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Unified Communications: Powering the workplace of the future, today

Published: March 17th, 2016 By: Dave Webb

It was not so long ago that you could understand the hierarchy of a corporation simply by studying the floor plan of the main office: New hires were in the central cube farm, the successful veteran sales guys had offices on the edge with windows, and the senior team could be found in the corner offices.


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The CEO still may figuratively still occupy a corner office, but with advances in unified communications (UC) the boss can be at the airport on a conference call using his tablet, the sales team can be submitting their month-end reports on their cellphones from the back of a trade show hall and the new hire – well he may not in head office at all. With UC, he’s not tethered to a desktop, so he may be working at the company’s branch operation across town where a rush order requires additional manpower.

It may not be good for the water cooler gossip that tracks the office’s rising and falling stars, but UC is driving efficiency, boosting productivity, promoting collegiality and when deployed correctly, developing more satisfied employees.

Cisco Systems Inc. understands this. The company’s new Canadian headquarters serves as a model for the way UC is reshaping the office and channeling the energies of new younger hyper-connected employees to solve problems and meet challenges.

David Heather is the director of human resources for Cisco Canada. His typical day is fueled by UC and runs something like this:

  • He drops his two young children off at day care.
  • Returns home to videoconference with colleagues in Europe.
  • Takes the train from his home in Oakville to Cisco Canada’s Toronto office, working on a mobile device with a secure connection to the company network.
  • Meets with his team in one of the many collaborative spaces with whiteboards and other brainstorming tools.
  • Books a private office to crystallize his thoughts before teleconferencing with his manager in California when that office opens.
  • Cleans up any other work for the day on the train back to Oakville.

“My day has been seamless,” he says. Regardless of the venue, he’s been able to be productive.

Employee benefits are business benefits

The flexibility found in the Toronto HQ is washing over the Cisco workplace worldwide. Cisco regularly surveys employees about their workplace satisfaction and recent findings underscore the value employees place on flexibility:

  • 52 per cent of employees work in a different location from their manager.
  • 50 per cent collaborate with colleagues in a different time zone.
  • 89 per cent of employees telecommute at least once a week.
  • 74 per cent say this flexibility improves the timeliness of their work, while 67 per cent say it improves the quality.
  • 83 per cent say Cisco is a great place to work; 73 per cent say they’d turn down a competitive offer to stay with the company.

The bottom line

With a work-anytime-anywhere culture enabled by UC, many companies are able to shrink the physical footprint of their operations and reinvest the money they might previously have spent on expensive real estate costs to accommodate every staffer. Cisco manages to shave its real estate costs by “hot-desking.”

“Our employees do not have to be beholden to a desktop PC,” Heather says. Like most enterprises with a mobile workforce, Cisco never requires its entire staff to be at its headquarters at once. He says the company cuts its Toronto real estate costs by providing between 350 and 400 seats for a staff that is double that number.

UC and three elements that define the evolution of the workplace

Culture: Bums in seats is not a measure of productivity. Enlightened companies understand that if you give people the tools to connect around a common purpose or need, they’ll be productive wherever they are. It’s a mater of trust backstopped by solid results.  

Office space: Flexibility is key. With collaboration rooms and bookable private office space replacing fixed offices with hardwired computers, organization can maximize the advantages of a mobile workforce by minimizing their space requirements. It’s not necessary to have reserved space for employees who often aren’t in the office.

Technology: The next generation of employees will be looking for technology that works with the same level of ease they already experience outside the office. In the same way they post, tweet and Skype socially, they will expect to collaborate at work. They will look for Web 2.0 technologies to extend their reach to each other, to customers and to partners.

Making it possible for the right people to connect at the right time is the raison d’etre of UC. When a company can bring together rich content with collaborative conversation, solutions emerge that can drive business results.

But it doesn’t hang together without the right technological infrastructure. The ability to use any workstation by plugging in your IP phone without have to get the tech department to do a MAC (move, add or change); having a single number where you can be reached, whether you’re at a desk phone, on your mobile, or working from home; seamless access to the corporate network; these are table stakes in the world of the new workplace.

“Unified communications is the fabric that meshes this together,” says Heather.