I believe with certainty that the future of work is hybrid: Cisco’s Jeetu Patel
Jeetu Patel is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco’s Security and Applications business. He leverages a diverse set of capabilities to lead the strategy and development for the Collaboration, Security, and AppDynamics divisions and owns P&L responsibility for this multibillion-dollar portfolio.
A member of the Executive Leadership Team, Jeetu is helping to redefine Cisco's SaaS business and strategy to further accelerate the company's transformation and growth. His mission is to build world-class, subscription-based products that solve Cisco customers’ biggest problems.
Prior to joining Cisco, Jeetu was the Chief Product Officer (CPO) and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Box, a role he pioneered.
Before joining Box, Jeetu was General Manager and Chief Executive of EMC’s newly acquired Syncplicity business unit, a cloud service for Enterprise File Sync Sharing (EFSS) and collaboration. He currently serves on the boards of HackerRank, a market-leading technical assessment, and remote interview solution for hiring developers, and JLL, an American commercial real estate services company.
Here are the edited excerpts.
Though the global pandemic has brought many technology challenges to businesses, it has also uncovered opportunities. What trends are you seeing in your business at Cisco?
As a technology company, the pandemic has become a catalyst for us to reimagine what we want the future of work to be for the three billion digital workers on the planet. It's unfortunate that today, opportunity is unevenly distributed throughout the world, even though the human potential is not. At Cisco, we are passionate about powering an inclusive future for all – and I believe that technology is THE fundamental element that will help us level the playing field and solve this age-old challenge, no matter a person's geographic location, personality type, or preferred language. We're working every day to create inclusive experiences on technologies like Webex – and we're rapidly innovating to deliver Webex experiences that are 10 times better than in-person interactions. And when workers meet in person, technology must make those experiences 10 times better, too. These experiences are designed with security and simplicity built-in — all while saving time, our most precious resource.
A big trend we see is AI – which underpins much of the next wave of innovation by enabling inclusive features that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. Think about the power of eliminating the need for notetaking in a meeting so that all participants can stay focused and participate in a conversation. Or adding closed captioning, so the hearing impaired are included and able to actively participate in that conversation. Real-time language translations remove language barriers so that all that matters is a person's ability, drive, and ideas. What about other factors like personality type, familiarity with technology, or stress caused by a home-working situation? We have AI-based solutions in Webex today (or coming within the next few months) that make Webex more inclusive and easier to use that removes that barrier and brings us even closer to realizing our vision.
Given the kind of digital transformations organizations are going through, do you think it's time for big tech companies to innovate faster and play a larger role in helping businesses large and small prepare for the road ahead?
The pandemic has provided the opportunity for organizations worldwide to evaluate their digital footprints and accelerate their digital transformation plans from years down to a matter of days/weeks. We have followed a similar path at Webex, massively increasing our feature velocity. Since August 2020, we've delivered well over 100 new features that are designed to make the Webex experience 10 times better than in-person interactions.
As I mentioned earlier, Cisco's purpose is to power an inclusive future for all, which drives our team to build experiences capabilities that advance that purpose.
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How do you think this crisis will change the way we work? Will more of us be remote?
I believe with certainty that the future of work is hybrid. Cisco recently released a global survey that found 58 percent of respondents expect to be working from home eight days a month or more – even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. And 98 percent of future meetings are expected to include at least one remote participant. And Webex currently has 600M participants on Webex a month. We see this as a fair demand signal saying companies are not only surviving but thriving in this way of life and communication.
With AI being a focus and time being our most precious asset, how do you see technology helping people manage time and driving more inclusivity?
Our People Insights feature within Webex is expanding, building on the foundation of connecting people (which currently helps people understand who they work with) to understanding Patterns (the diversity of those connections) and Intensity (the trends of your connections) – essentially enabling people to coach themselves with real data about their own behavior to inform their own decisions and actions. This information is for the individual to use as they choose – not for their manager. The feature is designed to nurture and drive inclusion (versus inspection). For example, individuals can ask themselves as a manager, "am I speaking equally to everyone on my team", or as a team member, "am I speaking more than I am listening"? Individuals can use this information to improve their performance and relationships, which leads to influencing overall team performance. This becomes especially important in a hybrid working model of physically distributed teams.
Amid these fast-tracked tech transformations, the security challenges that organizations face while supporting employees and customers in remote working conditions are humongous. Do you see an increase in spending on cybersecurity solutions?
According to Cisco's Future of Secure Remote Work Report, 66 percent of global IT decision-makers surveyed during the pandemic reported intentions to increase their future cybersecurity investments.
The survey also highlighted steps taken by security professionals at the start of COVID-19 that need to become lasting changes, including increased VPN capacity (59%), increased web controls and acceptable use policy (55%), and implementation of multi-factor authentication (53%)
In this turbulent business environment, leadership requires taking bold steps. How can leaders boost a team's resilience and help them shine in harsh circumstances?
It remains to be seen what happens as people return to the office, but right now, surveys that we have done tell us that most meetings will have at least one person who is going to be joining remotely. With some people in the office and others at home, leaders must make sure that they don't make anyone feel like they're getting second-class treatment. This starts with security and privacy, which we, at Cisco, believe is a basic human right.
In addition, we are doing what we technologically can to make sure that everyone has an equal voice in meetings through one of my favorite features in Webex called Roundtable. It was inspired by the US Supreme Court, where everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice. This essentially ensures that introverts are included and are not penalized in meetings typically dominated by extroverts. There is also an interesting opportunity for culture change – folks that are more junior or in more remote locations that did not typically get the chance to speak or express their opinion in a meeting will now have an equal seat at the table regardless of where the table is.
Do you feel confident in your business post-COVID-19? What are your top priorities moving forward in 2021?
Yes, we feel confident in our business. Cisco is playing a central role in enabling the world to work safely and securely – while also reimagining the future of work.
What's your advice for HR and talent leaders to enable their teams to reimagine their organization's future of work?
I think we need to imagine the possibilities. Now that we have the technology to neutralize geography and language limitations, I welcome the opportunity to hire global talent, paying attention to harnessing potential instead of where the candidate lives. We can offer employees the flexibility and option to work from home if they needed to because there is not going to be an obsession that everyone must be physically together for progress to be made.
We'll also need to more fully embrace working differently, given that there will be people in many locations spread across multiple time zones. Finding time for a synchronous conversation could be a challenge – even if we work 12-hour days, there might only be a few hours we share in common with teammates. We might not always able to connect in real-time, so we'll have to get comfortable connecting asynchronously with our team to ensure people don't burn themselves out. We also want to preserve the richness of the spontaneous interactions we have in the office — the hallway conversations, stopping by a colleague's desk, or catching up in the coffee room — and make them as productive as the planned meetings.
The April 2021 issue of our magazine is out. 2021: The Year of Continuous Reinvention. Read it for free.