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Goodbye to cubicles, hello to the Cisco Connected Workplace

December 15, 2006

Organizations face the continuing challenge of trying to maximize efficiency while figuring out new and creative ways to reduce operational costs. A few years ago, Cisco launched its Connected Workplace environment, basing the design on the needs of a more mobile work force. News@Cisco talked with Mark Golan, former Vice President of Worldwide Real Estate and Workplace Resources (WPR) and current Vice President of Connected Real Estate within Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group, to find out how the Cisco Connected Workplace has enhanced the work experience - and cut costs.

What is the Cisco Connected Workplace?

Mark Golan: The Connected Workplace is a way of thinking. It describes work environments that take advantage of recent technologies to better align with the current needs of the workforce. In many cases, this results in a flexible environment that focuses on collaborative space with little assigned seating. Employees are given a broad choice of work spaces and the technology to do their jobs. They choose where they work, based on the requirements of the tasks on which they are working.

The Connected Workplace is primarily a wireless environment, using Cisco wireless and Cisco IP Communications technologies. It also has wired jacks for high-speed communications needs, such as PC backups and video streaming, and technology for audio- and video-conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, and voicemail.

What was the catalyst for launching the Cisco Connected Workplace?

Mark Golan: It was the realization that the work environment wasn't well-tailored to the changing needs of our people. Like most companies, Cisco originally designed its office space under the traditional assumption that employees needed assigned work spaces during regular work hours - with their own desks, PCs, and phones. Rows of cubicles and offices always worked well for heads-down, solitary work.

But the nature of work changed from being predominantly individual to predominantly collaborative. At the same time, the tools of the work environment went from being static and physical to mobile and virtual, which made the value of the office and cube largely obsolete. This shows up in our utilization rates, which run only 40% in a traditional environment, and that is unacceptable, because the work environment is Cisco's largest long-term asset.

Who was involved in designing the environment?

Mark Golan: The Workplace Effectiveness team within Cisco Workplace Resources (WPR) has led the effort with major contributions from other members of the WPR team. We have also worked closely with IT and elements of HR. In designing the environments, the team conducted focus groups, employee interviews, and surveys, while observing utilization. It was important to get employees involved to better understand their needs.

Working with design companies, we started thinking in a modular way about the different types of work that had to be enabled. This allowed us to mix different modules in different ratios, depending on the group being enabled. We did our first proof of concept for general and administrative employees in Building 14 on our headquarters campus in San Jose. This proof of concept was tested and we incorporated the feedback in subsequent deployments. We need to repeat this process for each type of basic environment we wish to design.

What has been the response from employees?

Mark Golan: The employee response has been positive. They like the open design, with more access to windows and light - plus the social interaction that the workplace allows. All of the furniture is ergonomic and adjustable, so it provides for more flexibility. This gives employees more empowerment to change their environment as needed.

It requires a different way of thinking about your work environment that is more analogous to how you view your home. Your home is a multi-functional environment in which you and your family move around, depending on your activity. Sometimes you're together, sometimes you're in sub-groups, and sometimes you are alone. If you view the people with whom you work as your "family," then the work environment we are creating is similar to your home. It's a multi-functional area in which you move around, as appropriate, while you do different types of work with different members of your work "family." Your "office" is the entire environment, not just an individual office or cube.

One of the changes employees have noticed is in paper usage. Paper is an enemy of mobility and our employees are naturally finding ways of eliminating it. Because your work space needs to be clear at the end of the day, people are faced with the option of filing paper, carrying it with them, or throwing it away. Given these alternatives, people tend to throw the paper away because they can access soft copies of documents. And if they are just going to throw it out, people start to question why they are printing a document in the first place. This leads to behaviors that eliminate paper - conducting meetings solely with projectors or collaborative software, such as Cisco MeetingPlace. Not only does this reduce paper consumption, but information is usually easier to find when digitally stored- instead of searching through paper files.

Was it difficult to get corporate approval to make the changes?

Mark Golan: The company understood we needed to explore this because of the obvious potential to lower cost and improve productivity. With physical space limited in many locations, including San Jose, the Connected Workplace offers the opportunity to house our growth within our existing facilities - which is an attractive option to more costly alternatives. This is helping to drive efforts to deploy these environments in greater scale. Because of the impact on culture and productivity, however, the speed of deployment needs to be handled prudently.

What kind of benefits can be gained by a Connected Workplace?

Mark Golan: The objectives of Workplace Effectiveness have always been simple: improve productivity, lower cost, and improve employee satisfaction. At Cisco, the Connected Workplace has allowed us to use our space more efficiently, and has decreased the cost of real estate. The utilization rates of our assets are up significantly. In Building 14, for example, our utilization rate almost doubled, although overall, we expect the improvement to be closer to 25% across all types of environments. Workplace resources represent the largest operating expenses in most companies after salaries, so this translates to substantial cost savings.

More important, the Connected Workplace also improves the employee experience, and with it, productivity and satisfaction. Our surveys have shown a significant improvement in employee satisfaction compared to the traditional office/cube layout. It drives our corporate culture and enhances our brand through the image it portrays. All these things make a profound impact for companies that adopt these concepts.

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