Lessons from Cisco's New Remote Work Survey

JJ Caffey

July 29, 2020

Having spent the past year laser-focused on the future of work, I have to share Cisco's recent report, "A new perspective on the modern workplace". While it’s gratifying that these findings are so validating to everything we’ve been working on re: isolation and productivity at Order In, what I found most valuable is seeing real data that backs up what we’ve all been observing with COVID-19 and points towards what comes next. 


Since we’re no longer in pure crisis mode on the dramatic transformation work has taken during the pandemic, we have a chance to take a hard look at where we’ve landed and act deliberately to optimize the present-of-work for productivity, satisfaction, and social connectedness. 


Here are some of Cisco’s most important findings and my key takeaways as we build a better workday here at Order In:


1. Managers are noticing a hit to productivity, even though some individuals feel more productive when WFH.

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Data on productivity at home has generally painted a mixed picture. While some individual employees are feeling more productive at home, Cisco’s research shows that the ability to get things done as a team is more vulnerable. Managers, who are taking a broader perspective and evaluating impact on the organizational level or team level, are noticing the bigger impact of productivity loss. 

That means that simply aggregating individuals’ fluctuations in productivity won’t paint the whole picture – the coordination and collaboration between those individuals is crucial, and therefore it’s team leaders who have a better sense of the impact.

2. Cisco notes that "best practices have surfaced, and many say they are here to stay" – but the transformation has barely begun.

Managers are finding a balance between trusting employees and being more flexible with their expectations. 53% of those surveyed reported that they will maintain an emphasis on increasing trust and empowering employees, and 49% have a long-term focus on instilling flexible hours. 

These survey responses indicate an intention of long-term change. Although Cisco concludes that "best practices have surfaced, and they’re here to stay," I believe that we should be viewing this transformation as barely begun. Leaders and individual contributors alike are still facing a great deal of uncertainty on best practices for everything from daily workflow and 1-1 collaboration to broader organizational policy. We need to recognize the opportunity we have for experimentation, and value the leadership that will arise within teams from individuals who don’t have a formal authority. 

 

3. We’ve lost our casual social exchanges in the workplace. Can new, virtual efforts replace them?

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While some managers aren’t worried about the social side of work, it is evident that informal contact is missing from our new day-to-day work experience. 64% participants surveyed claimed the loss of informal kitchen and water cooler style exchanges is a challenge.  

We’ve seen video conferencing "meetups", interactive quizzes, and competitions arise to remedy this important key to team cohesiveness and overall well-being and mental health. (And I’d urge managers who think this isn’t important to reconsider: it’s well established that social isolation hurts productivity and well-being, and loneliness can even kill you.) 

 What the Cisco report is missing, in both its discussion on the virtual events we are turning to as solutions, is the importance of spontaneity and privacy in group settings. Who doesn’t miss the ability to share a knowing look with a colleague during a meeting, or have a side conversation at a dinner party? The rise of social startups like Clubhouse reflect our longing for surprise moments and unplanned interactions, but they’re difficult to replicate.

At Order In, we constantly test new virtual social events, and evaluate our success in part by asking ourselves: would that have been better in person? The answer is almost always yes. For the long haul we need to invest in experiences that leverage the strengths of their mediums, rather than those that feel like thin replicas of face-to-face moments we’ve lost. 

4. Organizations are now realizing the larger talent pool they have to recruit worldwide...

...So we need to start figuring out how we can get to know our worldwide colleagues! As discussed above, it’s not as simple as a few zoom happy hours!

Cisco found that 50% of professionals surveyed believe recruitment policies will "probably" or "almost certainly" become more inclusive and expand outside their current geographical locations. Flexible, virtual workplaces offer talented jobseekers a wider range of opportunity, but what the report doesn’t note is the new hurdles that come with that – for example, teams that have never met in person. 

The majority of our Order In team has never met in person; last week was the first time we learned each other’s heights (which led to surprises across the board)! 

That shared moment on our team was a memorable, but minor quirk of remote work. Zooming out, there will be a higher-stakes need to make sure a distant colleague feels like a real human being instead of a theoretical entity behind a screen, as "remote" will gradually transition from teams who used to sit next to each other, to a few new hires across the country, to teams who have never met at all.

5. Employees are struggling with well-being in 76% of workplaces – and managers care.

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The survey showed that "76% of managers felt employees found it hard to maintain their work-life balance, with 73% reporting that it was harder to maintain staff momentum and morale". 

It’s certainly not surprising that we’re seeing a dip in well-being. As we all know, many who have been forced to work from home due to the pandemic weren’t prepared and are stuck using beds or sharing kitchen tables as their work environment, and there has been a wealth of important discussion on mental health during COVID-19. The good news is that we’re seeing managers actively showing concern about their employees' work-life balance, when before this was written off as a luxury.

Leaders need to prioritize employee well-being, work-life balance, and morale. It’s heartening to see clear evidence that managers understand the importance of these priorities. We see this shifting environment as a path to greater impact for those of us like Order In who are actively building solutions.

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All of these findings seem daunting and overwhelming at first glance, but I’m excited about the path ahead of us. Here at Order In, we constantly remind ourselves that we’re creating a more human-centered approach to the workday. We’re excited about the shape that is taking, and that so many are asking the same questions as we are. 

Stay tuned as we gear up for our second public beta, and share some of our own findings. We’re building a better workday, and we hope you join us. 

JJ Caffey // Founder & CEO of Order In

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