Cultivating a Culture of Safety and Its Positive Effects on Hybrid Work Setups

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Audio from CEO-Masterclass # 1 with Cisco.

Through the years, especially during COVID-19’s zenith, we’ve seen how the systems and practices ingrained in our workplaces have evolved. Great workplaces have made an effort to both redefine what once was the norm and transition to definitions that are more people-centric. Out of the many mindsets that have been reconstructed, one is what “workplace safety” portends.

What comes to mind when you come across the word “safety” in the context of the workplace? Perhaps your thoughts lean towards minimizing encounters of accidents and injuries. However, the times have deconstructed that notion. Today, it not only covers the physical aspect but also adopts the psychological element. Together, this becomes a holistic take on what modern workplace safety is.

Looking back at the 2018 Great Place to Work ® Asia Insights Report, a psychologically safe environment is defined as a space where “interpersonal trust exists, mutual respect is given daily, and where people are comfortable being themselves.”

For the #1 Best Workplace (medium organization category) in the Philippines, Cisco, cultivating a culture of safety means being able to pave the way to achieving an inclusive future for all—most especially in a hybrid set-up.

In the first installment of the three-part CEO Masterclass series, I had the privilege to engage in an exciting discourse with someone whose prowess in the information and technology industry is brought by 30 years of unmatched experience. In our exchange, Zaza Soriano-Nicart, Cisco’s newly-appointed Managing Director for the Philippines, was generous in sharing what are the different factors that drive the company to greatness.

Trust: A Building Block to Stronger Workforces

Without the foundation of trust, any system would inevitably collapse. Leaders are the best constituents to role model such in a culture of safety. They do this by genuinely listening and leading with empathy. There’s an emphasis on doing this with consistency because trust is never built after merely one encounter.

Doing so also signals a domino effect. When employees are listened to, they feel more valued. That impactful feeling leads to a desire and decision to stay. When members remain and realize that they are integral to the company’s success, being honorable and excellent in their craft easily follows.

All in all, these result in what Cisco defines as a “Conscious Culture.” Within the confines of this domain, we find a way of life that breeds high trust in the workplace. The employees are well aware of the environment that they are part of, practice accountability, and are empowered to actively contribute to an inclusive community.

“We believe that when people are well taken care of, when they feel heard and included, when they use their strengths and grow, companies thrive.”

Data from Cisco’s internal research is congruent with the above. It predicts that those who are never invited to share their perspectives or concerns are actually 21x more likely to quit.

In the true practice of inclusivity and showing credibility, the same research study also showed that 81% of Cisco employees agree that their team leader knows them well.

In the sense of hybrid setups, the data above translates to empowered employees who execute excellence in their work regardless of location, time zone, or approach.

Collaborative environments that practice a culture of recognition are also an archetype of trust. When you choose to collaborate with others, you recognize and have confidence in their capabilities.

Just look at how Cisco builds a culture of trust with their “In Your Shoes” program. Here, younger employees engage in a roundtable discussion with key leaders. The conversation takes an empathetic approach. Executives dig deep into how others would tackle real-life issues challenging the business should they have the privilege and position to do so.

Through the process of trading knowledge and generating powerful solutions, we also see an exchange of faith in each one’s prowess and capacities. This converts to a great practice that fosters trust within the workplace—regardless of duties, position, or trade. This also proves that everybody is part of the conversation. This is Cisco’s “Conscious Culture” in action.

The Marrying of Empathy and Transparency

Empathy is also key in this game. In hybrid setups, the line between the space for work and our homes tends to be blurred. Hence, practicing empathy is critical. By doing this, the phrase “work is work” is eradicated and is transformed to “work is human.”

Cisco also exemplifies this by prioritizing their people’s mental health. Weekly, various experts are deployed to speak with employees on matters within and outside the workplace. Constantly pushing for employees to feel secure in articulating their thoughts and pain points, various safe spaces have been deployed by the #2 World’s Best Workplace. Quarterly Engagement Pulses and the Safe to Talk community are present platforms that allow constituents to speak with no holds barred.

When it comes to transparency, the above also serve as prime examples. This is because empathy is activated when others are allowed to be fully themselves and to voice what they’re feeling.

Imagine an environment without transparency. There would be no trust, nor would understanding between people flourish. Hence, it is essential for leaders to actively place their members in the limelight—to be inquisitive, listen intently, and more importantly, arrive at smart, people-centric solutions afterward.

Fortify Your Hybrid Work Environment

In tackling the topic of hybrid work setups, Zaza also delved into the real score of such workplaces here in the country.

