Worldwide Networks of Smart Workers – Connected and Collaborating through Smart Work Centers

Work is changing. It is less a location and increasingly something we do, free from the industrial revolution era silos that had work fixed at one location, governed by central control, performed within fixed time slots by fixed group of peers called colleagues. As people increasingly work networked, distributed, time and location independent, a new culture of work is emerging, a culture that reflects the network that enables it. A culture that allows for a seamless way of peering, sourcing and collaborating – locally, regionally and globally. High end, video enabled public work environments called Smart Work Centers typically help facilitate such a way of working. As a result, the next ‘Steve Jobs’ is probably not operating from a garage. He or she is probably building his or her business in a Smart Work Center. Whether you are an independent worker, a small business, an employer or a community leader, what will a Smart Work strategy mean for you?

  • Gordon Feller, Director of Urban Innovation, Cisco
  • Bas Boorsma, Global Lead, Cisco’s Work-Life Innovations Program (Amsterdam via TelePresence)


Gordon Feller: So if we could get the TelePresence up, we’re going to ask Bas Boorsma. Greetings, Bas. Good to see you.

Bas Boorsma: Hi there, Gordon. Good morning to you.

Gordon Feller: Thanks so much. Bas is sitting in Geneva. If you move your head slightly, we can see the name of the city. Thank you. OK.

Bas Boorsma: It’s the suburb of Geneva−Rolle.

Gordon Feller: We’re going to talk in this speed dating thing that we’ve been doing, Bas. We’ve had the next big innovation every 15 minutes so we’re going to figure out what really is Smart Work all about. Is it really an innovation that takes us past telework? What’s the implication for all of us who are, in addition to being policy wonks, tech geeks, and city enthusiasts, I think most of us are workers. There are only a couple of people in here who are retirees. First, let’s start 101. Tell us what Smart Work is today.

Bas Boorsma: In one sentence, Gordon, Smart Work is the next evolutionary stage in how work gets done. I would say in that sense, it’s something quite different from telework. Telework has been around for awhile, right? Telework has been something we’ve been allowed to do for a few hours per week mostly from home as an extension to the old office. Work is becoming more mobile. It is more and more happening everywhere, anytime, anyplace with a larger group of people. That is something which takes us beyond telework in many ways. The old office is not going away. However, you see a lot of third places becoming more and more relevant. This is something that a lot of cities are jumping on. Not just cities, entire countries, entire governments are jumping on it. You see strategies being devised where third place networks, Smart Work networks are being created in order to power the environments for the residents of those countries and those cities. In very short, that is what Smart Work is about. On a final note before you go to your next question, Gordon, what I think is very important to hear is that it’s not just another next step; it represents, in many ways, a paradigm shift. The old ways of working were optimized by ICT. We now see a stage where we’re actually arriving at an entirely new culture of work altogether. That represents a paradigm shift.

Gordon Feller: So you get to see these experiments that are taking place all over Europe. I think you spent time in the US looking at how Smart Work is different here. You spent a lot of time in Korea. The Korean national government has a national strategy that they’re funding to develop the Smart Work alternatives that are going to become mainstream. But here’s the skeptic. In dating, you always want to have the skeptic’s mind because you never know if the person you’re meeting is your mate. There are a lot of revolutions that are announced for the workplace. That’s happened many times. I think the telework revolution has been announced many times. Many things have changed over the past decade. Really, truly, what’s the new new?

Bas Boorsma: What is very important is, first of all, it is an evolution. The particular point where we stand in the evolution is rather important. It’s difficult to say The information age has been around for 20 years. Some people would say it’s been there since we had email. Other people would say that it’s been there ever since the Commodore 64. Wherever you place it, the counter-argument would be that the information age is only starting now when it comes to work. The point being work so far has merely been optimized by technology. So the old patterns of work remained for a very long time. Up to a point, they still remain there today. What technology is allowing today is to create entirely new patterns of work in terms of where it gets done, when it gets done, with whom it gets done, where data and applications gets stored, how cloud changes the overall framework wherein work gets done. That is changing the ballgame in a very dramatic way. It’s not just changing a few patterns of work. It is allowing for a new culture of work with new values, new unwritten rules with regard to how you engage with each other. I think it’s pretty much a revolution within that evolution.

