I have experienced the power of collaboration at Cisco.

We’ve pioneered hybrid work for over a decade. We enabled companies to keep functioning during a worldwide pandemic shutdown. We pushed the boundaries of global collaboration by connecting team members and customers separated by thousands of miles. We’ve even hosted live concerts to celebrate the cultures of our employees around the world.

Meeting virtually is useful, it’s necessary, and it’s here to stay. With features like whiteboarding, breakouts, and recordings, we’ve come a long way. Yet there is still work to be done to make remote work a sustainable, consistent, and healthy option for our employees. Can virtual meetings ever replicate the close connection we feel when meeting with people in the same room?

Reconnecting in person

At Cisco Live Las Vegas in June, the energy was electric. On the flight home, I reflected on the power of in-person conversation. Those conversations allowed me to tap into my natural curiosity and ask questions, learning the story of each customer and team member with whom I spoke. I fed off the energy in the room during speaker presentations – taking in the excitement from every angle. I felt revitalized.

During a presentation from Kelly Jones, Cisco’s SVP of People and Communities, I started thinking about the human experience we provide through collaboration tools. It became obvious to me that hybrid work builds relationships and strengthens our desire to remain at a company — two crucial ingredients needed to build a world-class IT team.

Specifically, Kelly mentioned that people stay when they can use their strengths every day, and when they are challenged to grow. As we’ve seen over the last few years, it is possible to successfully manage remotely, learning the team’s strengths and challenging each member to grow. Even so, as a leader, I have found that I get to know team members more quickly and completely with a hybrid approach and in-person meetings.

Not long after Kelly’s talk, Edward Green, Head of Commercial from McLaren Racing, shared how his team, which is accustomed to adapting and working from unusual spaces (think: race circuits), has excelled with a hybrid work model. Some members of his team are on the road constantly, but, by keeping the experience consistent across each location — from engineering pop-up offices near the race circuits, in the office, and at home — Edward’s team can quickly pivot and work comfortably and quickly in any environment. As our own Fran Katsoudas has said, work is a thing that you do, not a place that you go.

Creating curiosity around the solution

After a week of listening and interacting with colleagues and customers at Cisco Live, I began crafting a plan to adjust the way I approach hybrid work with my own team.

Typically, virtual meetings have a specific purpose; it’s hard to stray from addressing only the meeting topic when we are all booked back-to-back. Without in person connection, one-on-ones often seem too detached and focused only on the immediate challenges. It is hard to strike the perfect balance between connecting personally and discussing work. As a result, there is less relationship building between myself and my colleagues – making it more difficult for employees to approach me with work challenges.

To remove this disconnect, I will take every opportunity to visit our Collaboration Centers and meet with colleagues, customers, and partners. I have also started brainstorming how to meet as a global team. The way Edward Green described how he taps into the power of Webex inspired me to think about how we can encourage participation even when a meeting isn’t happening — such as recording a Webex meeting so that a team member does not need to attend outside his or her normal work hours.

The answer lies within hybrid

The moment I connected with my team members at Cisco Live, we started forming ideas for future projects and solving challenges. We’ve continued to build on those ideas, and I’m excited about where we can take them.

We’re not alone in striving to make hybrid work sustainable. Each of us has work to do. I hope this blog will serve as a thought-starter, encouraging us to build a solution together, as an industry, one that focuses on the human experience.

Please share your ideas and experiences. I would love to read your comments in the comment section or receive your message on LinkedIn. I’m interested in hearing your ideas about the best ways to connect with team members in this new hybrid world. Which missing ingredients would make remote work a more engaging substitute for in-person meetings?

I can’t wait to start exploring how we can work collaboratively, foster curiosity, and create together. Until we meet again…

Inside Cisco IT Blog