Categories: Hybrid Work

How Cisco redesigned our New York office for the hybrid work era

The office isn’t obsolete, but it’s definitely evolving. The rise of hybrid work is challenging every assumption that has driven workplace design for a generation. The days of one-size-fits-all, five-days-a-week buildings are over. To be a meaningful part of a company’s hybrid work ecosystem, the office has to look much different.

At Cisco, we’re evolving our real estate strategy to meet the needs of a more hybrid workforce. Our New York City office is the first office we’ve redesigned post-pandemic, and our model for real estate moving forward. In this blog, we’ll pull back the curtain to show you what changes we made and why.

What do employees really want from the office?

While some people prefer to work fully remotely, research shows that 95% of employees want to return to the office at least part of the time , with the top reasons being team building, collaboration, and connection with peers. Most favor some form of hybrid work, with 86% wanting to work from the office at least once a month.

“There is no one-size-fits-all. To best play to our employees’ strengths, we have to be flexible, adaptable, and open to what works best for each individual and team,” said Francine Katsoudas, Cisco’s EVP and Chief People, Policy, & Purpose Officer in her blog post announcing our hybrid work plans.

As a result, Cisco’s approach to hybrid work is to empower teams to determine what blend of remote and in-office works for them. For a few, it’s five days a week in the office, for others it might be two days, and for some it may be whenever the team members feel it’s appropriate to come in. Providing this level of flexibility and choice has a significant upside for both employees and the company, but it also requires us to rethink the role of real estate. There were two things we knew to be true:

  1. For many of our employees, focused work will be done remotely, and our workplaces were going to be destinations for collaboration, learning, and socializing.
  2. In order to get people to return to the office, we needed to offer amazing experiences in the workplace that people can’t get at home.

How could we turn our New York office into a hub for rich, meaningful collaboration, not only for employees in the office, but for those working remotely as well?

The view from Cisco’s New York office at the PENN1 building in Manhattan.

Building the ultimate space for hybrid work

Located in the PENN1 building at the heart of Manhattan, our New York office was an ideal spot for a collaboration hub that serves our 1,700 team members in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut). We wanted to make sure the redesigned space provided them a great environment for hybrid work and collaboration, offered frictionless experiences, and prioritized employee health and well-being.

Goal #1: Transform the office into an optimal hybrid work environment, emphasizing collaboration.

The massive shift to remote work in 2020 confirmed what many of us already knew—people don’t need to commute just to compute.

The office is no longer the default place where people come for heads-down, individual work. It should absolutely still have space for that, but its primary focus should be collaboration, connection, and learning. The traditional office approach won’t cut it: 97% of people cited changes that need to be made to improve hybrid teamwork.

Designing a space ideal for this hybrid work reality, a space that facilitated collaboration and connection with coworkers, customers, and partners was a main priority for us in our PENN1 office.

Goal #2: Prioritize frictionless experiences, powering inclusivity and productivity.

With the increased emphasis on hybrid work and collaboration, we wanted the office to be as flexible and frictionless as possible.

We knew that employees would be highly mobile in the office, using four to six spaces per day on average.

With all that movement, we needed to provide seamless experiences, especially regarding how people navigate the office and find available spaces.

Our vision for fluid movement between hot desks and collaboration rooms wouldn’t work if the process of finding and booking them was clunky and time-consuming.

Guide: Best Practices for Returning to the Office

Get tips for turning your office into the ideal collaboration hub, prioritizing productivity and well-being.

Goal #3: Focus on employee health and wellness.

Ensuring employee health and well-being was also critical. The office needed to be a place they felt comfortable, a place that was safe and pleasant to be.

We wanted employees to be able to easily access information on the environmental health of a particular space. And we wanted to empower our facilities team to easily manage and optimize the environment, adjusting in real time as needed.

Goal #4: Digitize our real estate portfolio, creating an efficient, delightful, and sustainable workplace.

Today, buildings can be so much more than just concrete and metal. They’re part of the digital fabric that connects everything we do.

