Working from home may have been a challenge for organizations at the start of the pandemic. Still, it has driven positive changes in the workplace and fundamentally challenged cultural norms around how and where work is accomplished.

To better understand the evolving expectations of employers and workplaces in a post-pandemic environment, Cisco surveyed more than 14,000 office-based employees across 14 markets in Asia Pacific and captured the findings in a newly launched Workforce of the Future report.

In this article, we share perspectives from four influential thought leaders on the future of work and how organizations in Asia Pacific can leverage technology to support the workforce of the future.

Miyuki Suzuki, President, Cisco Asia Pacific, Japan, and Greater China

The future of work is a hybrid, distributed environment where work and workforces span the office, home, or any location from where employees can connect to the network securely.

Our research reveals that nearly three quarters of employees in Asia Pacific (72 percent) now have a greater appreciation of the benefits and challenges of working from home, and they want to retain many of the positive aspects that have emerged in our new way of working, such as increased autonomy, working in dispersed teams, and more agile decision making.

A fundamental prerequisite to making this succeed is the need for leaders to place increased trust in their employees. Half of those that we surveyed feel leaders trust employees more now to perform their work well, resulting in greater empowerment and a favourable shift in perceptions about the effectiveness of remote work.

And while people everywhere have experienced both shared and unique challenges as a result of working from home (such as managing other family members’ needs or virtual schooling along with their own work), our research showed there have been benefits. Many employees said they have been able to improve their mental and physical well-being in a hybrid work environment, with over 70 percent of respondents having the opportunity to better manage mental health and two thirds incorporating more exercise into their daily routine.

With 88 percent of employees favouring a hybrid blend of office-based and remote work, the challenge moving forward will be in keeping people connected and enabling innovation and collaboration in a way that is safe and secure. Here, leaders can ensure a smooth transition to a hybrid work ecosystem by deploying collaboration tools to empower remote work. It is crucial for leaders to respect the different views and aspirations of employees, enhance internal solutions to support their individual work styles and preferences, and progress towards building a truly inclusive workforce of the future.

Hariharan S, Managing Director, Collaboration, Cisco Asia Pacific, Japan, and Greater China 

While organizations have toyed with the idea of ‘workforce flexibility’ for long, our survey indicates that less than 10 percent of professionals worked full-time, from home, before the pandemic. That changed almost overnight as regulatory measures and municipal precautions made remote work the only choice.

Now, after nearly a year of adjusting to this new normal, 55.36 percent said they’ve adapted to working from home. While returning to the office for a part of the time seems key to collaborating and innovating effectively, most don’t think they’ll return to the office full time. A majority have found several significant advantages to working from home and expect organizations to adopt a hybrid model that not only recognizes work as a thing employees do instead of a place employees go to.

Truth be told, working from home wasn’t easy – 39.61 percent of employees felt they didn’t have the full technology set-up to support the move. It’s why their budgeting priorities for 2021 emphasize the need for their organizations to invest in technology innovation that helps employees become even more productive and effective. Further, employees do need a little help working remotely. About 63 percent expect their employers to revamp their training and development programs to equip them better to work in a hybrid environment.

A key investment priority for 2021, according to employees, is the need to make returning to work safer. As a result, our survey finds that there is an emphasis on bringing technology into the office that will help make it a safer space to avoid spreading Covid-19.

Ultimately, the message is clear. Hybrid work is here to stay, and leaders need to take note. Anyone who wants to keep talent engaged needs to make the right investments and adopt the right technologies and strategies that will deliver on expectations. Those that focus on delighting their staff will, in turn, see staff spend their energy wowing their customers!

Ross Dawson, Futurist and Chairman, Advanced Human Technologies Group

The massive transition in work and society engendered by the COVID-19 crisis has created real challenges, but also incredible opportunities to shift to structures that will serve us far better than the old models. Enabling technologies are at the centre of this transformation, by supporting remote workers in collaborating effectively with their colleagues, facilitating remote medicine and education, efficiently tracing contacts to limit the spread of disease, and providing the platforms for leaders to reinvent work for a new era.

Employees have already experienced the potential of new remote work architectures, which at their best are already helping them to feel healthier and happier. However, they understand that more needs to is to done to build effective workplaces for today and tomorrow.

As highlighted in recent Cisco research, an overwhelming majority of employees believe that their organizations should prioritize investment in collaboration technologies for both home and office as an essential foundation for safer and more productive work environments. Those organizations that push forward on these initiatives while developing the requisite internal skills and culture will inevitably lead their industries.

Dr Magda Chelly, Managing Director, Responsible Cyber

With the current new economic realities, organizations are, as we all have seen, obliged to adjust to a different set-up and to work from home policies. Companies need to take advantage of technology and digitalization, whether or not it was on their agenda.

My experience in Asia shows that the introduction of technologies represents a real challenge for organizations, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This is true in this region. With the pandemic, this situation is no longer sustainable. Employers and employees must adapt to the new norm – a concept that is getting some controversy. So, how would we define the new norm?

In the new norm, there is a critical requirement for flexibility. This flexibility requires businesses to adapt to change quickly, pursuing their activities as usual with no interruptions. This is not possible without technological adoption.

Adopting new technology, however, does not come without challenges and investments in development and training are a critical aspect of digitization. Digital tools increase productivity, improve communication, and increase the company’s competitiveness.

At the same time, digital tools might impact the security and privacy of the employees and the organization. Any new technology adoption must be considered with its emerging cyber risks. It is crucial to ensure that the solutions and tools used are aligned with the company’s security baseline and that the associated vendors can sustain high security standards. Therefore, while the focus on productivity is vital in a changing work environment, security and privacy are to be considered key factors as well.