It is midday in Milan and it’s Gianpaolo Barozzi’s turn to prepare lunch for the family. After a quick hello and introductions, he dashes off to put the oven on. Is he a good cook? “Sadly not, my wife gets all the ingredients ready, I just put it in the oven.” He admits as he returns and settles down for our interview.
A physicist originally, he joined Cisco Engineering through the Pirelli acquisition, but it was a chance conversation with an HR Manager at Cisco that took Barozzi’s career in an unexpected direction when he was given the chance to take a role in Sales Enablement before moving into Learning & Development and finally to HR (now People and Communities) where he was able to unleash his passion and energy for coaching and developing people to be their best.
“It was an interesting moment for me,” he smiles. “Starting in physics and ending up in People and Communities. I like to say there were two things I never would have imagined when I was a physicist. The second being that I’d marry an engineer! But in the end, I did both. And so, you see, life is mysterious.”
Barozzi’s unique, dual perspectives; the technical and the organisational, give him a fresh lens on the evolving world of work. He doesn’t consider himself a futurist, preferring to look at his work as you would look at the first light of dawn moments before the sun rises; the day has nearly begun – but you’re not there yet. Together with his team, Barozzi wants to understand the small signals that will grow into larger signals and ultimately impact the way people work, the way leaders lead - the way we live.
Science is an essential component to understanding how someone will experience a new way of working. In fact, an evolutionary biologist is supporting Barozzi’s team with insights around how biological networks can respond to external change. What can we learn about how people can work differently together? Or collaborate differently together? As the Great Resignation continues to unfold across the world, Barozzi has his own take on the phenomenon.
“I believe it is more of a great awakening. Who could have foreseen that the entire world, or an entire economy, could shut down overnight, and work from home the next day? People realised that there was a new way to do what they used to do. The old methods and working structures, pioneered by Frederick Taylor in the nineteenth century to improve industrial efficiency, no longer hold true. The pandemic opened people’s eyes to that truth. Work life and home life can blend. We can choose how to manage our days.”
When it comes to returning to the office, Barozzi is clear that from now on organisations need to have a very specific intention for their teams to come in, it needs to be because they’re going to be doing something they cannot do from home.
“We need to ask ourselves; how can we help our employees to be at their best every day? Whether they are working, or not working. And enable them to have this harmony? The companies that will be successful, will be the companies that support this balance.”
Most recently, Barozzi has been leading a pilot programme, ‘Venywhere,’ in collaboration with the Venice Foundation and Ca 'Foscari University. The Venywhere premise centres around the creation of a ‘living laboratory,’ where every aspect of hybrid work is put under the microscope. The team is looking at how people’s expectations of work have changed and ways that people, teams, and organizations can work better together, attract new talent, and connect with the communities they live in.
Barozzi explains, “We are thinking about how we can explore the opportunity for Cisco to go even more into this hybrid world, and how can we create, or propose, a more distributed workspace?”
Venywhere brings together Cisco’s hybrid work ethic and technical innovation into a symbiosis of infrastructure and employee experience. For Barozzi, it’s the combination of the technology, the solution, and the services, that will make the future of hybrid work a reality.
As corporations across the world grapple with reimagining the hybrid workplace, Barozzi sees a unique role for businesses as change agents, redefining the social contract. And within that, to make sure that we do not revert to the old structures built on the factory model all those decades ago. “We need to pioneer a future, and maybe we don't know exactly what it is, but it's going to make us better.” Says Barozzi.
His agile mind whirs, always challenging, always questioning; looking at the status quo and then beyond, to new ways of innovation and evolution around the work/life experience. Barozzi’s love of science shines, and he cites the physicist Enrico Fermi as an early inspiration, and an example of someone who balanced the theoretical with the practical. His second major source of inspiration is art and design. The skill of an artist to translate reality into different forms, delights him.
When he’s not working, Barozzi can be found spending time with his wife and teenage daughters, and with his friends. He travels as often as he can, in the past years he explored Japan and took a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A keen reader (his bookshelves are bursting at the seams), he enjoys learning about new topics that will bring more insight and to his work.
A last question, before time’s up; what would his favourite gelato be, and where would he sit to enjoy it? Without hesitation he answers, “there is actually a very nice gelateria in Milan, so I would go there and choose dark chocolate and orange zest, with crema (if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right) and I would sit on the step of a bridge on the Navigli (the Milanese canals) in the sunshine, people watching.”
And with that, it’s time for Barozzi to take the lasagne out of the oven, before he returns to his many ideas, innovations, and experiments, all of which will change the employee experience and the future of work as we know it.