One of the biggest perks of working from home, besides the flexible hours and ability to wear sweatpants all the time, is the lack of a commute. But as businesses urge workers to return to the office, they are now tasked with giving their employees incentives to get back in the car and commute to the office. This is a big lift right now.
Here are a few ways we are seeing our clients give employees a return on their commute (in addition to what Cisco is doing in the article below):
–Building out different types of spaces in their office (heads-down workspace, casual interaction space, quiet small meeting space, fun, and interactive space), allowing people the option to use what they need throughout the day.
–Using technology to make the different spaces easier to use (space check-in, sensors to tell how much each space is being used, etc.)
–Offering creative meal services, from special activities from a chef for lunch to donuts in the morning, and special talks from interesting people.
Right now, we are seeing something new weekly as leadership tries to figure out how to get more time with their team. What works best? The jury is still out on that. Stay tuned as we monitor if these ideas work in the real world.
I am always happy to talk office space. Feel free to give me a call.
Apr 19, 2023
Cisco Systems’ new experiential office and customer showroom space in the Coda building in Midtown Atlanta. Photo courtesy Cisco.
PHOTO COURTESY CISCO.
Forbes toured the tech giant’s new Atlanta workspace-meets-product showroom, speaking with CEO Chuck Robbins about the role of offices amid hybrid work. Below are five takeaways about design, the value of data and cities’ place in the future of work.For years, Cisco Systems’ offices in Atlanta were strictly suburban. There was a sprawling 290-acre campus in Lawrenceville, Ga., nearly 30 miles north of downtown, and another office park address in the far northern suburb of Alpharetta.
But last week, the tech giant officially cut the ribbon on a slick new midtown workspace that not only consolidates those former offices, relocating its main Atlanta presence to a thriving tech hub, but doubles as an experiential customer showroom for its tools for hybrid work, such as display screens that automatically update meeting room availability or standing desk set-ups that mirror the tech tools employees have to use at home.
Part product showcase, part employee meeting spot, part recruiting hub, one hope is that the intown spot will be a magnet for employees—rather than forcing a mandated number of days in office, as other companies are requiring. “You’re going to tell somebody to go to the office and get on video and talk to people in another office all day long?” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told Forbes in an interview. “They could do that from home.”
Just as file storage and sharing company Dropbox renamed its offices “studios” and identity management company Okta named its New York space an “Experience Center,” Cisco isn’t calling it an “office,” but branding the Atlanta hub a “customer experience center” or “collaboration center,” depending on the audience. With a similar space in New York and updates planned for cities like Raleigh and Austin, Cisco gains a sleek showroom for touting its hybrid work products and solutions, such as Webex and its Room series video conferencing system for meeting spaces. Some 650 customers toured the New York space in the last year, Robbins says.
Meanwhile, the new space is also located next door to top engineering university Georgia Institute of Technology, in a building that houses collaborations between Georgia Tech researchers and corporations, as well as startups, venture capitalists and co-op students or interns. Students who are hired “go back to Georgia Tech … they go to Morehouse or Spelman or wherever they’re coming from and they say, ‘you’ve got to see this office,’ ” Robbins says.
In an era when many employees still work part-time from home—even amid widespread mandates for returns—the “office” must increasingly do double duty, standing in as more than a set of walls to house people doing work. Cisco Hybrid Work Leader Bob Cicero, during a tour, said only about 10% of its New York-based employees have been using that space at one time (the Atlanta office is too new to know usage rates). “We think about this as a talent collaboration center. You’re not going back to a traditional office,” Cicero says.
Cicero’s tour included stops at a large screen showing a floor plan that’s automatically updated with conference room availability; huddle spaces with digital whiteboards that can be raised or lowered depending on if meetings are seating or standing; and video conferencing systems built into meeting rooms that instantly follow speakers’ voices and point the camera toward them, letting remote-based participants see who’s talking. Here, five takeaways from the tour—and Forbes’ interview with Robbins—on hybrid work, office design and where Robbins really calls home:
Don’t write off cities yet.
As the pandemic untethered employees from daily commutes and a “work from anywhere” ethos grew, many have worried city cores would be hollowed out as workers chose bigger suburban homes over city dwelling. But after years in suburban locations, Cisco is going intown—not only in Atlanta, but in places like Chicago, where it recently moved from suburban Rosemont to the downtown landmark Old Post Office building. “We were in the right geography, but in the wrong neighborhood,” Robbins says. “Younger employees—until we learn otherwise—they generally like these urban areas.”
Think about employees’ ‘return on commute.’
Even before the pandemic, Robbins says, some 15% of Cisco employees already worked remotely full-time. With a culture already accustomed to that, “we’re trying to create a series of events in offices” to get people onsite, he says, such as all-hands meetings or a leadership summit for Black employees. Robbins says his team coined the phrase “what’s your return on commute?”—a worthy question in a congested city like Atlanta. While there are not Cisco-wide mandates for employees to be in office, individual teams set guidelines for days teams are expected to work onsite together, Robbins says. “Seventy-plus percent of our first-line managers have at least one remote employee already,” he says. “It’s not as black and white or as cut and dry” as other companies. “We’re trying to be a little more flexible.”
No conference room tables are square or rectangular, says Cisco Hybrid Work Leader Bob Cicero, to help remote meeting participants see all of the people in the room.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CISCO.
Consider the lowly conference table.
Most architectural plans start with the building. And much thought is rarely given to the tables in conference rooms. But in its new spaces, Cicero says, the company started with the technology, and built the rooms around it. That includes the furniture it used—no conference room tables in the new Atlanta space are square or rectangular, he says. Instead, they’re designed with slight angles in order to help each participant’s face be visible on screen to remote workers. “What’s the experience in the room first?” Cicero says. “Then draw the walls around it.”
Deploy data—not desks.
Cisco has systems throughout the space that, using installed sensors and apps on mobile phones, can anonymously track how many people are using different spaces and what occupancy levels are like. That helps plan future spaces, Cicero says: In Atlanta, 90% of the center’s square footage is for meetings, communal gathering or team-based work, and just 10% is reserved for individual work, down from 30% in its New York space. “We used a lot of that data here to influence some of the space designs,” Cicero says. “Things are happening in small groups. It’s five seats or less.”
Robbins also described how that data was put to work. “When we opened New York, we had a higher percentage of individual private rooms there than we do here,” he says. But “when employees were showing up, they weren’t going in private rooms. They were just sitting at tables. They wanted to spend time [with coworkers] and they wanted those interactions.”
Hybrid work isn’t going anywhere—but neither is the pull to an office.
Robbins, who was born in Georgia and calls the north-of-Atlanta town Suwanee home, says he “lives on an airplane.” But he also says offices have a key role—and aren’t going away. Employees are “not going to come five days a week, I don’t think. Some will, but all of them aren’t,” he says. “But you know, get them in three days a week and have them spend time and learn? … We were able to keep the global economy alive with networks and security and collaboration during the pandemic. But to me, it’s always supplemental to human interaction.”
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