Gordon Feller: So the Europeans, from what I’ve heard in your work as the leader in this area in Cisco, are out ahead in implementing some of these Smart Work innovations. We in north America don’t think of Europeans as working very hard but obviously, they’re working smarter. So smarter work comes from Europe to the rest of the world. Where can I see an implementation? Give me an example in Europe, maybe the Netherlands or where you’re sitting in Switzerland, in France. Give me an example where I can get a grasp of what the character of this might look like.

Bas Boorsma: OK. The city of Amsterdam has been a very important partner to Cisco in creating that first proof-of-concept around Smart Work Center networks. What we did together with the city of Amsterdam and a number of partners including those that provide high-end video services. Those that want to check, I advise you to have a look at These guys are powering a public video grid from Amsterdam. These are the guys that helped us create the first loose network of Smart Work environments. Today, that has resulted in over 120 Smart Work environments, not just in Amsterdam but in all of the Netherlands, connected. What is interesting, Gordon, is that that basic idea, that proof-of-concept, that lighthouse which we built has served as a lighthouse for others. Probably one of the best implementation outside Europe today is in Korea. The Koreans actually sent about 20 delegations to Amsterdam over 3 or 4 years. What they did is to create a national strategy articulated by the government, announced by the President of South Korea back in 2010 to create an environment of 500 Smart Work centers throughout the country complemented with services, video, TelePresence going into these Smart Work environments. That is their own track. They’re building out one Smart Work center every week or so. That pace is very dramatic. This is a very good example. France is another great example. Cisco is working together with Orange, with regions and French state in order to deploy a network of Smart Work centers. These are really exciting examples today, Gordon.

Gordon Feller: Well, I imagine in the course of talking to a CIO like John Walton or a corporate leader who wants to know how to adopt and embrace Smart Work, you’ve got to go down a list of benefits. It’s clear to me and we heard this morning here San Francisco about technology enabling better choices in physical mobility and reducing traffic congestion, adding value to the experience of being in the city. Can you talk a little bit about the financial benefits? What are those additional benefits beyond reducing the need to commute to compute? I can compute anywhere on any device anytime from any location. That location becomes my new workspace. Tell me about the financial benefits if I’m worried about the bottom line.

Bas Boorsma: The financial benefits are starting to become clear. For us back in 2008 when we first articulated our ideas around Smart Work and we started to work with the city of Amsterdam, we had a theory as to what the benefits would be. They have become clear and people are benefitting from it. Let me start out with the city of Amsterdam itself as an example of an employer. Once they had the network of Smart Work environments live, they said, “Why don’t we eat our own dog food and start to change the way our workers work?” The city of Amsterdam actually articulated a Smart Work strategy for their employees, allowing their employees to work from home, to work from the old office, and to work from Smart Work centers, allowing the city of Amsterdam a reduction in buildings that we typically associate with the municipality as an employer, changing the desk ratio from 1.3 desk per employee to 0.7 desk per employee. If you want to do the math on that, I’m not going to kill you with numbers but the average workspace in an old-fashioned office environment has an average cost of somewhere around US$10,000 per employee per year. If you can reduce that, if you can kill about 50% of this type of office environments, the cost savings are substantial. There’s another great and I only heard this yesterday from Regis which is a well-known provider of mobile office space. The company Yell −they create yellow pages, right? They used to have 42 offices in the United Kingdom right up to 2 or 3 years ago. They did the math and they decided to have their employees work mobile, flexible from wherever they are, utilizing Regis centers throughout the UK. Yell is down from 42 offices to 2. Why do they need these old offices, these HQs? You need an HQ; you need a center. You need a place where you have your corporate culture together, your organizational culture where people meet, where you host your customers or counterparts. Otherwise, their employees are now working distributed from these Smart Work environments.

Gordon Feller: We’re going to have an afternoon session led by Peter Miscovich from Jones Lang LaSalle about the work-life revolution and the innovations that are available or being implemented in places like the Hub in San Francisco. Sorry you can’t be with us. We know it’s late in the evening for you in Switzerland. We hope you get out to ski a little bit tonight −night skiing. This is it. You can work anytime; you can ski anytime. Think about that when we say goodbye. Thank you, Bas, so much for joining us. We’ll see you here in San Jose one day but we know headquarters −forget about it. You’ll be working from anywhere and we appreciate your time today.

Bas Boorsma: Thank you, Gordon, a pleasure being there. Good luck. Thank you.

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