The numbers are as certain as the comfort of your favorite sweatpants. According to the Hybrid Work Index, 64% of respondents agree that work from anywhere vs. coming into the office makes a difference on whether they stay or leave a job. The scales certainly seemed to tip in favor of flexibility of remote work. And if you’re anything like me, you favor the flexibility of your waistband over the zero-stretch slacks we once wore daily to the office. For employees, flexibility is the hallmark of more satisfying work-life integration.

However, two years into life in a pandemic, I have some reflections and realizations that I’d like to share. Simply put, there is no replacing the power of human connection. When do we ditch the sweatpants? A truly hybrid working model, along with its long-term impacts, are here to stay. Here are some scenarios where I am ready to ditch the sweatpants:

Create, Innovate and Build

The magic of bringing forth a brand new creation – whether it starts with a wall-to-wall whiteboard session or building and developing in a lab – is that creation is at its best done in-person. I’m not a scientist, but I am a huge fan of the science, facts and all the data that shows creativity is often bolstered through physical and spatial presence. Then again, the obvious benefit of being able to read the room and tap into the diversity of thought, talent, and specialty by being present and working together cannot be underestimated.

Onboarding new staff or establishing a new relationship

It’s hard enough to be the newbie to any team in any circumstances. The pandemic has created some unforeseen circumstances such as new hires having never met their colleagues in person. This is also true of simply meeting a new colleague virtually. There is a different level of accountability and connection that happens through a screen than in person. As good as Webex can be for work productivity and collaboration, sometimes there’s just no substitute for an “in real life” experience. In fact, I believe from personal experience that just a simple coffee conversation in-person can equal months of virtual meetings in terms of genuine relationship building.

On-the-job training

People can learn new skills in a variety of ways. Some are better at learning through visual cues. Others say that they learn best audibly. But I believe that there is no replacement for on-the-job training like the type you get in person. This is especially true for jobs that require you to build or create such as software/hardware engineers. Go into any engineering conference room and you’re likely to see a great big whiteboard filled with a maze of diagrams and technical terminology. This ritual is an essential on-the-job training for new engineers who get a lot of critical information transferred this way. Yes, collaboration tools like Webex have whiteboard functionality, which can be super useful. But often it pales in comparison to in-person information exchange and training, especially if you’re newer to the job.

Celebrating meaningful moments

I have had the distinct pleasure of being able to promote many deserving employees to new roles. It’s one of the more awesome things any manager can ever do. Recently, I’ve had the privilege of promoting someone to Vice President, which is an incredible achievement at a company like Cisco. What made this even more special is that I had not seen this employee in person for almost two years. But with such a milestone moment, we made it a point to celebrate it in person. When somebody has worked an entire career to get to such an esteemed position, it deserves to bring the right people together in person and celebrate it as a team.

Of course, some of this is easier said than done. So, it’s even more important to make the effort and then maximize any opportunity to meet in person. Here are some simple guidelines to keep in mind on when to ditch the sweatpants in favor of meeting up in person:

  1. Can the meeting happen safely? What are the vaccination protocols and mask policies for this meeting?
  2. Do you have a productive agenda for this meeting in place and communicated? Are the right people going to be there and do they know their roles?
  3. Is the meeting taking place in an optimum time of day for the attendees? Is it more of an early-morning meeting or is it better over lunch?
  4. Speaking of food, will you offer food and beverages before, during, or after the meeting? Food can be such a great way for people to connect in person.

Ultimately, we are all navigating these new norms. As we stand at the dawn of 2022, now is the time to embrace the blending of the best that remote and in-person have to offer to create something brand new that works uniquely for you. I also urge you to not be afraid to ditch the sweatpants and make real life experiences count!

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Denise Lee

Vice President

Engineering Sustainability Office