Jun 19 2020

Cisco Live 2020: The Workplace Has Changed Forever

There will be no return to normal, but businesses are getting ready for what comes next.

As the first-ever digital Cisco Live user conference wrapped up this week, three themes emerged.

First, as a company, Cisco is taking seriously its responsibility to be an agent of support for businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Second, businesses’ level of success in transitioning to all-remote environments is proportional to their work in recent years on digital transformation and business resiliency.

Third, and perhaps most important: No one is envisioning a scenario in which work environments ever simply go back to “normal.”

“This is not just a moment in time,” said Todd Nightingale, Cisco’s senior vice president of enterprise networking and cloud. “We’re not going back to the way things were yesterday; we’re preparing for the world ahead. And in doing that, in IT, we don’t have the luxury of moving fast and breaking things. We have to move fast without breaking things.”

Cisco Commits $500 Million to Pandemic Aid

Cisco Live is usually one of the year’s most important tech events, drawing about 40,000 people in person for the better part of a week each June. This year, Cisco reformatted the event to digital-only shortly after shelter-in-place orders began shutting down workplaces in March. The event was then delayed for two weeks in the wake of widespread protests around the country.

Through all of this, the company made efforts to demonstrate its own commitment to supporting its customers and other businesses affected by the pandemic, as well as to social justice. When he announced the postponement of Cisco Live on June 1, CEO Chuck Robbins said the company would donate $5 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other organizations fighting discrimination.

Cisco had previously announced spending $225 million on fighting the effects of the virus. Robbins increased that commitment to $500 million during Cisco Live. In his keynote address, he also said the company had “put $2.5 billion into the marketplace for business resilience,” including a program that allows affected customers to forestall payments until January 2021.

“We know our responsibilities don’t end with technology. It’s now about making the world we envision possible,” Robbins said, declaring a new purpose statement for the company: “To power an inclusive future for all.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: What do IT leaders need to know about networking's new normal?

Business Resiliency Efforts Support Remote Work Demands

It became clear during Cisco Live that the businesses that have been most successful managing sudden disruption this year are those that have worked in years past to build resiliency into their networks and cultures. Athletic apparel maker Under Armour, for example, found that its deployment of Webex Teams early this year helped ease the transition to work from home for its 15,800 mostly office-based employees.

As a result, said Karen Dean, Under Armour’s senior manager of collaboration services, “I think across the board, our executive leadership team would say that we haven’t missed a beat in terms of the work. The work has gone on.”

But how work will proceed after businesses are permitted to reopen remains largely unclear. Organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach to their postpandemic planning. None said it had a firm reopening strategy in place.

Rather, most businesses are imagining a slow return to physical workplaces beginning at some yet-to-be-determined point, and only after they take steps to ensure employee and customer safety. To that end, Cisco announced a set of tools to help businesses monitor workspaces to meet social distancing requirements. Cisco DNA Spaces for Return to Business is a new capability within its indoor location services platform, Cisco DNA Spaces.

For now, Cisco is thinking positively, announcing that next year’s U.S.-based Cisco Live will be held June 6 to 10 in Las Vegas.

To keep up with our coverage of Cisco Live 2020, bookmark this page, follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine or the official conference Twitter account, @CiscoLive, and join the conversation using hashtag #CLUS.

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