Cisco Systems Defines Open and Operational

Alan McGinty of Cisco Systems says the company’s workplace layout offers its employees something an open office can’t: choice

Cisco’s layout provides collaborative spaces, such as this meeting room, but also provides employees with other choices to consider.

The open office is dead. Or at least it should be, says Alan McGinty, senior director of the Global Workplace Innovation Group at Cisco Systems.

The concept, designed as a means of squeezing workers into a smaller footprint under the auspices of collaboration, offers no more flexibility than a cubicle farm, he says. Companies that want to drive engagement and compete in the talent wars need to empower employees to participate in the design of their own workplace.

“The open office is an abject failure,” McGinty says. “You can’t throw a knowledge worker into an open environment and expect them to get their work done. You have to provide people with the choice of what kinds of spaces they can work in, and what kind of technology platforms they can use.”

At Cisco, the solution is “neighborhoods,” or distinct spaces around the office, floors, and building that serve different needs. It varies by team, but McGinty—who designed and implemented the “Cisco Connected Workplace”—says most locations have separate areas for heads-down working, reflection, privacy, collaboration, creativity, and formal meetings. Work stations aren’t stagnant; desks are on wheels and can be realigned to fit a team’s changing needs. As a result, the company’s culture, which has flexible work policies that allow employees to work when they want and where they wish, corroborates its enthusiasm for structural discretion and choice.

Of course, there are also options when it comes to technology. Cisco, an industry leader in the hardware, software, and service offerings that power Internet networks around the world, houses more than 80,000 global employees. Enterprise platforms that provide online communication, telephony conferencing, and VPN access bring them closer together.

Alan McGinty says companies need to digitize their workplace to be successful, advice which Cisco has taken to heart. Photo: Steve Ryan
Alan McGinty says companies need to digitize their workplace to be successful, advice which Cisco has taken to heart. Photo: Steve Ryan

“We have nearly 500 sites worldwide,” McGinty says. “In order to stay connected with teams around the world, in-person meeting experiences and next-generation technology capabilities keep teams working closer together, and more productively.”

McGinty, for his part, has more than 20 years of experience in real estate, facility, and design management. In 2008, he was recruited by Cisco from Rockwell, the industrial automation company where he spent nearly 12 years as head of global real estate. Today, he’s known as Cisco’s “workplace futurist” and is responsible for molding an office that meets the needs of “the next generation of employees,” he says. That means combining physical workplaces with advanced technology, leading energy management and sustainability initiatives, and providing Cisco employees with the power to choose what their workday looks like.

Some of Cisco’s enterprise capabilities, such as company-wide instant messaging, high-definition videoconferencing, and ubiquitous wireless access have quickly spread throughout the connected workplace. Others, such as physical spaces that can recognize employees—called “intelligent proximity”—seem straight out of science fiction.

“When I walk into a meeting room at Cisco, it recognizes me,” McGinty says. “The phone becomes ‘mine.’ I put my computer on the table, and it pops up on the screen.”

There’s more innovation on the horizon—such as the telepresence robots that travel from office to office, taking on the face of a remote employee that needs to communicate to a coworker. Additionally, there will be rapidly evolved lighting systems that give “infinite control” over fixtures through controlled networks, as well as sensors that allow administrators to measure real-time occupancy to get a better understanding of how the building is being used.

“We’re in the midst of a technological revolution,” McGinty says. “Companies need to digitize their workplace to be successful—providing converged networks, building automation systems, occupancy sensing, security and lighting systems . . . all of these things are rapidly entering the market, driving operational efficiency and employee engagement up.”

At Cisco, forward-thinking design has won over millennials—“the most important challenge” for any modern company, McGinty says. In other words, it meets the desires of a rapidly evolving global workforce.

“Businesses around the world spent decades housing people in veal pens,” he says. “If you showed young talent an old cube farm and said, ‘This is where you’re going to be working,’ they would turn around and walk out the door before you finished that sentence. We need new workplace models that drive innovation, collaboration, and well-being.”