The three key components of preparing enterprise networks for the hybrid workforce (Reader Forum)

As enterprise IT leaders plan for 2022, the hybrid model blending remote and in-office work is likely to be the new normal. According to research from IDC, more than half of workers are planning to continue to work remotely or arrange a hybrid approach even after the pandemic has receded. Yet this new workforce model comes with complexities for enterprise networks and infrastructure. IT leaders will need to establish new policies and make the right investments to ensure continuous improvements in workforce productivity and effectiveness in the new hybrid model.

Earlier this year, GTT hosted a customer advisory board session with key IT decision makers across 13 companies to find out their networking infrastructure plans post-COVID. A vast majority of customers indicated that they don’t expect a return to 100% of the workforce in the office when the pandemic ends.

While every organization has its own unique deployment approach and infrastructure, the overall strategies are the same with a basic requirement to invest in connectivity to ensure a seamless transition into a productive hybrid-working future. Three core strategies for preparing for the hybrid workforce stood out: 1) investments in collaboration tools, 2) improved network designs and bandwidth upgrades to support cloud applications and 3) smarter security policies like zero-trust.

  1. Improved digital collaboration

Speaking with an IT leader at a Big Four accountancy firm, he mentioned they are not looking at cutting back on office connectivity as they transition from the heights of the pandemic. Their aim is to offer a good hybrid experience. Similarly, a customer from a British power utility company mentioned their goal is to make meetings feel more personal than they currently do and to make network changes such as increasing VPN capability. Video conferencing has kept employees connected during the pandemic and the need for collaboration tools is set to remain, as companies reduce travel expenditures and employees change behavior. The hybrid workforce will mean employees remain relatively dispersed between the home and office; therefore, a mixture of in-person and virtual meetings will need to be supported. Supporting these tools will require an infrastructure that allows for consistent connectivity and uninterrupted experiences for users no matter where they are.

  • Investment in SD-WAN and bandwidth

The priority for network operators now is to ensure they can manage the changes in traffic that comes with hybrid work. The cloud has provided a lifeline for many businesses during the pandemic. However, the increased reliance on the cloud goes hand in hand with the need for secure, office internet breakout and software-defined networking technology to enable optimized application performance.

A software-defined approach to networking (SD-WAN) and co-managed portal functionality will be crucial as businesses shift to long term hybrid working. Organizations must build a mature SD-WAN solution that will allow traffic to be prioritized and ensure bandwidth is allocated in the most optimal way. This ability to prioritize traffic across networks ensures the growth in the use of cloud platforms doesn’t outpace bandwidth availability to the point where applications run slowly or even crash. Embracing these technologies will deliver more agility, resilience and reliability while providing the means to prioritize traffic to key applications, such as video and securely break out to the internet to access SaaS and other business applications in the cloud.

  • Embracing zero trust

Hybrid work has also expanded the cyberthreat landscape, making new threats top priorities for IT leaders. A senior IT decision maker at a consultancy firm mentioned security is a huge issue now, with the adoption of SaaS based apps, both authorized and unauthorized. Another common threat for organizations is uninformed users accessing sensitive data on unsecured or compromised networks. IT teams must shift their focus to the latest security techniques based on “zero trust” whereby network access that is enabled through an identity and context-based, logical-access boundary around an application or set of applications rather than access protections being driven by the network perimeter itself. This security approach is better adapted to the work from anywhere model that IT leaders are increasingly required to support. 

The networks will power the future of IT

As businesses prioritize the hybrid workforce model, it’s clear the network will be more vital than ever for IT strategy. Organizations must ensure they have a network with more intelligence at the edge and integrated security to adapt to the dynamic workforce environment and security requirements.

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