In an industry-first “Hybrid Work Index” report introduced in October, Cisco called out a variety of both technological and cultural challenges that face employers and employees in our current indefinite state of hybrid work.

The study draws from aggregated and anonymized customer data points taking advantage of various Cisco platforms, including Webex (collaboration), Meraki (Wi-Fi networking), Internet visibility (ThousandEyes) and security (Talos, Duo, Umbrella). Cisco reports over 39,000 respondents in 34 countries were surveyed.

Among the not-so-surprising findings, hybrid workers are expecting greater flexibility, accessibility, and security. Sixty-four percent (64%) of respondents agreed that the ability to work remotely instead of coming into an office directly impacts whether they stay or leave a job. And employee demands are increasingly holistic – the Cisco report indicates that concerns such as personal health and wellness are “non-negotiables” alongside flexible work arrangements.

Hybrid operation leads to security concerns

Employees’ increasing expectations for remote or hybrid operation are juxtaposed against employers’ multiple concerns related to a highly distributed IT environment. As enumerated in the Cisco report, employers have many reasons to focus on getting employees back to work, most notably security. Cisco estimates that malicious remote access attempts have grown 240% since the beginning of the pandemic. In September 2021 alone, Cisco believes the hybrid workforce was targeted with more than 100 million email threats daily.

The Cisco report also points to additional challenges, including a high incidence of outages among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that backstop many home networks compared to enterprise-internal networks. The report estimates that from January 2020 to August 2021, ISP networks accounted for 95% of outage incidents compared to just 5% on cloud provider networks such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

Enterprise concerns are not just related to security concerns; for example, video conference calls that have become the primary means of internal collaboration and engagement for many companies during the pandemic drive fundamentally different behaviors and might alienate some participants. Cisco estimates that within the roughly 60 million meetings occurring monthly on its Webex platform, only 48% of participants are likely to speak.

To improve meeting engagement, Cisco estimates that usage of AI capabilities has increased dramatically recently, including in areas like gesture recognition and automatic translation that may foster more collaboration. However, clearly there is much more work to be done here to ensure that hybrid environments can emulate the open, de-cubiclized environments that had been typical in many companies prior to Covid-19.

Challenges lie ahead

Despite these various challenges within home office environments, employers may ultimately find the biggest challenge may soon be coming from an employee base increasingly accustomed to working from their basements and bedrooms despite those challenges.

The Cisco survey points to a high level of concern from employees that their employers may be in too much of a rush to push employees back to physical offices: over half of Cisco survey respondents believe their company will allow working from anywhere over the next 6-12 months.