In our PENN1 office, we sought to fully digitize the space, tapping into the promise of the connected, intelligent workplace. Doing so has deepened our understanding of how the office is used so we can make smarter, more efficient choices. It also elevates how we manage the space and how people interact within it, allowing us to create delightful experiences for employees.

The new office: a hub for hybrid collaboration

With these four goals in mind, here’s a quick overview of how we transformed the space.

The trends behind the hybrid work evolution

The choices we made to evolve our space weren’t just an over-enthusiastic hop onto the hybrid work bandwagon. We had clear goals and data behind each of the shifts.

Read on for a deeper dive into the goals we previewed above and the changes we made as a result.

#1: Transform the office into an optimal hybrid work environment, emphasizing collaboration.

Many of the changes tied back to our goal of transforming the office into an optimal hybrid work environment, emphasizing collaboration.

For example, we rebalanced the ratio of individual workspaces to collaboration spaces, because we knew that people now more likely come the office to collaborate, rather than mainly focusing on individual work. Of the available square footage, 70% is now dedicated to collaboration spaces and only 30% to individual work, whereas before it was just the opposite. We also chose to build 20% of our collaboration areas in open spaces to facilitate impromptu collaboration.

Additionally, even before the pandemic, we saw a dramatic increase in demand for smaller collaboration spaces—a trend that we believe will be even more pronounced in the hybrid world, with most meetings including both in-person and virtual participants. In response to this increased demand, all the 70+ new collaboration spaces that we added to our PENN1 office accommodate five people or less. We still have larger spaces for bigger gatherings as well, including training and event spaces.

Two colleagues video conference from one of the smaller collaboration spaces in the PENN1 office.

To ensure seamless communication between remote and in-person participants, we also made 100% of the collaboration spaces video enabled.

“All of the larger huddle rooms that fit two people are great for impromptu conversations, meetings, and brainstorms—and the screens in each allow for folks not on-site to easily be a part of the conversation,” said Executive Communications Manager Christine Marron, who works from PENN1 two days a week.

Gabby Khoury, an Account Manager who comes into the office a couple times a week, also expressed appreciation for the collaboration spaces.

“I absolutely love the collaborative spaces that we have built in PENN1,” she said. “I especially like the Hudson Yards area, where there are long tables in one open space. I enjoy sitting at these tables with my teammates and collaborating. If we need to dial someone in, we use the Cisco Board in the room and can quickly have the entire team together.”

However, even as we heavily leaned into collaboration, we knew the office still had to be a great place to get focus work done if needed.

Since we now only had 30% of our spaces dedicated to individual workspaces, we knew these had to be as flexible as possible. We did away with assigned seating and pivoted to tech-enabled hot desks. Each one is equipped with a Cisco Desk Hub which lets employees sign in with a tap of their mobile phone, gaining an instantly personalized space.

“What really draws me to come into the office is the easy-to-use hot desks, with the connectivity between the monitor and Cisco Desk Hub,” said Daniel Sullivan, Director of Global Campaigns Audience Strategy, who works from the office two or three times per week. “I’m able to secure a desk, connecting my laptop with one cord that powers and mirrors my screen. The Cisco Desk Hub camera provides a sharp, clear video and enables me to jump in and out of meetings with a click of one button.”

An employee claims a workspace, authenticating at the Cisco Desk Hub with a tap of her mobile phone.

Along with the 50 hot desks, the PENN1 office has an additional 225 “flex seats”, places for employees to do individual, focused work and/or small group collaboration. These include community tables, banquettes, and other surface seats, as well as an abundance of other casual seating options. These new types of work settings allow the office to accommodate twice the volume of employees in half the allocated space, compared to the old office.

#2: Prioritize frictionless experiences, powering inclusivity and productivity.

As mentioned, with the emphasis on collaboration, we knew employees would be moving between an average of four to six workspaces on a given day.

We implemented several changes to make this movement as smooth as possible:

  • Added Cisco Room Navigators outside conference rooms and other spaces so employees could easily find and book an available space.
  • Leveraged proximity pairing and other tech solutions that automatically personalize spaces for employees when they walk in, without them having to take any action.
  • Carefully arranged spaces of various types within the office’s different “neighborhoods” for maximum convenience, limiting the distance employees need to travel to find an appropriate space to work.
  • Adopted global standards for space design, furnishings, tech, and policies to provide consistent experiences, no matter where someone’s working.

