The Future of Work: Transformation in the Era of Remote Work

Aruna Ravichandran

Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Webex

Learning Objectives

Please join the Chief Marketing Officer for Cisco Webex. as she discusses the transformation of remote working.

Key Takeaways:

  • What is the future of work?

  • How has technology helped enable the change in work?

  • What does an effective digital workforce look like?

  • I understand you are undergoing an organizational transformation. Tell us more about that and how you are doing that with a remote/distributed workforce?

  • How has your leadership style changed as a result of the future of work?

  • How do you drive team performance?

  • What will work look like in 5 years?

"The future of work is ours to define. Work is what you do not where you go."

Aruna Ravichandran

Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Webex


Hello everyone and welcome to the Connect cmo leadership virtual summit hosted on quartz network. My name is Britt Erler QN executive correspondent, thank you so much for joining us. I would like to welcome our executive speaker Aruna Ravichandran, Chief Marketing Officer for Cisco WebEx, welcome Aruna. I am so excited to be here. Thank you. It is a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much. And today’s interview, we’ll be focusing on the transformation of remote working, and what to expect for the future of work. And I believe the best way to start this conversation is to define what the future of work means today. Aruna, what are your thoughts on this?

Post, I want to set the historical stage a little bit, right. So it’s actually helpful to reflect on where we have been, so we can understand where we are actually going. People have always been fascinated when you think about future of work, it used to be a buzzword, it’s like digital transformation, everybody was interested in talking about it. But now, you know, things have changed where future of work really means something. So we have gone from closed door corner offices of the Mad Men era to era of wide open open office spaces and cubicles to the remote work versus command and control debate, where you know, there were many, many CMOS and CEOs who used to push back very strongly on flexible virtual way of working. And then fast forward to 2020, when we all witnessed this perfect, strong, that flipped businesses usual, upside down whether they were ready or not. So for many, moving their business to 100%, virtual, virtually overnight was completely an unimaginable disruption, not just from a technology standpoint, but also from an approach operational standpoint, but also from a cultural and a whole life altering standpoint. And so, I would say, you know, the world has gone through a tremendous amount of change in the last couple of years, and I and this is going to be the new norm as you think about the future. So the future of work is about hybrid work, it’s no longer going to be about remote work, it’s no longer going to be about working in the office, or it’s about working anywhere, any time in between.

And as you said, Really this idea of future work, it changed overnight, no one could have expected the amount of shifts that we saw last year, and even that we’re still experiencing into 2021. Now, as you’ve seen, through all the experience and changes within your own company, what are some of the misconceptions in regards to the transition into the future of work?

One is, you know, people thought, it’s not gonna be a hybrid world, right? Like most people thought this will blow over. And everybody is going to go back to work. And you know, going back to work was the previous norm, and will continue to be the norm than the old norm. But with what actually happened for a sustained period of time last year, and it’s continuing this year, as well, you know, hybrid work is here to stay. The second thing is, you know, technology has changed tremendously, right? Previously, people always believe that the only way you can really build that network is by face to face communication, you can never, ever go away from face to face communication, because everybody craves that. And it’s important, but I would say technology has changed so much the last one year, that it makes the face to face interaction, really possible. And last, but not the least, you know, with this, with this blending of your personal life, as well as your professional life, I think, you know, people have started to believe that, you know, there is going to be this new hybrid work where your personal life as well as your professional life can actually have a world to stay. So here’s an example. In my case, I could have never even thought about having a one on one with any one of my dogs, you know, with the daughter on their lap. Now, you know, it’s it’s it’s very easy to have the kind of a conversation. And so I think technology has changed tremendously. And it’s basically made it much more easier for us in order in order for everyone to actually adopt hybrid remote work.

I completely agree. And as you touched on there, people have found that they’re working just successfully just as productive at home, as they sometimes are in the workplace. And really, as we move forward, there’s going to be a lot of companies and a lot of employees that would prefer to have a work from home option, always moving forward. Now I want to dive into the concept of technology that you’ve touched on there. And really how it’s enabled the change in the workforce.

Of that is an interesting question, right? So when you think about technology, there are multiple elements of technology, which is really important. Let me talk about collaboration technology, because WebEx is one of the world’s leaders, when you think about collaboration technology. And we ourselves have actually innovated quite a bit in 2020, here is an example. I’m actually going to demonstrate to you guys in real time, I have this piece of paper, and I’m going to continue to talk and as you can see, there is battling loud, annoying, nice, I can actually. So hurry, I’m actually going to be for about 50 feet here. I’m continuing to talk. And you can hear this loud, annoying noise. Now I’m actually going to turn on background noise removal. And he potentially could have only heard my voice and very less of this louder noise noise. could even have imagined something like that. Why is this important? Because many, many times we also have to work with our children and our background, you could have a annoying lawnmower in the background, or people could be have any kind of noises in the background. But work still needs to continue to flow. And technology has had an amazing impact in terms of being able to make sure that you have the ability to work anywhere, anytime without those annoying distractions. That’s one example. Another example is like video conferencing tools like WebEx is now table stakes. But before the pandemic people never used to turn their cameras on, right. But now because people crave the face to face interaction, everybody turns their cameras on, we went from less than, you know, a smaller percentage where people used to join a WebEx call through cameras. Now everyone actually joins a video conferencing call. And it makes the reason they do it is because collaboration tools allows you to connect in real time. And you basically have that face to face interaction. And I’ve also seen tremendous amount of changes in the world. adopters have continued to heal. Police have continued to protect, you know, students have continued to learn, everybody has switched to virtual learning. And they couldn’t have done that. Without the technology