“We believe that hybrid work is here and it’s here to stay. While some industries in the Philippines have been given a return-to-work order, and while the government has loosened mobility restrictions, the majority of businesses in the Philippines have given their employees the flexibility to work from home. Against this backdrop, we can expect employees to work from their office at varying levels, giving rise to the need for an efficient and resilient hybrid workforce.”

Zaza has already tackled three non-negotiables to have in your arsenal when building this type of environment—trust, empathy, and transparency. However, she further shared that there is more to tackle in constructing today’s budding work-from-anywhere economy. A holistic approach is necessary when implementing this.

This entails digging deep into your systems and strengthening them. First, you must invest in collaboration tools that can help ensure inclusion and employee well-being remotely. Following that is establishing a strong cybersecurity posture that can protect the company’s data even outside the physical office. Part of the process is also improving the quality of your networking infrastructure to enable always-on connectivity regardless of location. Lastly, taking advantage of full-stack observability solutions that offer real-time visibility to IT support is also key.

The above are the specific approaches, but the overarching idea to note here is the irony at play. Albeit necessitating physical separation, hybrid work setups simply cannot be solved in isolation. To be rendered effective, it must be designed to be cross-functional. For Cisco, this means that hybrid work is powered by the convergence of people, technology, and places.

Zaza ends this portion with a powerful thought, 

“It [hybrid work setups] requires an approach that designs the work experience around and for the individual wherever they are—on-site, off-site, and in mixed mode, moving between locations on any given day or time.”

An Ever-Evolving Endeavor

There are many lessons to be picked up from Cisco’s best practices. Among the many, a notable one is that there is no formula for navigating the road to an inclusive future for all. Inclusivity entails an all-encompassing experience for members of the company—one that prioritizes their psychological and physiological being, gives them opportunities to shine and thrive, and catapults them into social agents.

With norms constantly shifting and people’s needs continually evolving, strategies will also need to be regularly rehashed, observed, and evolved to fit the new standard. It will never adopt a “one size fits all” kind of scheme.

Simply put, the journey is anything but linear.

The newly appointed Managing Director for Cisco Philippines adds more depth to the sustainable actions that are entailed by going hybrid, “Getting ‘hybrid’ right means embedding flexibility and experimentation into our practices and listening to how our people want to work.”

Clarity Above All Else

Often, organizations utilize fancy adjectives like “diverse,” “impactful,” and “inclusive” without actually embedding them in their workplace culture. The danger of doing so is that they potentially result in a tainted reputation, broken expectations, and high attrition rates.

So, the question now is, how do we transform mere ideals into standards? It is by having a well-defined culture. These are not just decorative poster words to attract potential applicants. They must fall under an umbrella; an overarching theme that seamlessly pulls together all programs, practices, and policies.

This transparency of what their workplace culture is has reaped Cisco a high-trust, conscious space and well-rounded and cognizable employees that practice inclusivity even outside of work. 

To dial in the numbers, here are Cisco’s Great Place to Work Trust Index™ survey results for evidence of what clarity can develop in the workplace.

0 %
Say they look forward to coming to work.
0 %
Say they want to work at Cisco for a long time.
0 %
Say they feel they make a difference at Cisco.
0 %
Say they feel good about the ways they contribute to the community.
0 %
Say they would strongly endorse Cisco to friends and family as a great place to work.

Altogether, this converts to Cisco’s ecosystem of endless possibilities that are bridged by employing inclusivity that is powered by technology and built on trust.


Achieve a Culture of Safety in Your Hybrid Workplace Today

“Collaborative,” “effective,” and “inclusive” are all big-ticket items that can be overwhelming to attain. But by surveying your employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index survey, they become easily achievable. Why? Because you’ll be able to identify the barriers and gaps that are keeping your company from being the best workplace it can be.

Connect with us today and get powerful insights that can help transform your workplace culture.

Antoniette Mendoza-Talosig

Antoniette Talosig is the Managing Partner of Great Place to Work® Philippines and the Lead Consultant for Singapore.  Driven by her passion to help people be the best that they can be, Toni started Great Place to Work® in the Philippines with a vision to create a high-trust workplace experience for every Filipino.  She has close to two decades of partnership with some government agencies, SMEs, MNCs and some Fortune 100 companies across industries and geographies. Toni believes being a mother is the greatest adventure of her life and she enjoys seeing the world with her family. 

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Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2024 Methodology

Employees respond to over **60 survey questions** describing the extent to which

their organization creates a great place to work For All™️.

85% of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do.

Great Place to Work® analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical in their industry. The remaining 15% of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, company values, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure these are consistently experienced.

To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place to Work-Certified™

standard. Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better to ensure the survey results truly represent all employees.

We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the Small category.

Companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the Medium category.

Companies exceeding 1,000 employees were considered for the Large category.


To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.