Just a few months ago, when we thought about “remote” work, we focused on attributes like flexibility or productivity. The ability to respond to emails while in the school drop-off or pick-up lanes, to listen to a conference call from the waiting room at the dentist, even to check in from vacation. Technology created “working moments,” allowing us to connect even when we needed to be away from our traditional office space.

Of course, all of this is still true. If we fast forward to today, though, we recognize that thinking in terms of those working moments is no longer enough. In fact, I’d argue that even the idea of “remote” work is a relic of the past—however recent that “past” might be.

We should just call it “work.”

The future of work is now. Over these last weeks and months, when business couldn’t be conducted from a traditional office, the work didn’t stop. Most of us just did our jobs in new, though very familiar, places. Of course, this isn’t true in every industry, but even those who believed their brick and mortar locations were essential to operating found new ways to work. Financial services companies served their customers online or from expanded call centers, staffed by employees who logged in from home. Retail stores expanded their ecommerce platforms, in some cases reaching new customers from unexpected places. Healthcare sites took advantage of telemedicine, a boon especially to patients in traditionally underserved areas.

Similarly, jobs like mine—I’m a chief technology office at a Fortune 100 company—and professional-service-type businesses, like accounting or law firms, discovered they could operate successfully without teams of employees in an office.

The biggest disconnect for employers and employees alike: I’m doing my job from home, but everything I “need”—my applications, files, storage—is at the office. To act quickly, companies responded to this way of thinking by relying solely on the Internet to ensure everyone had what they needed.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the future of work; this is working the “old” way in a new environment. This reliance just on the Internet led to holes in security and made organizations more vulnerable. We saw an explosion of phishing attacks, malware, and ransomware distribution, as well as password spraying to exploit weak passwords, targeting small businesses that lacked proper password policies.

Secure access from anywhere

It’s time for a shift in thinking. Instead of focusing on how a business can arrange for employees to work remotely, let’s talk about working in a way that’s consistent, no matter where an employee is. This is possible by designing a cloud-first architecture where everything we need is accessible from the cloud.

Consider this. An office may have a server to store customer files. To the employee who’ll access that data, the physical location of that server doesn’t really matter. In fact, if you asked, it’s likely they’d have no idea where that server was housed. To the user, everything—whether it’s located on-premise or in the cloud—comes from the network. So, a cloud-first architecture makes everything securely accessible from the cloud, including required on-premises resources, eliminating completely the location dependency. It truly doesn’t matter where one works. You may be in a traditional office, at home, on the road, or in a coffee shop. It’s secure access to everything from everywhere: the future of work.

Instead of focusing on how a business can arrange for employees to work remotely, let’s talk about working in a way that’s consistent, no matter where an employee is.

Maintaining the human connection

When employees think about what they might “need” from a traditional office, their colleagues are likely included on the list. When we work in a traditional office space, we engage with others and connect and collaborate throughout the day. The transition to a new location apart from team members is about more than just how we access the data and resources we need to work. It becomes about how we stay connected to our team, how we continue to collaborate on work.

The future of work is about replicating, as closely as possible, the experience of being in a traditional workspace, eliminating dependency on a single location. It’s about having the ability to securely access everything we need: applications, data, storage (whether on-premise or in the cloud), and our colleagues. This combination is what makes this work of the future possible—and successful.

If you’ve ever changed what you said because of what you saw, you understand why video quality is critical.

There are those who say that a true face-to-face meeting requires seeing one another in person, and I agree that it’s impossible to replicate the feeling a real handshake conveys. However, face to face does not have to mean in person, as long as the technology in the middle offers an equivalent experience.

A caveat: the importance of high-quality video should not be underestimated. But, how much quality? I could spend a lot of time explaining resolutions and frame rates; however, I believe that there is an easier way to think about quality.

If you’ve ever changed what you said because of what you saw, you understand how powerful video communication can be. High-quality video takes a voice conversation to a new level, and no degree of “good enough” can replace the ability to look someone in the eye. If you have a “bird’s eye” view of a “room” of people who you can barely recognize, that’s a gimmick; if you can see the others in your meeting and recognize their response to what you’re saying (and vice versa), then that is communication.

Of course, high-quality video offers the added benefit of collaborating with colleagues or customers from around the globe without the need for travel. This boosts efficiency and productivity, conserving valuable resources and time.

The new future of work = business resiliency

If we learned anything over the past few months, it’s that small businesses need to be as resilient as possible. From a global health crisis to bad weather, being prepared for the unexpected is what can assure your business survives.

With the future of work, there’s no need to invest in a disaster recovery processes and resources because the “worksite” can be anywhere. You can be prepared for anything. In fact, disaster recovery and business resiliency become part of the original design of your business infrastructure instead of an afterthought. (Find out more in “Beyond Survival: A Small Business Resiliency Guide” from Cisco and LinkedIn.)

The future of work is here for any who are ready to embrace it. And the technology that makes it all possible is available now.

Join me on July 16 at 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT) for a #CiscoChat, Adapt, Adopt, Overcome: Stories of Small Business Resiliency to learn more. (You can also bust more “remote” working myths in another #CiscoChat on July 21.)

In the meantime, I’d love to hear where you are in your journey to the future. Please share your feedback in the comments below.


Nick Chrissos

Global CTO for Commercial and Small Segments

World Wide Sales