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How Not Where Is What Matters Most in a Collaborative Work Environment

February 27, 2013 - 18 Comments

There’s been a lot of buzz in the news and social media this week about working in the office vs. working remotely.  While each company has to make decisions that are most appropriate for their own organization, Cisco has a very clear point of view on how and where employees can work – we support employees who work remotely or in the office. Central to this philosophy is our own technology which enables our global team to connect, communicate, collaborate and learn from wherever we are around the world – be it Japan, India, France, Canada and almost 200 other countries. 


We are a diverse organization with 72,360 employees. Our success depends on our ability to collaborate effectively from different locations – including from a home office. That isn’t to say that employees aren’t expected to be productive. We have strict rules that drive accountability, output and results. Results are what we focus on – not where you elect to work. And using our technology, employees have the option to work from wherever they are – at the airport, on an airplane, at your kids’ soccer games, at the office or from home. This is largely a result of combining mobile, social and video capabilities.

Here are some interesting statistics about the global Cisco workforce:

  • 89% telecommute at least once a week
  • 32% are classified as mobile workers, though 43% work that way
  • 6% work in a fully remote manner
  • 41% of employees work outside the U.S.
  • 38% work in a different location than their manager
  • 47% collaborate with colleagues in different time zones
  • 25% are workstation anchored

With more of the Millennial generation entering the workforce, we expect that the number of fully remote workers will rise over time. And consider that four generations are in the workforce today. With that level of diversity, you have to be able to allow for some flexibility and choice – again, how you work becomes more important than where you work. At Cisco, we see this as a distinct competitive advantage.

How do we measure productivity? Here are some compelling facts:

  • Incremental productivity is gained by aligning employee work preferences. An average of 79 hours per employee is saved each year in commute avoidance, with 5.5 million hours a year across Cisco.
  • Incremental productivity is achieved by using collaboration technology to avoid travel time while at work (that is, moving between buildings on Cisco’s campuses). This results in 4.5 million hours a year, and 65 hours a year per employee.
  • Mobile and remote workers also have higher performance ratings – higher than traditional workers.

As noted above, Cisco offers a strong portfolio of products that enable collaboration and communication as well as a flexible work environment. Cisco Virtual Office is our product solution for full-time remote workers. We offer Cisco AnyConnect VPN which grants us access to the Cisco network from any global location to our laptops, smart phones and tablets. Our BYOD policy allows employees to choose their own smartphone and/or tablet and connect to the Cisco network, using the Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE).

WebEx Conferencing, WebEx Social, Jabber, TelePresence and Virtual Events all enable us to connect and communicate easily and effectively.  We provide all forms of pervasive video, including immersive TelePresence and high definition video within WebEx and TelePresence.

In addition we have perfected the virtual event experience. All major company meetings are held virtually, with as many as 19,000 employees connected at one time in as many as 88 international locations, offering streamed moderated Q&A and chat with colleagues around the world. What’s more, in the very near future, we’ll offer employees the ability to join virtual meetings from their mobile devices – including the same streamed experience (chat and Q&A).

Can remote workers innovate? We think the answer is “yes.”  Consider this example involving the use of our collaboration platform, WebEx Social. One of our engineers who worked remotely in Australia had an idea for a new business. Using Cisco’s collaborative tools and processes he was able to connect to the right people and resources within the company to test his idea and then develop it – and fairly rapidly. The result was the genesis of a significant new business. So, WebEx Social enabled one remote worker to deliver growth, speed product time to market and identify innovation.

And our customers agree: Virgin Media, the UK’s leading entertainment and digital communications company, recently deployed Cisco’s WebEx Social, Cisco WebEx® and Cisco Unified Communications to its people. The solutions are being rolled out as part of Virgin Media’s Flexible Working Initiative and are enabling thousands of employees to collaborate and work remotely with video calls and shared documents, all easily accessible via PCs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

Cisco believes a blended working environment is optimal for a number of reasons. The virtual experience is unlikely to replace the value of true in-person collaboration and fostering relationships with colleagues. Certain types of work will require direct in-person communication from time to time.

But work styles have evolved. By 2015, it’s been estimated that there will be 1.3 billion mobile workers across the globe. We at Cisco believe our technology will help enable this vision – to connect, communicate, collaborate and learn, regardless of where you are.

Happy Collaborating!





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  1. According to the data predicting, 2009-2020 urban rail transit will invest 3.3 trillion, with an annual average of 270 billion yuan,

  2. The view from the UK (source

    3.7 million people or 12.8% of the workforce now work mainly from home (UK Labour Force Survey 2010)
    275 of the workforce now work part time
    41% of ALL businesses are home based
    60% of business start up from home
    3 out of every 5 new jobs created are ‘atypical’ in some way, i.e. not fixed hours, full time permanent jobs

    The average UK worker commutes for just under an hour per day – equivalent to 4 years over a working life
    The average full time employee is absent for 8 days per year rising to 10 days in the public sector
    There are some 10 million office workers in the UK occupying 110 million square metres of office space….with average occupancy levels of around 45%

    The average cost of commuting 1-1.5 hours into work is £10,000 (after tax) just to get to a desk. Why do we keep doing this?

