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What SA can learn from connecting Venice

Cisco and Venywhere have teamed up to make Venice the ultimate hybrid working city of the world. Given Venice’s complex geography, BRYAN TURNER asked how South Africa can follow in its wake.

Cisco has sent 16 of its early-in-career employees to live and work remotely in Venice for three months, as part of a pilot program that’s shaping the future of work. To accomplish this, it partnered with Venywhere, a project aimed at urban renewal and a sustainable alternative to mass tourism in Venice.

The collaboration created a “living laboratory”, where every aspect of hybrid work is put under the microscope. The team is looking at how people’s expectations of work have changed and ways that people, teams and organisations can work better together, attract new talent and connect with the communities they live in.

The group is also taking part in in-depth surveys and interviews about their experiences, and helping co-design new practices and solutions for hybrid workers.

“The way we think about work has fundamentally changed,” says Chuck Robbins, CIsco chair and CEO. “Employees are more outspoken than ever about wanting flexibility, and companies must recognise that if they want to attract and retain the best people, they need to offer hybrid work options. 

“They also need to think about work, productivity and wellbeing in more holistic ways. Our collaboration with Venywhere is giving us real-life insights into what all of that might look like–in a historic city that’s redefining its own future.”

This high level of connectivity becomes far more astounding when looking at the geography of Venice: it’s a set of highly-connected islands. In South Africa, the hybrid way for work is severely hampered by geographic factors. Like the inability to trench connectivity cables in certain areas, and highly expensive mobile data connectivity.

A map of Venice, showing the vast spread of islands. Image from Apple Maps.

Gadget spoke to Cisco’s senior director of HR, Gianpaolo Barozzi, about how they managed to accomplish this: “Venice is a very connected city when it comes to the main cluster of islands – the islands in the lagoon will be connected on the basis of a City Council plan. We are evaluating to add new places on other islands to the current Venywhere’ network of locations, in that case we will partner with a telecom provider to get the needed fibre connection.”

The answer lies in corporate partnerships between private businesses, which will provide connectivity in the best way fit. Some of these initiatives have pop up, in the form or air fibre (fibre cable that is run along street poles instead of being trenched in the ground). As long as these continue, South Africa may have a chance at growing an inclusive information economy. Connectivity, however, is only the foundation of what makes hybrid work possible.

A crucial part of the research is the recognition of the importance of belonging and connection – for remote workers and for the communities they’re living in. The participants are volunteering their time with local organisations and projects focusing on climate change, economic growth through hybrid work, and recycling. Their experiences will help shape a new model for ‘digital citizenship’. 

The study is backed by Cisco technology, including Webex. Web conferencing, cloud calling, screen sharing, and real-time collaboration allow the group to take part in meetings and events with their teams at home and around the world. 

Gianmatteo Manghi, general manager of Cisco Italy, says: “Nearly a year ago, we announced that our workforce would be truly hybrid. The experience from this group of pioneers will help us understand and evolve how the future of work can transform people, teams, companies and even societies.”

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