The office only ever existed because it contained the materials and equipment workers needed but didn’t have at home: typewriters, computers, photocopiers and “filing cabinets to store countless kilometres of paper”, as Mark Dixon, Founder and CEO of IWG points out. 

But today, the office is no longer a defined physical space – rather, it has become digital, and digital infrastructure will continue to be the foundation for hybrid working going forward. 

According to Cisco research, about 98% of meetings will have at least one remote participant in the hybrid world, which means technology will play a crucial role in ensuring there’s a level playing field in terms of people feeling engaged and being part of the discussion, even if there are many more people present in person. 

There’s an onus on organisations to put in the digital infrastructure to help employees securely communicate and collaborate from home – and that’s going to have to be a little more thought out than just a webcam on a laptop. 

1. Immersive video 

At Cisco, we’re very focused on giving dedicated video endpoints that provide much more immersive involvement for employees, irrespective of where they are, because we want to have a uniform experience. 

If we have nice video devices that give us an amazing experience when we’re in the office, we should have that at home as well. 

2. End-to-end wireless 

The physical layout of offices will have to change in terms of how many physical desks we need compared with more open, collaborative spaces or meeting rooms. And that means ensuring the kind of digital fabric in offices that allows people to be more mobile. 

Wireless technology can help facilities teams to understand where people are in an age of trying to manage density in space – you can get real-time insights into numbers and movement patterns. 

3. Voice-activated conferencing 

We’re also moving into an era where quite a lot of things are touchless. Our homes have already become voice-activated through devices such as Alexa and Google Home, but now we can make our offices voice-activated in many ways too. 

In our video-conferencing solution, WebEx, we’ve got an assistant that actually allows us to do that. I can walk into one of our meeting rooms and tell WebEx to start my meeting. 

It will already know who I am, through our proximity technology, and will get all the other colleagues online. 

When the meeting is finished, the camera has already checked how many people were in the room and whether it needs to be cleaned or sanitised, so it can then automatically get the real estate team to come in and do a clean sweep. 

Putting in more automation like this simplifies the work experience for the teams that have to operate in these environments. 

4. Secure systems 

Trust is vital, and employees need to be reassured that the technology they’re being given is security driven. In amongst all of the goodwill shown during the pandemic, the bad actors continued to flourish. 

In the future, work is going to be distributed between the office, home and elsewhere, so we have to make sure that security is absolutely embedded in everything that we do, whether that’s at the endpoints, in the physical infrastructure, in the cloud, in your private data centre or anywhere in between. 

We weave security into everything that we do now, as a company, and we have done for many years, based on our zero-trust architecture. We also have to constantly make sure we’re educating employees about what I call digital hygiene. 

That includes regularly testing the organisation. Our own internal cybersecurity team sends fake emails to staff, which genuinely look as if they’re from our CEO. It’s not necessarily to catch people out, more to get everybody trained in terms of trying to look out for things. 

“Ultimately, the right technology in a hybrid world means delivering employees with as rich a set of collaboration tools as possible, ones that don’t exclude people on the basis of their physical location, and ones that can be trusted 100%”, says Joanne Bushell MD of IWG, South Africa.

By Chintan Patel, Cisco’s Chief Technologist