    Peter Drucker said recently before he died (RIP). “New ways of working with people at arm’s length will increasingly become the central managerial issue of employing organisations, and not just of businesses.”

    Virgin Media is simply betting more on the future (of work) than it did on the past. Some people say the ROI of social collaboration is that you get to exist in 5 years time – it could be that important to certain organisations.

  3. I am so pleased to see this post and to be part of a company that focuses on results and flexibility. I’ve been able to stay with Cisco for 7 exceptionally productive years, through many life events, because of the common-sense approach we take to how + where we work. Working any time, anywhere helps us stay connected to our co-workers and the rest of the world. I cherish the fact that I can have hi-def call through JabberTP with my colleagues in Bangalore at 11pm FROM MY HOUSE. I can answer email, stay connected with my team and take a WebEx call from my daughter’s softball practice. I can be with a sick parent in another state and still work, still deliver results. It’s so wonderful to have leaders with great foresight and business sense – thank you!!

  4. Great Blog Post! It’s always great to know we know we have the flexibility to work/collaborate with our colleagues and teams in the office or through the numerous collaborative tools Cisco provides us with.Tomorrow, is Definitely starting here:)

  5. Thank you for this timely post, Sheila. I have grown so much in my career since I started using Cisco technology full-time to collaborate.

    I wrote a post about the benefits of telecommuting, too. It’s mostly about my dog:

  6. Great blog Sheila. Working in a global role with no one from my team or those I partner with in a local office, telecommuting actually makes me way more productive with Cisco technologies. I’m on calls across many time zones, and don’t waste time and energy on the road driving to and from the office, where I would be less productive with distractions that don’t affect my role.

  7. Excellent and much appreciated insights into the value that comes from allowing employees to work remotely, Sheila. I truly believe that were it not possible for me to easily and effectively connect to colleagues, customers and content 24 hours/day, I would not be nearly as productive in my role with Cisco.

  8. My partner was reading in a magazine tips to get on your career. “It is not enough to be productive, try to sit to the right of your boss, that way they will notice your good work more often.” I said: “but what If I sit more than 5000 miles to left of them?” I was really impressed with collaboration tools when I started with Cisco… But I am finding that WebEx social is that missing piece that allows me to advertise myself and show my worth to the organization.

  9. Thank you for this excellent blog. I became a full time telecommuter nine years ago and I have been able to do my job and continusously receive great reviews thanks to all the outstanding technology Cisco provides to the employees. I have never had any problems with being able to complete any of my projects and being a telecommuter, I am able to get so much more done. Can telecommuters be innovative? Absolutely! Only if they are given more opportunities. Alot of managers at Cisco still feel strongly that you have to come to the office to be productive and to be able to collaborate and contribute to creating new ideas. Hopefully the mindset will change soon.

  10. Excellent post, with a very compelling and tangible set of metrics!! I know that Cisco gains many hours of productivity from me due to my ability to avoid a commute, and work with teams around the globe from anywhere. A bit of insomnia doesn’t hurt either, as I simply start working when I can’t sleep 🙂

    Thank you for for aiding in this global transformation which allows me to see my wife and young daughter!!

  11. Fantastic post!!!

  12. Excellent blog. I work remotely every day, based in the UK but working with global teams worldwide. That means I work until 11pm at night, but have the flexibility to be with my family when needed. I couldn’t do this if I had to be onsite. If I was forced to work onsite, I would use £200 of fuel a week to get to work, would spend 15 hours a week in the car, and sure as hell would not stay till 11pm! Thank you for the common sense approach. Our technologies really do enable the ability to collaborate anywhere, anytime. I pity the companies that do not have that capability.

  13. Didn’t even touch on the “Green” aspects of flexible work locations. I save 2 gallons of fuel each day I don’t need to come into the office.

    Multiply that times thousands of employees and you’ve got a huge reduction in carbon footprint (and less traffic on the roads for those who do go into the office).

  14. Great post! Other supporting findings from the 2011 Cisco Connected World technology report –

    – 66% percent of employees place higher value on workplace flexibility than salary
    – 96% desire some degree of work from home
    – 61% of employees globally believe they do not need to be in the office to be productive

  15. Hi Sheila,
    Really happy to read your blog since I know that working virtually can be an excellent option, especially when the company knows how to do it well. And Cisco is a stellar example.

    It seems odd to me that some companies would want to go backwards on a trend that offers all of the extraordinary benefits you mention.

    I worked for years with Cisco remotely and with WebEx and Cisco Virtual Office and Jabber it was so easy and quick to meet up with any of my colleagues whenever it was required.

    Thanks for telling the upside of this important trend!

  16. Great blog Sheila! Thanks. I can speak from first-hand experience…Cisco’s collaboration products used internally and the supportive Cisco culture allow me as an employee to have it all — collaborate, communicate, innovate, learn, develop and live a fully integrated life.