How Big Tech is Driving a Return to Work and How the World of Work Will Transform Along the Way — Futurum Tech Webcast

For this week’s episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, I’m joined by my colleague here at Futurum, Sarah Wallace, to discuss how the Future of Work has transformed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tech industry has seen major announcements from vendors regarding remote collaboration, workplace transformation and safety, and distance certification.

We touched on the following recent announcements from some major tech brands, including:

  • Cisco Live’s Collaboration launch, which focuses on workplace transformation, helping IT transform to a ‘new normal,’ moves to enable seamless remote workflows with expanded integrations with productivity tools, enhanced security around collaboration, and more.
  • HPEs return to work solutions announced during HPE’s Discover event, including touchless entry solutions, fever detection tech, workplace alerts, and some other really cool offerings that you’ll want to know about.
  • Siemens’ partnership with Salesforce on a new workplace technology suite that allows companies to safely return to work and some of the specifics of that offering.

We discussed the impact of coronavirus COVID-19 on the physical workplace, with companies like Nationwide Insurance and Fujitsu leading the way in embracing remote working, and what has enabled them to make those sweeping changes.

Lastly, Sarah and I discussed our thoughts on what’s ahead — the Future of Work world will require a transformation of the actual work that’s done, a transformation of the workplace, and a transformation of the workforce as well — and all that’s entailed there.

It was a fascinating discussion and one we think you’ll want to be a part of.

You can watch or listen to the video recording here:

and you can stream the audio version here.

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Other insights from the Futurum Research team:

Cisco Live! — Cisco’s Internet For The Future Is Meeting COVID-19 And Digital Divide Challenges Today

HPE Delivers Return-To-Work Solutions To Accelerate Recovery

Microsoft Announces Launch Of Global Digital Skills Initiative Serving 25 Million By Year End


Shelly Kramer: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m your host, Shelly Kramer. And I’m joined today by my colleague and fellow analyst, Sarah Wallace. And today we are going to talk about how the future of work has transformed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re going to touch on some major announcements that we’ve seen in the tech industry over the course of the last couple of weeks. And we’re going to have an interesting discussion. Before we get started, I want to remind you that this show is intended for informational, and educational and entertainment purposes only. We might, and we certainly will mention publicly traded companies, nothing we say here is intended as investment advice. So keep that in mind. And we’ll move forward. Sarah, it’s great to have you.

Sarah Wallace: Great to be here, Shelly. Thank you.

Shelly Kramer: So we want to talk a little bit today about some of the major announcements that we’ve seen in the tech industry. And some of those are around remote collaboration, workforce transformation, employee safety, as they return to work and that sort of thing. So I know that you’ve been tracking, for instance, Cisco Live, and some of the things that Cisco Live Event announced. Do you want to talk with us a little bit about that?

Sarah Wallace: Sure. So at the Cisco Live Event, Cisco had a lot of emphasis and talk around their Cisco WebEx. And as we know, Cisco WebEx is a very popular meeting tool used by all different types of sizes of enterprises. And the one thing that they really talked about with Cisco WebEx is making the workplace safer as some of us start to gradually go back to work. So the one thing they emphasize is the Cisco WebEx now has a control hub where they’re using advanced analytics and using tracking to really monitor what’s going on in meeting rooms.

How many people are there? What the scheduling is, to really be more specific in terms of personnel, employees and making sure everyone’s safe. Another feature they talked about now is the control hub for WebEx also has a voice assist. So when you are in a meeting room, you don’t necessarily have to be touching the controls. And that also makes it more sanitary. The other thing that they talked about is having an extended security pack. So encryption for the Cisco WebEx control hub. Because a lot of times, and I know that we do this when we’re having meetings, we’re sharing company information, documents, company data.

