I am ready for the day my grandkids ask me what it was like to live during the year 2020. I will tell them of the many cancellations I experienced, like how I missed my classes, my college graduation, and (maybe most disappointingly) a European vacation with my best friends. Although I will have many cancellations to tell them about, my experience as a new hire in Cisco’s Customer Experience Academy (CXA) won’t be one of them.

I am a new Project Manager in the Customer Experience (CX) Americas region. I entered the CXA, a 12-week training program for new graduates grouped into a project management cohort, in early June. Because we couldn’t physically go out into the world, Cisco brought the world to us. As I mentioned, I was supposed to be on flights all over Europe during the month of May, and Cisco made up for it by taking me around the world in three months without ever leaving my apartment here in Durham, North Carolina.

More than anything, I want people to know that even in a time of adversity, Cisco found a way. Cisco doesn’t settle for less. Virtual learning gave us more, not less. Thanks to the ease of telecommunications, we had the opportunity to attended “Executive Fireside Chats,” which are Q&A sessions with executives like Maria Martinez, head of Cisco’s Customer Experience. Calls like this made our senior leadership available from other countries and states when it could have been very difficult to coordinate travel for an in-person session. Our cohort got answers and advice from the best in the business – an experience that was not lost on us.

The CXA also brought us a communications training called Stand and Deliver where we worked on public speaking as well as a professional presence through a webcam. Conducting this virtually gave us more time with the instructors: 8 days of 90 minutes instead of the 2 days on-site that the previous cohort experienced. We also continued to have follow up calls with this team as they coached us through this bizarre time for communications.

As someone who has always been inspired by global perspective, I was thrilled to venture around the globe via Webex when we couldn’t bring the world to North Carolina. It was exciting to talk to people in Mexico City, India, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and other places throughout the United States. Usually, these people would have come to us, but because they did not, they were coming to us live from their homes in their respective cities. Without Cisco Webex, we could not have had the same face-to-face interaction. It pays to own the best software for virtual communications!

I took advantage of these opportunities by scheduling a one-on-one specifically with a mentor we had from Stockholm to ask her about Cisco Sweden, working with different languages and cultures, and how I could do the same. The convenience of Webex calls perhaps allotted more time for networking than grabbing coffee in person would have.

If all of these video calls are starting to make your own neck and back hurt, we are way ahead of you. Thankfully, each Cisco employee was given a stipend to purchase ergonomic office supplies to make their work from home experience better. I’m happily coming to you live from my standing desk!

Beyond the meetings and perks, virtual training showed me just how far Cisco stretches. Had all of these people been able to see us in North Carolina, the effect may have been lost on me. I may have taken for granted the red eye flights and extra caffeine. It was easy to envy past cohorts, but our solidarity this year was just as valuable. You could argue that this taught us much more about connecting, relationships, and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

I love that working at Cisco is not just working with our physical neighbors, but that the whole world has become our neighborhood. While it is disappointing that my cohort cannot work together in person and are isolated at times, it makes us cherish time together all the more. We have been placed into separate teams at this point, but we are still going to (safely) meet over food or drinks whenever we can. Many of my coworkers moved to the area alone and are living alone without daily work interactions. They have been so creative in connecting and meeting with everyone – it is truly inspiring! We made it work, and I think this group of graduates and new hires is some of the most resilient in the industry.


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Grayson Reese

Project Specialist

Customer Experience (CX)