15 July 2021
The early days of the pandemic saw many people forced at short notice to abandon their desks and work from home. Some 18 months on, and for many of us remote working no longer feels like the temporary measure it once did. Pre-pandemic, working in a home setting was the privilege of a few individuals, with most employees travelling daily to an office.
Now we have entire business ecosystems running on a much more blended basis, with a lot of people still based at home 100% of the time, while others have returned to a traditional office setting. Some distribute their time as they choose between home and office. All of these workers expect to be fully functional with secure access to essential workloads and applications regardless of their whereabouts. That’s the reality of hybrid working – whole teams located apart but united by technology on a level playing field. And it’s a phenomenon that’s here to stay. Gartner’s research shows that 74% of organisations have plans to enable hybrid working on a permanent basis post-Covid.
This new paradigm would not, of course, be possible without reliable connectivity to underpin it, whether that’s home broadband, connectivity to public cloud-based services, or links to an organisation’s own data centre. It is also important to note that we’ve moved on from the early days of the pandemic when network technology rose to the challenge of keeping armies of remote workers connected and operational. The world’s economy did not fall over, and that’s a credit to all concerned. Now as we move into a post-pandemic phase, the challenge is no longer about a quick fix to get us through an emergency. Hybrid working is here to stay and requires long-term strategic thinking on the part of network managers if we are to get the best out of it. It is inevitably placing new burdens on enterprise networks, and technology is needed to rise to this challenge. Businesses are now looking for sustainable solutions based around networks that are flexible, strong, scalable and up to the job of connecting employees wherever they are.
Let’s look at some of the challenges that lie ahead for networks and for network managers in the new world of hybrid work:
• We need better ways of meeting and collaborating – Businesses need smarter ways to fully involve all parties in meetings, whether they are gathering physically in a room or joining virtually. At Colt we’re working on giving all hybrid workers the same meeting experience regardless of location. We will see technology evolve fast to bring that about. As part of that I would expect to see greater use of virtual reality in video conferencing, helping to digitally replicate at least some of the experience not just of a small meeting but of a big event, with all of its important conversations at the fringes. Cisco’s research indicates that 62% of networking teams will deploy more pervasive video conferencing in their post-pandemic offices. All this extra video traffic will inevitably have a significant impact on overall network performance.
• Workers need improved access to vital resources – One of the big hybrid working challenges is how to give employees the speediest possible access to vital resources. Network managers will need to think very carefully about how they manage latency and provision bandwidth. If your business is transitioning computer power into the cloud then you need sufficient bandwidth to support that move. Bandwidth demand is being driven by many things, from VR to video conferencing as well as complex multi-cloud deployments. You need to connect multiple environments so everybody gets a seamless experience every time, particularly for applications where even low latency is potentially disastrous.
• Networks must be underpinned with wraparound security - The pandemic saw a massive increase in phishing attempts and security attacks. Remote working means an increase in network vulnerability. Network managers must play their part in ensuring the protection of all data traffic as it moves between widely distributed endpoints. If like us you have 5,000 people working at home, that’s 5,000 offices that all need appropriate protection. There are some good technologies out there, but you have to architect your network correctly in the first place. You need security that is embedded in the network.
• The future is at the edge – An inevitable result of hybrid working patterns will be more crunching of data at the network edge. Compute power must be moved closer to the end user, while maintaining visibility of the entire ecosystem at the centre. The rise of IoT and smart cities will increase this need. Secure remote access is needed for all employees and every device across enterprise connectivity infrastructure, but especially at the fringes. Luckily there are solutions today that enable this, such as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) with its promise of consistent protection for all users regardless of where they are physically.
Looking ahead nobody knows exactly how many of us might be back in the office versus continuing to be remote. But it’s clear enough that hybrid working will remain with us one way or another for years to come. Given the right type of connectivity, this need not be a problem, with people able to work securely and productively wherever they choose.