The other feature that Cisco WebEx now has is Workspaces. So again, this is getting a little more granular into the meeting room. So measuring, utilizing the data, how many people are there, and even monitoring things like what’s the ambient room noise to monitor the meeting room situation. And then Cisco WebEx also announced that it has a partnership with Epic, which is a telehealth company and they do medical records. And I believe they have about 250 million patients that they keep track of. And now through Cisco WebEx, you can set up a telehealth meeting, virtual distance meeting for patients and health providers. And WebEx also announced a partnership with Vox, which is a content system where people use company information to either store or share content. So there are a lot of big announcements at Cisco Live based around safety and getting back to work and collaboration tools.

Shelly Kramer: One of the things I wanted to touch on primarily because we’re in the middle of a research project right now on security, and collaboration and making collaboration more secure, I know is one of Cisco’s key areas of focus. And you touched on meeting security, encryption options, integrated DLP and compliance is also incredibly important, and end-to-end encryption capabilities. And I was reading an article this morning, just kind of scanning the news. And I was reading something about Facebook Messenger. And Facebook would love for businesses to use Messenger in the same way people have embraced Zoom. I think that’s probably the best close competitor to Facebook Messenger. Facebook has long promised security. We know that’s not the case. I don’t know anybody who uses the Facebook platform that actually thinks that anything they do or say there is secure, because it can’t possibly be.

But the article that I was reading was a serious knock against using Facebook Messenger rooms and thinking that there’s any kind of security, and or that you couldn’t possibly experience what we’ve seen with the Zoombombing, where people could crash your meeting and do all kinds of crazy things. And one of the things that Facebook is promoting is that you can have this meeting room and you can share this link to this meeting room. And this is exactly of course what happened with Zoom. But anyway, just some really… I can’t remember if it was TechCrunch or Mashable or who reported on this particular thing this morning, but it was just like, whatever you do, do not use Facebook Messenger rooms. And I know that based on the research that we have done in-house, that when we survey senior leaders, senior IT, CSOs, CIOs, what they care most about, there is nothing higher on their priority list, especially right now, than security.

So when we look at all of these return to work initiatives and how we enable and empower remote workforce, and or how we get people back into the office, how we collaborate, how we share, how we work, security is just so incredibly important. So it’s great to see such a huge, I mean, Cisco has really planted the flag there. And I think that’s really important. We also have some return to work solutions that we’ve seen from HPE and their recent HPE Discover event. And the things that they released are different. And the solutions that HPE is bringing to the fore include things around controlling the spread of the virus, enabling business continuity, using the HPE Pointnext technology services that are designed to scale across businesses of all sizes. And I think that that’s really interesting. We’re seeing those solutions more and more from the big technology companies.

One thing that I really love is, and I think it was this, yes, Bluetooth enabled devices that can alert employees if they’re too close to one another. And also leveraging video analytics to determine face mask usage in required areas. Now, that would be something probably more in a manufacturing setting or something like that. But you know what, and I know that there are a whole lot of people who are very concerned about contact tracing and everything else. You know what I’m concerned about? Staying alive, and keeping my family alive, and keeping our employees alive and healthy. And if I could have a Bluetooth enabled device that gave me a warning signal when you and I are too close to each other, Sarah, I would be all over it. And I think that you’ve paid a little bit of attention and you may have covered this. I don’t remember if you have or not, but some of HPE’s return to work solutions, are there some things that caught your attention in their recent announcements that were of interest?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. I thought, for instance, the fever detection was very interesting. Using thermal cameras. And then proactively alerting employees. Also, just the fact that they now have workplace alerts. So really pushing out specific alerts to employees. If there’s something that suddenly comes up or as you were saying, maybe reminding about distance. So I think in terms of the vendor space, in terms of vendors actually placing emphasis on things like the touchless entry and the fever detection, HPE stands out to me.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that’s really cool. And I had forgotten about that. I think we’re going to see more of those infrared temperature sensing things in public spaces and maybe entering buildings. We’ve grown accustomed to walking through metal detectors. I would not be surprised to see sort of temperature detectors as well. We also have a… I know that I made a note about Siemens partnership with Salesforce on a new workforce technology suite. And again, these are big tech companies with some great solutions that they’re bringing to the fore. And I know that again, this is a set of technology solutions that allows companies to safely send their employees back to work. And I know that some of these are using Siemens smart infrastructure solutions. And Sarah, do you know any more? I can’t dive into some specifics here. I know a little bit about these. Not a lot.

