I consider myself an eternal optimist. In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined a global pandemic, social justice issues, humanitarian crisis and threats of nuclear disaster in the present time.

Yet, here we are, and I still see hope and the silver lining of more quality time with loved ones and new skills and hobbies.  And on a more macro level, the worldwide reduction of carbon emissions that resulted from virtually all of society slowing down and staying at home for an extended period is an unexpected plus.

Today, we are testing the waters and emerging from our self-imposed isolation. We are gradually taking the steps to normalcy, and part of that is getting back on the road and returning to the office. The good news is the data shows that the reduction in commute and traveling for business is still meaningful and we are still generating less emissions and smog.

What is exceedingly interesting to me is how our experiences during the pandemic have strengthened our desire and need to be more sustainable. We are purchasing more organic products than ever. We are more mindful about energy consumption. And, at the company level, major corporations like Cisco are rethinking real estate strategy and facilities management in favor of more sustainable practices as part of the journey to Net-Zero by 2024.

But will it last? That’s the question for the ages as we accelerate our shift from mostly remote work to truly hybrid work.

Steps to make hybrid work more sustainable

Survey: Percent of people working at home in 2020
% of people working at home in 2020
Behavioural & Social Sciences (July 2021)

The optimist and fervent believer in sustainability in me says the answer is a resounding YES. I believe that our experiences over the last three years have reshaped many of our preconceived notions about many things. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is our understanding that work is no longer a place to go, but something we do.  While more of us are venturing out-and-about to dine and for entertainment, we are still not returning to the office en masse, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, I enjoy the return to office, at least part of the time. It is inevitable that progressive companies will likely not impose policies to mandate employees to return to the office. Indeed, according to Bloomberg, the percentage of workers who said they’d consider quitting rather than go back to the office full-time, climbed above 50 percent recently.  It’s no wonder that the vast majority of companies report that hybrid work will be the model going forward.

This is reflective of my view that hybrid work is a revolution, not an evolution. Now is the time to consider bold measures that challenge and even overturn conventional thinking and methods. The intersection of hybrid work and sustainability is a great opportunity. With that in mind, here are some simple steps that we as workers and our companies can take to make our hybrid work experience a more sustainable one.

1. Embrace technologyPurple flower with water droplets

We should continue to embrace technologies such as secure, high-performance collaboration as platforms for change and good, creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment for both in-office and remote workers. I covered these concepts in my first blog about how successful hybrid work required a more unified and, ultimately, more sustainable work experience – no matter where the worker is.

2. Make it comfortable

Let’s continue to invest in must-have tools that enhance the everyday work life toward a more unified hybrid work experience. Even better, I predict that more companies will take the extra step to provide hybrid work toolkits for all employees, much like how companies furnished employees with company-managed mobile phones as a common perk.

3. Work with purpose

Because hybrid work is about what we do and not a place we go, we all should be more strategic about when and why we go into the office. This will lead to more flexible work environments as well as helping us to be more sustainable. I covered this topic in my last blog that examined some specific scenarios when the in-office experience was superior to remote work and how we could maximize the in-office experience when we’re there.

My personal journey toward a more sustainable future

With my passion for Technology for Good and unwavering belief that doing good is good business, I couldn’t be more thrilled to lead Cisco’s newly formed Engineering Sustainability Office. This group’s mission is to drive a portfolio of technology and solutions that helps Cisco and our customers achieve a net zero future. Without a doubt, I am excited to work with every function of the business to develop and create integrated capabilities that will serve as a foundation to incubate and scale sustainability – for Cisco, for our customers, and for our partners. Working together, we will lead the charge to reach Net Zero by 2040 and to power an inclusive world for all. Our future depends on it.

I’ll have more updates in future blogs about all the great progress we’ve made. Stay tuned!

Wind turbine lot at sunset



Denise Lee

Vice President

Engineering Sustainability Office