Young woman in white jacket takes selfie in front of laptop in office setting. This post was authored by Briana Passalacqua, a recent marketing specialist intern on our Public Sector Partner Marketing Team.

In a time where meeting coworkers for coffee is replaced with a Webex invite labeled “Coffee Chat” or giving a handshake is replaced with the “End Meeting” button – it can be daunting to grasp how connectivity and community engagement are possible in a hybrid world.

Going into my internship at Cisco, I was told repeatedly that the 12 weeks would fly by, so I was determined to maximize my meetings with new people and utilize my resources while I could. Although casual conversations are more naturally sparked in person, I found beauty in the hybrid work capability of meeting people who weren’t necessarily in my proximity. To ensure I used this asset to its fullest potential, I decided to do what I know best and what led me to this internship: think strategically.

First, I devised a networking tracker and made a chart to record the names of those on my teams, intern cohort, and from surrounding teams at Cisco that had piqued my interest in some way. In this tracker, I included their name, position, department, the time I met them, and a notes section to record highlights from our conversation. In this working document, I made sure to have people from a variety of roles, backgrounds, and sectors represented; and I set a goal for myself to reach out to at least three new contacts each week. It was important that I held this goal with the same priority as my projects because I quickly learned that the connections you make and the knowledge you get from pure conversation are just as important as the technical work throughout the internship.

I found that new hires were most relatable, because they were still navigating the company and their role just as I was. Higher-ups on my team were able to give advice and wisdom on what they had learned from years in a rapidly changing workforce. My team manager was someone who graciously answered all my questions, even when I thought they were silly, and she introduced me to pieces of her role that I could see myself applying my strengths in. And in some meetings, I simply found myself enjoying the presence of others, excited to have a new person to converse with things we were passionate about.

Office setting with black beverage cup and laptop in foreground on table and three presentation screens ahead.With that being said, virtual meetings were not the only way I engaged with the broader Cisco community in a hybrid environment. I was lucky enough to live close to the RTP office, so I excitedly went into the office whenever I could. During a hybrid work era, in-person offices are unique quiet spaces where you can be productive and compartmentalize meetings in a new location. However, finding pockets of conversation and human interaction in unconventional ways made my goal to engage with the Cisco community through interactions with new people possible.

Walking into the office for the first time, it was Marvin at the front desk who greeted me and immediately got to know me. He made me laugh, gave me advice on following my career passions, and even introduced me to a fellow UNC alumnus who was also present in the office that day. By learning so much from my conversation with the first person I met, I knew that I would be able to immerse myself in the Cisco community through the spontaneous sparks of conversations with people I encountered. When I routinely occupied myself in the Marketing Home Base at RTP, I met other interns who had very different roles from mine that I learned from. I even got to know people from other departments that introduced me to new sectors in Cisco that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.

Although the pandemic certainly changed how we work, I have realized through this internship the valuable experience you gain from a hybrid environment when you leverage your resources. In all the connections I made, it was evident to me that people enjoy telling their stories if you just ask. I challenge you all to use your hybrid capabilities to meet someone in a different time zone, gain the courage to message higher-ups on your team, and meet a new face in a weekly meeting or a spontaneous conversation.

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