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. So this is a really smart partnership, because Salesforce has its roots in CRM and workforce solutions. And then Siemens has its background in industrial manufacturing. And so what we’re doing is we’re bringing these together and they’re really trying to make it a touchless office environment. So, there’ll be alerts for, if you want to get into an elevator or get into a certain conference room, it’ll give you passes to do that. And there’s also things like employee check-in, whether it be at a front desk or a conference room. So the other thing that… And I know that you’ve touched on this, they are helping with contact tracing. So customers with contact tracing. And I believe with this suite, the contact tracing is an opt-in solution for employees. So that’s interesting that it’s opt-in. Do you have an opinion on that?

Shelly Kramer: Again, I think that we have phones in our hands or in our pockets 24/7. We have, for years, those phones track everything that we do. And I think a lot of people really don’t understand that. I am all in on contact tracing. Again, I just want to stay safe. I want people I love to say safe. I want to keep my kids safe. I am all about opting in for contact tracing, especially a lot of these offerings really do provide anonymized data. And you don’t have to feel like it’s big brother and that this information is going to the federal government, which is a little scary these days. But anyway, again, as long as you can opt-out, as long as you understand what’s happening with your data. And I will also say that in the workforce, employees have been being tracked for quite a while now.

And I think that we also have technology solutions that many companies are implementing that track productivity, that track hours worked, things beyond just having to log in. Some of it is tracking keystrokes on a keyboard or whatever. So I think that there are all kinds of monitoring that already has been happening in the workplace. Good, bad, terrible, whatever. I think in some instances that’s a reality of corporate America. I don’t know that adding contact tracing to that equation is something that would necessarily send people over the edge. But I also think, I mean, I’m a pragmatist. You don’t want to do it. Okay. Find another job. These are workplace requirements. We all have to make a choice. This is either for us or it’s not something for us. What do you think? How do you feel about it?

Sarah Wallace: I think it’s interesting that it’s an option. To me, I feel that it’s helpful for everyone in the workplace. So I find it very helpful if someone can say to me, “Look, you had a meeting with so and so on Wednesday afternoon. She actually had gone home sick. So we’re letting everyone know in that meeting room about this person and perhaps you should also quarantine.” So I feel as though it’s all very useful.

Shelly Kramer: I feel like it’s an obligation. I feel like we have to change behaviors from a corporate standpoint, from an employee standpoint, if what our goal is, is to get back to work and to get back to business as close to business operations as usual. And to have profitable companies who are serving customers and employees, who want to go into an office, going into an office. These are things that we’re going to have to accept and have to do to keep each other safe. So I don’t really see how much of it is debatable. And again, I know people land on very different areas here when it comes to privacy, when it comes to their personal rights in a workplace and everything else. But I do think that what it comes down to is you make a choice.

Either I’m going to opt into this is our culture. These are our business operations. These are the things I must do in order to participate, in order to be employed by this company. It’s either something you’re willing to do or it’s something you’re not willing to do. And it really is that simple. But I completely understand why a company would put those, use that kind of technology and put those procedures in place. It will be interesting to see as we roll that out. And another thing that’s happening in the workforce, in the workplace is that we’re seeing a reduction in corporate office space. And we’re seeing companies, in many instances, it’s companies who would have never thought they would have embraced a work remote mindset. And there are a whole lot of companies who feel like if you’re not there, you’re not working and everything else, but so we’ve had to embrace this shift.

And what we’re seeing in some instances is a light bulb and companies are going, wow, we don’t need to have all of this hundreds of square footage of office space all over the world. And we didn’t know we could do this, but we’re actually learning that operating in this way is actually efficient. And our people are productive. And maybe it’s not for everybody, but maybe it’s for 50% of our staff, or maybe it’s even for 25% of our staff. But when you’re talking about at the enterprise level, what that means, even if only 25% of your staff worked remotely, that could be a significant reduction in the corporate real estate that companies are leasing. So we are seeing a reduction in corporate office space. And we are also seeing companies embrace… We’re seeing not only companies embracing remote work, but we’re seeing them shift a little bit to relying on coworking spaces.