“I like the mix of hot desks and huddle rooms,” Marron said. “This allows me to be out and about when I need to be and have a private space for meetings when needed.”

The Cisco Room Navigator indicates that the space is available for use.

#3: Focus on employee health and wellness.

Recent research shows that 97% of people want their company to implement changes to the office to make it safer. Well-being was top of mind as we reimagined the PENN1 space.

We took inspiration from the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) which provides guidelines around lighting, air quality, building temperature, and other factors that contribute to health and well-being.

Our connected office approach gives us the data we need to optimize the space in real time on the dimensions identified by the WELL Building Standard™, maximizing well-being. Through sensors embedded in Cisco devices, Cisco’s wireless access points, and our smart building components, we have more than 5,000 data points that we can analyze and act on.

“A lot of effort has gone into the building automation so power over ethernet allows us to control everything from the devices,” said Snorre Kjesbu, SVP/GM of Collaboration Devices. “We know how many people are in the room, we know the temperature in the room, we know the light in the room. All the metrics we get out of the room are provided through an API that can actually integrate with the building system, it can integrate with the CIO organization, HR, real estate/facilities.”

And it’s not just the facilities team that utilizes this data. Each employee also has access to data like room occupancy and air quality so they can choose the space that’s most comfortable for them.

An employee checks the availability and environmental health of a room before booking it.

As much as possible, we’ve also tried to offer touchless experiences, so employees don’t have to handle shared devices. Team members can use voice commands to tell Webex Assistant—our AI-powered digital assistant—to book a room, turn on the lights, start a video meeting, and a whole host of other useful tasks.

Goal #4: Digitize our real estate portfolio, creating an efficient, delightful, and sustainable workplace.

In addition to monitoring environmental health and making it easier for employees to interact with the space, the sensing capabilities in the technology we’ve deployed in PENN1 allow us to gain amazing insights on how our workplace is performing, and more importantly, how our employees are performing within the workplace.

With a deeper understanding of how people are leveraging the various spaces across the office we’re better able to make smarter decisions when building future work environments. For example, sensors in Cisco devices let us know how many people are in a given room throughout the day. This helps us know whether people rarely use the room or typically use it for smaller gatherings than it was designed for—allowing us to pivot the office layout to avoid this wasted space. We can also aggregate this data by room type and compare which types of spaces are more popular.

In the past, we might have looked at calendar booking data to get visibility into space usage trends. However, calendar data only shows intended, not actual usage. With Control Hub and the Webex Platform, we can now see how people actually interact with the space on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

A connected, more efficient space also helps us make the PENN1 office as sustainable as possible.

“Cisco has a corporate goal of being net zero by 2040, and with that 100% of the lighting, shading, and environmental controls are low voltage and powered by the Cisco network,” said Mark Miller, Director of Business Development at Cisco.

“Deploying the building components on low voltage was actually more cost effective than going with a traditional line voltage approach. It also allowed us to reduce the amount of embodied carbon required in the project and has led to a dramatic reduction in our energy consumption. In addition, by integrating the smart building components with our collaboration devices, we’ve created some amazing experiences for our employees and visitors,” Miller said.

An open collaboration space at the PENN1 office.

An office that’s worth the commute

Whether you’re considering your own office redesign or just exploring a few targeted updates to your workspaces, hopefully our story provided some inspiration about how you can make the office a meaningful part of your hybrid work strategy.

“When you think about a workspace, it should be a place of purpose. If you’re going to earn back the commute, you need to have a place of purpose to go to,” said Paul Chapman, VP of Information Technology at Cisco.

“People don’t come back to do heads-down work. They come to collaborate, learn, and socialize,” Miller said.

Let’s build an office designed to help your team do just that. Let’s give them an office that’s worth the commute.

To learn more about how Cisco can help you transform your office into the ultimate collaboration hub, visit our Return to Office page and take a virtual tour of our hybrid workspaces.

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Published by
Emily Brooks

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