Office redesigns should focus on enabling hybrid work arrangements, AI: study

Employers are looking to invest in AI-powered collaboration tools to enable hybrid work arrangements, a Cisco study finds

Employees have positive views about returning to the office but expect it to look and feel differently than it did before the pandemic to accommodate hybrid arrangements as well as facilitating new artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, according to a new study by Cisco.

The Cisco Hybrid Work study – which surveyed 14,050 full-time employees and 3,800 employers from around the world in December 2023 and January 2024 – found that 72% of employees have positive feelings about returning to the office. However, only 47% of employees believe their work environments are equipped for the hybrid work era, pointing to a need for office spaces to be redesigned to better support the ways that employees want to work together.

"Right now, I feel like the role of the office has to fundamentally change compared to the way that it used to be," Jeetu Patel, Cisco EVP and general manager of security and collaboration, told FOX Business in an interview. 

"A third of the people that we surveyed had more than 75% of the office space that was still for personal working spaces. And I actually feel like that defeats the purpose because people want to come in not just so they can work in their cubicle. They want to come in so they can engage with each other and collaborate," Patel said.

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Hybrid Work Return to Office

Workers are largely optimistic about returning to the office in hybrid arrangements, but don't think their offices are properly equipped for it. (Amir Hamja/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

The study found that both employers and employees think the leading factors driving a return to the office as part of a hybrid work arrangement are optimizing productivity (61%), preserving workplace culture (60%) and maintaining team communication (56%). 

In terms of the reasons that both employers and employees have positive feelings about returning to the office, the survey found that interacting and socializing with others (74%), collaborating with others (71%), ideating and brainstorming (53%), and developing a sense of belonging (46%) were the leading factors cited by respondents.

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The study also found that employers are making a commitment to investing in AI technologies to help enable the hybrid work era, with 73% of U.S. employers saying they'll invest in AI-powered collaboration software and 68% planning to enhance workspaces with AI tech by 2025. 

While 43% of employees have access to AI technologies, less than half feel proficient in using them – which highlights the need for training workers on AI tools and for businesses to select AI tools that meet the needs of both the organization and individual teams.

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Cisco Jeetu Patel

Cisco's Jeetu Patel told FOX Business that hybrid work arrangements should ensure younger workers have the opportunity to be mentored by more experienced peers. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

Patel said there is something of a mismatch between older and younger workers in terms of the benefits they get from remote or fully in-office work arrangements

He explained that younger workers who want to be mentored may find that their more experienced potential mentors are opting to use the flexibility of remote work arrangements to accommodate other aspects of their life. That's one area he said employers with hybrid offices should take into account as they think through redesigns and policy changes.

"I think what's tricky that we haven't figured out as a society is the early career people need to be mentored by people who have had some experience, and if those people don't show up to the office for the earlier career people, then you've actually lost something in them," he said. 

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Cisco Systems Headquarters Ahead Of Earning Figures

Cisco's study found that employers plan to ramp up spending on AI-powered collaboration tools for offices over the next year. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

Patel went on to say that if the world were to go back to the period right before the COVID pandemic where most workers were in the office most of the time, the benefits of the expansion of economic opportunity around the world through the proliferation of remote work would be diminished.

"I think you've lost something special that happened during this time period, which is you opened up the economy to every demographic in the world and every geography in the world, more importantly, to participate in the global economy. Because now, a person in a village in Bangladesh has the same opportunity to participate in the global economy as someone in the heart of Silicon Valley or New York City," he explained.

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"On the other hand, I do think it's probably not feasible to say we're never going to meet and we're always going to be virtual," Patel added. "And in my mind, the thing that is the X factor that has to change is you have to acknowledge that there's value to meeting in person, but you have to curate those experiences carefully. But then, on the other hand, I think it would be super valuable to say, 'If I am a next generation leader, what does a next generation leader need to look like?'"

"I think a next generation leader who would be successful needs to not require that they've met someone to be able to establish trust in them," he explained. "And if we can make that happen where the speed at which you can establish trust with someone is compressed, and you can do it without meeting someone in person, I think you would unlock so much potential in humanity."