And I was reading an article here in our local business journal. I live in Kansas City, Missouri. There are a number of coworking spaces here. We’re fairly technology savvy centric company. We’ve got some big technology companies located here. And coworking has been a thing for quite a while. And a gentleman who owns a number of coworking spaces was interviewed for a recent article. And he was saying, when the pandemic first started and, and everybody kind of pulled back, business took a little bit of a hit. Now, we’re seeing an upswing in things. And we’re seeing, because the reality of it is, Sarah, you have children, I have children. They’re older. You can tell your son or your daughter, “I’m getting ready to record a webcast, or I’m having a meeting. I need you guys to be quiet, or I need you guys to not stream video or whatever.”

So we have a workspace at home that is conducive to us doing our jobs. A lot of people don’t have that. Think about people who live in cities, major cities and who are working, two people are working in a 900 square foot apartment. My daughter and her husband in Chicago are actually doing that. And they’re managing not to kill each other, which is an accomplishment. But for people who don’t have the ability to work from home, we’re seeing coworking spaces and corporations renting space in coworking spaces to accommodate their employees who might not be able to go into an office. So I think we’re seeing an upswing in that. Fujitsu, for instance, also announced a few weeks ago that their company would have its office space in three years as it completely rewrites the way employees work. Nationwide Insurance announced in early May, that working from home was becoming their permanent business strategy.

And they announced it would exit most buildings and have employees work remotely for good as of November 1st. And what I think is really interesting about Nationwide’s announcement. And again, this was in early May. So it was early on in pandemic days. But what I think was so interesting to me is that they credited their ability to do this, to embracing digital transformation early. And their senior leaders said, “You know what? This is not like, oh my gosh, an aha moment. This is a, we’ve been actively embracing digital transformation as a strategy over the course of the last two or three years. That’s what puts us in a position to be able to easily make this transition and not disrupt everything.”

And so I thought that that was really cool. And we don’t hear a lot of stories, especially in the enterprise space, around companies planning for work from home. What are you seeing out there?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. So we also, speaking of Siemens, they had an announcement, I think this past week, saying that employees and I believe it is… At first I thought it was all days of the week, but at least three days of the week can work from home permanently. So we’re seeing this gradually sort of this roll out of these large companies saying that permanently people can work from home. And I’m a little bit biased because I’ve typically worked from home during most of my career. So I don’t see it as a major transition in terms of what I’ve done. I know some people, it’s an adjustment for them. But I believe in terms of company resources, and you think about they’re saving money on the actual physical space, running the physical space, their employees spending time in the car commuting. So it’s definitely a shift that we’re seeing. It’ll be interesting to see what other large companies make these announcements and probably soon as well, I would imagine.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. And I think maybe this kind of leads us into what’s ahead. And I think that success in the future, success as it relates to the future of work is really going to require a transformation. And of course, we’re in the business of digital transformation. So we talk about that all the time. Sorry, not sorry. But I think that what we’re going to see is we’re going to see a transformation in terms of work, the work itself. I think we’re going to see a transformation in terms of the workplace. And I think we’re going to see a transformation in the workforce. And we must see a transformation as it relates to all three of those things. And I think that as it relates to work, we talk about this a lot. We’re going to see machines and humans working more and more together, complementing one another.