itself. So true. And I see it even in my own day to day work, we have welcome calls with speakers such as yourself, that used to be done completely over the phone, we would never see their face in person until we actually got to the event. And now most of these welcome calls are done via video to actually see their face, have that communication have that interaction. But as you said, We crave so much right now, and really brought our work into our homes. And it’s such a new landscape that we’re experiencing. I think a lot of companies the struggle and the concern for them is moving forward into this new workspace. How do they ensure that they have an effective digital workforce?

Like I talked about technology, you know, you would think that leaning in to digital means just leading with technology, technology is absolutely critical. But it’s more than technology. It’s about leadership, leaders, set the tone, drive the culture, and make the difference between an effective digital environment. And one that is just a big deal. Right. So at one end of the spectrum, there are companies whose goal is to get everyone back into the office. And at the other end, there are companies who let their employees work wherever they want moving forward. at Cisco, we are actually embraced remote work completely and holistically as this has always been a core part of our DNA. our leadership team has helped us maintain the connectedness and our CEO and his entire ELT leadership team actually do weekly check in calls and have done that for the entire time during the pandemic, even now. And so that’s a lot of all hands call, I would say, I have always led a distributed team in a marketing function. And so where people actually cert is less important to me, it’s more about are people able to get work done, regardless of where they’re actually located. So in my opinion, if work gets done, who really cares when they actually said

absolutely. And I think that you know, a little bit of that as trust and as we start to really get more used to this virtual environment. It really starts from the top down, as you mentioned, from the leaders setting an example for the rest of their team, and ensuring that they are being just as productive from home but also providing them with the tools, the learning knowledge to do so. Now I understand that you are also going through an organizational transformation within your own company. Tell me a little bit more about that and how you managed to do it effectively in this new remote and diverse environment.

Then you’re the most pervasive leader in the collaboration technology, you have to make sure that you’re walking the walk and talking the talk within your own organization. So the cornerstone of our own transformation has always been being able to build a world class marketing organization, but strategic investments in talent and as well as aligning people across multiple different marketing disciplines. So I run the entire marketing discipline for buybacks, which includes demand Gen brand events, communication, social, that so on and so forth. In parallel, we have also doubled down our investment in our SAS software transformation. So once again, leading with the talent, ensuring that we have a strategic agile, and are bringing in people with diverse set of skill set is extremely important. When I say diverse, I’m actually referring to a talent that is truly global. People who come from multiple different diverse backgrounds, experiences, nationalities, geographies, and you know, have different points of view. When you bring in people like that together, it becomes much more easier to actually innovate. And with this, with the collaboration technology we have at WebEx, I absolutely have the ability in terms of you know, looking at not only talent located in the geography I’m and I’m based out of the Silicon Valley in the Bay Area. But now I’m much more open to basically bringing in talent around the world. And the infusion of diversity is really our secret in terms of innovating for the future of the industry. And technology today allows us to overcome the barriers. When you think about the barriers, you have barriers with respect to language, geography, social economic level, personality type, as well as technical proficiency. And to me, it’s about being able to drink our own champagne. If you can demonstrate what’s possible for the future we can imagine, then we can’t expect our customers and industries to actually go through the transformation.

I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think if we were to find one silver lining of everything that happened last year and into this year, is that it really has diversified the pool of candidates that companies are now able to bring on and create this environment of work where you have people, as you mentioned, from all different diverse backgrounds, different cultures from all over the world that we’ve never been able to do before. And I think that’s so incredible. And it’s not just within, you know, the marketing function, but in all departments across the board. Now, as you made this organizational change within your company, I’m sure your leadership style has changed as well, as you’re incorporating these new strategies. Talk to me a little bit more about that.

