We recently hosted the first of our “Beyond the Network” conversations. The topic: the workplace of the future. As our host, Will Townsend, and two Meraki leaders discussed how businesses and IT teams are adapting to a newly distributed workforce, I was surprised that one of the most popular questions in the Q&A was focused on how to keep remote workers connected, not through their corporate network, but socially.
As the Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Meraki, I lead a distributed team of 75+ employees around the globe. Keeping my team socially engaged is an issue I have also wrestled with over the course of these last five months. Here are some of the lessons I have learned to help keep my team engaged, productive, and social.
There have been many unknowns recently, but one thing that should not be uncertain is the cadence of communication with your team. By providing a schedule of touch points, whether through email or virtual meetings, they know when to expect updates. For us, bi-weekly meetings with agenda items contributed by the whole team have been helpful in keeping everyone up-to-speed on the happenings across the organization. I’ve set up a daily stand-up with my direct reports to replace the many hallway interactions we’d have throughout the day to update each other on need-to-knows.
Use collaboration tools
Nothing will take the place of hallway chats in the office, but by utilizing tools like Webex Teams, there is no end to the amount of conversations that can take place. There’s always opportunities for private 1:1 discussion and the all-team channels can be very productive, but also consider creating spaces where everyone can share their personal interests. Within Meraki Marketing we have spaces for everything, from team members’ latest cooking adventures to daily jokes and our favorite dogs. The social connection remains, and is available to all.
We are all making the best of what may not be the most ideal working conditions. Some of us may be working from our laundry rooms (it’s me, I’m working from my laundry room … on an ironing board no less) or using a stack of books to create a standing desk. While efforts are underway to optimize our home environments, it’s best to create a culture where that’s OK. You can create a space where everyone can laugh at the unexpected fire alarm or meeting cameo by a coworker’s child instead of having it causing frustration.
Make yourself available
As a leader you are most likely pulled in many directions on a given day and may not have the time you want with your team. By setting aside dedicated spots in your calendar, it breaks down the walls and keeps communication flowing. I have established three lunch or coffee breaks each week that are optional for team members to attend. These set times create another opportunity for continued social connection, as our one rule is ‘no work talk allowed.’
Have a little fun
It feels like we have all been working more hours in recent months than normal. But with the hard work, there should also be some play. Many of the teams within our organization have taken virtual cooking classes or participated in coffee tastings for a little break. We have also created work-from-home challenges for the marketing team. Whether it’s a TikTok video or trivia competition, those weekly events have been valuable for team-building.
I look forward to continuing this conversation about the workplace of the future—stay tuned for details on Episode 2 of the “Behind the Network” series. If there’s a specific remote-work challenge we can help you address, please let us know.
In 2001, I started a job as a systems engineer at a small technology startup based in Santa Barbara, CA. It was the first time in my relatively young career that I would be expected to travel regularly, and work—when not traveling—from a small home office in Denver, CO. Little did I know that this would mark the beginning of a 19-year journey that would put me in a position to fully appreciate the differences between remote work and work from home.
As we all know, there are countless benefits to working in a centralized office environment. Over the years, me and many of my ‘work-from-home’ colleagues would regularly drop in at corporate offices to maintain relationships, tap into office culture, and engage in necessary company activities. But the recent global pandemic has vividly illustrated that working from home is not the same thing as remote work.
Yes, it’s a nuance that requires a bit of explanation. As I’ve shared, working from home is something I’ve been doing for 19 years, but it was only recently, in the last three years, that I’ve begun a transition to remote work. My transition started with the personal preference of working on Apple products, and my employer providing security for devices like personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It is this focus on device security from IT leaders that shows the gaps in typical work-from-home situations.
The home is assumed to be a predictable environment that is free from typical issues found in open, shared environments like airports, retail shops, and office environments. Homes often have relatively small numbers of devices attached to wired and wireless networks competing for bandwidth on a consumer-grade, best-effort connection. In fact, home Wi-Fi devices are typically designed for rapid set-up, enabling consumers to easily connect devices and stream content, like Netflix eliminating the complex configuration of device or network security to protect against cyber criminals. What might be most unique about home environments is that it’s typically assumed those devices and content are to be trusted. Evidence? When was the last time you updated your home Wi-Fi password or malware protection application? Enterprises run regular updates—sometimes daily—to security and management policies.
The traditional enterprise office is much more complex, with literally hundreds or thousands of employees, devices, and shared productivity tools (printers, IP phones, etc.) competing for airtime. But what truly makes the two environments different is the IT decision maker’s focus on security, application-level performance, and predictable connectivity.
To give you a sense of what motivates an IT planner’s thinking, consider the following in reference to small- and medium-sized businesses. According to Safety Detectives, over 60% of cyber attacks target small businesses (<1,000 employees), and when they do get attacked, 61% are out of business within six months. How’s that for motivation? Before the global pandemic, <5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home regularly. Arguably, one of the many reasons is because CIOs and IT managers believe they can administer and enforce device and network security policies easier in a traditional office environment.
Conventional wisdom says it is easier to manage one environment of 1,000 employees, their devices, security, and performance needs than it is to manage 1,000 remote work environments. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, cloud IT technologies and the Meraki way of simplifying connectivity, security, device, and application performance management, makes scaling remote work possible for any number of work environments, irrespective of whether employees are in conventional offices or remote locations, even if that happens to be someone’s home.
Browse the Meraki Remote Work web page and you’ll learn why remote work solutions provide greater business application performance, enterprise class security, mobility, device management, and reliable, assured connectivity that is not possible in typical work-from-home environments.