And I think that we’re going to see, we already are getting over the idea that work has to happen in a particular place. Okay. Work can happen anywhere. So I think that those things are happening. And then I think that we’re going to see work, we already see this as well. Work’s being digitized, and cloud, and IOT, and automation and robotics. All of those things play a role in how the work itself changes. And then I also think that we’ll… I touched on automation already, but we’ll see automation. We’ll see things like RPA and we’ll see things like intelligent automation that are being used to help us drive better results, better employee experiences, better customer experiences. And that’s going to kind of shift for sure. As it relates to the workplace, Sarah, do you have some thoughts on what you think might happen there and how that is going to change?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. I would say I think the habits… I think a good comparison is, and I think you touched on this briefly, after 9-11, we all had to start to get into the habit of taking off our shoes to go through security. And when we talked about the contact tracing and I think it’s going to have to just become habit. We’re going to have to start to become employees that are more conscientious about what we’re touching, what technologies we’re using for work, all these extra steps. But it’s definitely necessary. And I think we’re going to also see, as certain teams are going to be virtual or all the teams, we’re all just going to sort of adapt to this and that. And we’ve had to suddenly anyways, right? So I guess this was a good test. But I see that companies are, and they’re already doing this, so they’re making announcements. And I think employees are going to adapt and do well with it.

Shelly Kramer: Adaptability. That leads me to maybe my final point. Not only are we seeing companies have to be adaptable regardless of your organization’s size. But adaptability is going to be one of the key changes that must happen within the workforce. If you’re an employee, agility and adaptability are going to be two of the most essential skills that you can bring to an organization. You need to do this? Sure. Need to change this? Sure. And that’s not human nature. We are fortunate, Sarah, in what we do, and what our company does and what our team does. We are all wired for change. And change doesn’t frustrate us, doesn’t worry us. We just know that that’s a given. But I think a vast number of people, human beings don’t love change by nature. And so I think that what will happen in this future of work transition is that employees will need to embrace things like continuous learning, always be learning, always be re-skilling. Organizations need to fuel that. They need to make that learning environment just a regular part of business operations.

I think that we’ll need to see employees learn to love video. And I think that when we went into sort of COVID times, people were like, “Another video. And I’m so nervous. And I hate how I look.” And you know what? Get over it, because video collaboration is the new face-to-face. And if we’re not walking into an office, we’re walking into our work area at home, and we’re looking each other in the eyes and we’re saying, “Hey, Sarah. Let’s get down to work.” And I think that people just need to embrace and get over that. So always be learning. And I think probably the last thing is that, and we touched on this a little bit with our coverage of the technology, the tech companies who are doing these initiatives. But I think employees also have an expectation of wellness initiatives within the enterprise. Being a part of offerings, being a part of culture.

And I think that there’s a difference between going to an office and working remotely, and businesses need to have systems in place that help employees feel connected, feel like they’re part of a group, feel like they’re a team. But also wellness initiatives that help employees with their mental health, with their stress, with their sleep, with their managing work-life balance, managing their health and all that sort of thing. So I think that those things, the shift from the work itself, the workplace environment itself, and then the workforce. I think those are three key things that we’re seeing ahead in our crystal ball. Anything that I’ve missed that you think that we should note here, Sarah?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. And just to touch on, and we could probably even do a separate webcast about this, but talk about the kind of training. Google had announced a certificate program where they now consider it the equivalent of a four year degree. And after you complete the certificate, you can apply to Google full-time. So it’s interesting how all this kind of distance work has also trickled down into distance learning and training. And I think we’re going to see more of that from these companies, corporations in the future as well.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. When I was doing some research on that topic, one of the things that I stumbled across was that companies had really kind of invested in learning initiatives about a decade ago, and that has slacked off over the course of the last number of years. And it just hasn’t been a key area of focus anymore. Other things have been considered more important, perhaps even digital transformation initiatives. I don’t know. But the point of what it was I was reading was that that shift has to shift back.

And there has to absolutely be a commitment by organizations to make learning a key part of everything that they’re doing. Well, I think that we have hit the end of our time slot here. And I think this has been a fascinating discussion. I love thinking about what’s now, what’s ahead. And obviously the future of work is something that we are all living in one way or another. Sarah, thank you as always for hanging out with me. It’s always a pleasure. And to our audience, thank you for showing up, for listening, and we’ll see you again next time.




Author Information

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”


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