So there has been a lot of research that shows that great teams have three common things. And I’m a big believer of that believer of that even before the pandemic, and it’s actually strengthened my philosophy, given the pandemic. Number one is about intellectual diversity. When I say intellectual diversity, it’s not just about gender, it’s about how you can actually bring in people with multiple different points of view across multiple different geographies. And, you know, it gives you the ability to have a diverse opinions across the board within your leadership team. And now that I am much more open, I used to be open before but I’m even more open right now in order to basically hire talent, the best talent anywhere in the world, because the technology actually enables for people to actually collaborate and move work along and also continuing to helps us to continue to innovate, right. So intellectual diversity was always important to me, and my leadership style, as further embraced this, this particular concept. The second one is about psychological safety. So when I say psychological safety, it means that you have to give everyone an equal voice, an equal seat at the table, everyone should feel comfortable in terms of being able to express their opinions, people should be able to take risks, people should be able to wholeheartedly have that authentic, honest conversation. And so psychological safety is about allowing a team to really express themselves so that everyone feels that they have an equal seat at the table with the pandemic, with our technology with WebEx, they are actually now have the ability to basically enable people in order to do that. Here is an example. We launched this particular feature in pebax, which is called roundtable templates. So when if you’re on a videoconferencing call right now, and you always will have people who are extremely vocal, extremely eloquent, call them the extroverts, there are always going to be people who are not actually going to express their opinion, because they’re not comfortable doing that in a in a larger form. So with this round table templates as a leader Do I have the ability to basically set the time in terms of how, who’s actually going to speak in a in a round robin fashion. And I can also set the time in terms of people in terms of how long they’re actually going to speak. So for example, in my staff calls, I do this once a month, I use the Round Table template, where everyone has got five minutes to basically express their opinion. And we go in a round robin fashion, so that people have an opportunity to express themselves. That is just a simple example of how technology can enable you to be comfortable. And that plays a very important role when you think about that psychological safety element. And last but not least, I’ve always believed that teams need to have a purpose to fight for. Right. So it’s not just enough to have a lofty corporate goal. When you look at great teams, teams that consistently have a common value, something which will basically make them fight for that particular value, and you call this a purpose, then you can actually bring teams together. And for us, at WebEx, we have actually made inclusivity. Given what happened with the pandemic last year, given all the divide inclusivity becomes the has become a very important value, which the entire team is behind. And I’m not just talking about the marketing team, I’m talking about my entire engineering functions, my product management team, our support team, the entire business unit with WebEx is now focused on embracing inclusivity as our primary goal so that we can actually power an inclusive future for all so what do I mean by that every feature we actually build within our product actually have keeps that in the back, everybody is keeping that in the back of the mind. Here is an example we just recently launched actually, earlier part of this week, a feature within our video conferencing call, where when when someone is actually speaking in a video conferencing call or audio conferencing call, the person in the meeting has the ability to consume that in 100 plus languages. So I could I am talking in English, and someone on my team could be located in China, or they are not actually following my accent. So they can actually pick Chinese or Mandarin or German. And it’ll automatically get translated from English into the language of their choice. It’s about making sure that everyone feels that they’re included in the conversation and thought is so important now, and it’s going to be knowing that the future of work is going to be a hybrid work.

Creating purpose for your team creating value. And also creating the sense of inclusivity, which has become so powerful this year alone is really what drives your team forward. And I believe those are probably the three key ways. But in your experience, what are some of the other ways that you have driven team performance and that you believe other leaders should follow suit.

Um, I would say, you know, for me, it’s primarily been about being able to build that deep connection. I always am a big believer that being able to connect with your team is extremely important. But one of the biggest learnings in the past year is that when we share a common experience, and now the whole world has had a common experience, we create new, meaningful, much more connections with people that are deeper, that are much more empathetic. Because the lines between the boardroom and our living rooms, and our home offices have actually blurred. This kind of connection is the bedrock of true collaboration, leading to true innovation, which is the future we are designing as we drive deep innovations into the technology. And you can have your cake and eat it too. But just as important as the technology is communication is extremely important. It’s not about the old school top down one way communication. But it’s the two way listening feedback loops that create a more inclusive and powerful collaboration is extremely important. As you think about this future of work, which is going to be hybrid work.

I talked to many leaders in a variety of industries. And they all say the exact same thing that you just talked about that communication is really the driving force of team performance. It’s the idea of humanity and transparency that we are now seeing time and time again, and making sure that you are fully connecting with your team, whether it’s once a day or once a week to make sure that they are on track for the benefit of the company as a whole. And as we wrap up this conversation, and I think this does it perfectly after everything we’ve talked about and really driving home this idea of the future of work for you. What do you believe work will look like in five years.

As I mentioned before, there are companies whose goal get paid Go back into the office. And at the other end, there are companies who let employees work wherever they are, as they move forward. I believe that for majority of the world, we’ll see more of a hybrid environment where there is a balance between our in office as well as remote. I think, to do that, we have to create equality in experiences between remote and hybrid workers. Because the remote workers should not feel left out the everyone needs to have an equal seat at the table. We also want to ensure that for those employees who are coming back into the office, you know, the technology and companies will be thinking about how can they actually enable safe return back to the office. Ultimately, it isn’t about getting back to the normal, but it’s about creating a new normal, a new paradigm, where everyone actually can connect with each other, have those deep in pathetical meaningful conversations, and have the ability to innovate and move work along. Lastly, the future of work is ours to define work is what you do not where you go.

Fantastic advice. And I couldn’t agree with you more in terms of we have to create this new work environment, companies, employees, leaders have to be willing to adapt, pivot and make the changes necessary for what we’re seeing in this new universe. So aroona thank you so much for being here. It’s been an absolute pleasure and the insights you provided today are not only going to benefit Marketing Leaders and professionals but I believe other leaders across the board as well. Thank you so much to everyone who has joined us if you have any further questions, there will be a discussion forum underneath this presentation. Please be safe, be healthy and enjoy the rest of the Connect cmo summit.

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