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Companies have learned that working remotely can be just as productive as working in an office.Supplied

Successful workplaces will create equitable environments, enabled by leading-edge technology

It’s the end of the work-from-home world as we know it.

While the “future of work” was an ongoing topic for the better part of the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly dropped the new work era at our doorsteps.

Organizations scrambled to get their employees properly equipped to work from home, and, when the dust settled, the surprising reality set in: Remote work can be just as productive as working in the office. Now, as lockdowns have eased and the majority of Canadians have been vaccinated, organizations face a new reality: the prospect of going back to the office.

“For hybrid models to be successful, companies must create equitable employee experiences and accessible work environments. No matter where they are, people need to feel included and part of the team, while staying connected with seamless, secure and smart technology. Without that, hybrid work simply isn’t going to work.”

Shannon Leininger, president of Cisco Canada

However, this is far from a “return to normal.” As the pandemic taught us, remote models work. And with employees now accustomed to working from anywhere, but who still have a desire for in-person interaction, they want a flexible, hybrid workplace that combines the best of both worlds. In fact, 97 per cent of employees at leading IT and networking company Cisco Canada want flexible work options.

Source: Cisco Global Workforce Survey, Oct 2020

A recent survey by Accenture found that nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of Canadian employees prefer a hybrid working arrangement. In addition, 37 per cent of employees feel they can be productive and healthy primarily while working remotely, and 41 per cent feel they can be productive and healthy either fully remotely or on-site, or a combination of the two. What’s more, the report states that organizations that enable their workforce to be more productive and healthier anywhere are reaping financial benefits: 56 per cent of high-revenue growth companies in Canada have already enabled hybrid work models.

When done right, hybrid work models provide numerous advantages to employees and employers alike, from better attracting and retaining talent, to improved employee satisfaction and well-being, to stronger collaboration and work relationships.

“There is a recognition that productivity, work-life balance, and other benefits can be achieved when employees are working remotely,” says Tony Olvet, group vice-president, research at IDC Canada. “At the same time, people have a need and a pent-up demand to have face-to-face interaction and collaboration with colleagues. And so, organizations have to move forward with the right mandates and structures in place to enable an effective hybrid model.”

Source: Cisco Global Workforce Survey, Oct 2020

Certainly, for those readying their hybrid workplaces, it won’t be as simple as dusting off the desks and stipulating office and home days. To succeed, organizations will need to make meaningful changes and transformations in both environments. In the office, changes to physical spaces and technology must be made to ensure employees’ health and well-being, safety and efficiencies. Meanwhile, remote work will need to be reimagined, with a focus on replacing possibly ad hoc arrangements with better tools and technologies for the long term.

For any organization, the end goal should be to enable employees to have the same experience, whether they’re at home, in the office, or virtually anywhere else. That means the home office needs to be just as connected as the work office, and the virtual experience needs to be as good, if not better than in person.

“For hybrid models to be successful, companies must create equitable employee experiences and accessible work environments,” says Shannon Leininger, president of Cisco Canada. “No matter where they are, people need to feel included and part of the team, while staying connected with seamless, secure and smart technology. Without that, hybrid work simply isn’t going to work.”

Source: Cisco Global Workforce Survey, Oct 2020

As a global IT and networking company, Cisco is helping many organizations reimagine and redesign their workforces and workspaces. On the physical office front, Cisco recommends redesigning collaboration spaces to address safety concerns such as touching shared devices and social distancing capacity. For example, digital signage can provide health and safety information, and touchless meetings let employees collaborate safely.

For both the home and office, better and more secure tools and technologies may be required, such as Webex, digital whiteboard technology and digital assistants. The solutions allow organizations to provide employees secure access and collaboration from anywhere, any time.

“Our goal is to help level the playing field and enable a more inclusive future where everyone can participate, regardless of geography, language preference, personality type, or even familiarity with technology,” Leininger says.

And, while technology plays a critical role in the future of work, creating a successful hybrid work model requires a holistic approach.

It’s vital to take the employee experience into account when developing new workplace strategies, yet research from IDC suggests many organizations are not fully considering the needs of employees. IDC’s recent Future of Work survey found that employee experience is near the bottom of the list of business drivers behind work transformation initiatives. “Canadian business leaders need to think more strategically about the employee experience and how it contributes to some of the other drivers, such as customer experience, revenue growth and profit,” Olvet says.

“Turnover rates are rising and access to talent is getting more constrained,” Olvet says. “So, organizations need to ensure their technology strategy is aligned with their people strategy. This will allow them to provide a superior employee experience, while continuing to meet business priorities.”

With the future of work now firmly in view, it’s clear that organizations that don’t get this right will get left behind.

“At the highest level, we think work is no longer where you go, it’s what you do,” Leininger says. “And so, businesses that embrace this change will have an opportunity to build a workforce and workplace that’s better than ever.”


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio and Cisco Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.