....lol

2:48

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

What are you thoughts on how well prepared deployment teams (HR, IT RE) are in implementing new flexible work programs. Might there be some resistance from them?

2:48

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

As for negative impact...the one thing we try to be aware of is to ensure there is sufficient face time so that we retain our culture, especially with new hires.

2:49

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Glenn, these teams are no different from any other management teams. All have to move together as an organization.

2:49

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

A lot of people would argue that social media goes hand-in-hand with flexible work, due to the increase in off-hours communication. What are your thoughts on the use of social media as part of the future of work?

2:51

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

It's a reality. Work and life are quickly becoming integrated. We all switch from being business professionals to regular people and back again throughout our days. We recognize that at Cisco and allow people to do what they need to do. We also understand the power of social media and have our own business tool called the Integrated Workforce Experience that almost looks like a Facebook page.

2:52

Niamh O'Doherty - Do you think this constant integration leaves employees at risk of burn-out, Nitin?

2:52

Niamh O'Doherty - Readers, what do you think?

2:53

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

Absolutely not! Happy Employees who are able to balance work and life as well are productive, loyal and healthier! Good for Cisco Canada.

2:54

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Yes. Now it comes down to each individual and our ability to manage our time and our lives. Our tools are always available, but doesn't mean you must constantly use them that way. Work/life balance is still important, obviously. To me, it means being able to attend school and athletic activities that my kids participate in and also get my work done. It means being able to work anywhere and anytime from among my many devices that I use.

2:55

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Like many 'tools' I believe employees will make their own decisions on how and when to engage, but do agree associated coaching or training would be helpful.

2:56

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Absolutely, Glenn. We're asking employees to change habits and business processes. Anything we can do to accelerate that must be done.

2:57

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

Good points everyone. I'd add that our companies can provide us with these tools but it is up to us to manage our time effectively.

2:58

Niamh O'Doherty - Nitin, when it comes to organizing a flexible working initiative at your office, how should one go about it? Is it most important to get buy-in from senior management, for example?

3:00

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

I think it has to be part of a company's strategy. Clearly, buy in from senior managment is critical. But as employees we can set the stage by choosing a business process and demonstrate how collaborative and remote working can help the company. It's a great way to get the ball rolling...and achieve the confidence of a broader group.

3:00

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Executive endorsement is critical, but equally important is to understand your workforce, their workplace needs, preferences and how they interact with coworkers. Start with data, especially if its from your own organization.

3:02

Niamh O'Doherty - Very interesting. Have you encounter any negative reactions among staff when it comes to a flex-work policy? Readers, what has been your experience?

3:05

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

Nitin, in your opinion how has the adoption of teleworking and flexible work been among Canadian businesses?

3:05

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Well, from our perspective, we need to be aware of swinging the pendulum too far one way. We watch this carefully. We want to ensure people know one another and work within the culture. So we balance in-person meetings with remote activities. Approximately 65 per cent of our time is spent communicating and collaborating. We know our employees are extremely happy with this approach. An Aon Hewett survey that measures employee engagement and satisfaction ranked Cisco Canada #1 and #2 top employer these last two years, respectively. It's strong validation of our approach and certainly something we are extremely proud of.

3:05

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Individual contributors recognize the value for them. We find very little resistance now days from employees. Resistance is more likely to come from managers who may not clearly see the value add for them or are uncomfortable being 'pushed' into a new role of managing remote or distributed staff.

3:06

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Sarah, I would say that it's starting to pick up. I think companies should draw strength from the fact that Canadians are prolific collaborators in their personal lives. Stats show that Canadians are among the most active users of social media.

3:07

Niamh O'Doherty - To elaborate on Glenn's point, do you have any advice for encouraging managers who now have to oversee remote staff, Nitin?

3:09

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Well, Niamh, I think we need to understand what success really is. They should be results and metrics driven. Having remote employees doesn't mean relinquishing control. Appropriate use of measurement and metrics will help you become much more comfortable. We have experience in this as 43 per cent of our employees have remote managers.

3:09

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

Do you have any advice to people seeking flexible work schedules and how to approach the topic in an interview where the candidate is uncertain about the degree of flexibility offered?

3:11

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Oh gosh, there's a good question. Just ask how your potential peers work and what tools are available to them. You don't have to be shy about asking these questions. Be direct. I assure you, the Gen Ys with whom I speak with certainly aren't. I like that.

3:11

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Fact is the future is here. Almost all managers have remote staff today. They have no choice but to endorse this. If they feel they are lacking is skills, encourage them to seek our the appropriate training, ask for coaching. Managers need all the support we can give them.

3:11

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

Thanks for your response Nitin - what advice would you have for an employee that wants to approach their employer about instituting flexible work policies?

3:12

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Hi Sarah, same as I responded to Jacqueline. Start with a single business process and prove it out. Go from there.

3:13

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Be upfront with your manager. Chances are they have already heard this request from others or experienced it themselves.

3:13

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

So true- Gen Y's are really game changers and shy away from traditional hierarchy, policies and procedures. They love virtual work and creativity left to themselves.

3:14

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

That's for sure, Jacqueline.

3:14

Niamh O'Doherty - Your opinion, Nitin? Will Gen Ys be the reason we will all work from home in the future?

3:15

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

I think Gen Ys will help to drive change. But you can't swing the pendulum entirely the other way. It is still people working directly with people and you need to balance things. You can't build and develop cultures in cyberspace.

3:15

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Its not limited to just one age group. Lots of baby boomers would also like to work remotely, perhaps for different reasons, but the interest is still there.

3:16

Niamh O'Doherty - Any final questions, readers? We'll be finishing up this session in the next 15 minutes or so.

3:17

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

We've also found that its not an all or nothing situation when it comes to working from home. Most employees only desire to do so 1-2 days per week.

3:17

Niamh O'Doherty - Nitin, any issue you feel we haven't covered yet?

3:18

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

Any idea number-wise or percentage-wise of cost-savings of having such a large percentage of remote workers?

3:19

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

Touching on Glenn's point, how do companies strike that balance of in-and-out-of-the-office time? Is it established with policies or on an individual basis?

3:19

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

I believe companies, regardless of their size or public-sector organizations, need to understand the value and importance of collaboration. They need to recognize the impact it has on productivity and innovation. We need to change Canada's innovation and productivity performance dramatically. It's a well-known fact.

3:19

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

We all can do our part to make the difference.

3:19

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Our experience shows organizations can potentially reduce their infrastructure costs by 30-40%.

3:19

[Comment From ]

average cost is around $14k per worker per year - increase efficiency and you can lower it incredibly

3:20

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

Those are numbers I have heard as well

3:20

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

In and out times should be determined between the employee and their manager. Each situation is unique depending on job, individual skills, management style, etc.

3:21

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

All of these are great points. The most important thing is to ensure it's not a one-off in the organization. There needs to be an holistic strategy around collaboration of which remote working is one part of - to driving lasting benefits.

3:22

[Comment From Sarah Anderson ]

Thanks those are great points (both of you)!

3:22

[Comment From ]

cost reduction, better for the environment, worker happiness (i.e. productivity) why wouldn't a company adopt these practices?

3:22

Niamh O'Doherty - Any final thoughts on the subject Nitin?

3:23

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Agreed, that's why you need policy and guidelines with an expectation that employees and managers will interact and make decisions within that frame work.

3:23

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

Many thanks to you and your organization for promoting such an important concept in your company.

3:23

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

In additon to what I said earlier, this change in how we work is a matter of when NOT if. The longer you wait for the when, the further behind you'll fall.

3:25

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Nitin. Well put. As I said earlier, the future is now.

3:25

Niamh O'Doherty - Great point, Nitin.

3:26

Niamh O'Doherty - Folks, thanks for all your participation today. It's a great topic - feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section.

3:26

Niamh O'Doherty - Nitin, thanks so much for your time today.

3:26

[Comment From Nitin Kawale]

Thanks to everyone. I've really enjoyed this! Good luck to everyone.

3:27

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks again all.

3:27

[Comment From Glenn Dirks ]

Thank you for hosting this chat session.

3:27

[Comment From Jacqueline Sloboda ]

Best to you as well



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