As some countries open up due to successful vaccination programmes, and others deal with new COVID-19 variants, many businesses are making plans for their employees to return to the office in 2022 – at least part of the time, writes Marius Burger, Head of IT Planning and Operations at SEACOM.
However, the office that was ‘normal’ a year-and-a-half ago is unlikely to be the same office that employees will return to. Many have had, and have enjoyed, a taste of working from home, without rush hour traffic or an inflexible workday. And while most are happy to spend part of their time at the office, more than 70% of workers would prefer flexible remote work options to continue.
Concurrently, organisations of every size and in every industry are noticing that staff members are more productive when working from home, and have realised there are major cost savings to be had by scrapping great big office spaces in expensive cities.
Although some businesses initially closed their offices and sent employees to work at home on a permanent basis, many more are now looking at adopting a hybrid model. Some staff members would be fully remote, others would be in the office full-time, and the majority would split their time between home and the office in a way that accommodates both them, and their employers.
So, what does this mean for the future of work? What about connectivity, the cloud, and security? Many organisations have never had an official work-from-home (WFH) policy in place, let alone an established hybrid working framework – they’ve simply never needed one.
Business as usual
The common aim in a hybrid environment is to enable employees to do their jobs as smoothly as possible, irrespective of their location. For IT, that means supporting users in multiple ways, including giving them the tools they need to do their work comfortably and efficiently, providing the right collaboration technologies, connectivity, and cloud tools, and protecting devices and data at the same time.
The key to creating a successful hybrid workplace is enabling flexibility, which can only really be delivered via the cloud. Businesses that were well on their way to cloud maturity made the WFH shift with relative ease. Those that weren’t, suffered financially, or even shut their doors forever. During the pandemic, the cloud proved its worth in terms of offering flexibility, agility, and the ability to scale on demand, now and well into the future. Today, practically all end devices are connected to the web, and with employees working on a slew of company-provided or personal devices, the cloud is a clear path to enabling the hybrid workplace.
Bring your own… Internet
Resilience is also essential for the hybrid workplace, putting network and connectivity at the top of the agenda. AppNeta’s 2021 State of Work from Anywhere Outlook report revealed that connectivity was a top concern, with 44% of workers saying they were dissatisfied when it came to user experience. To succeed, employees must have a remote working digital experience that is as close as possible to what they are used to in their office. In the future, businesses that want to succeed will need to provide robust, secure, and reliable connectivity across home and office environments to bolster operations and ensure a seamless employee experience that does not hamper productivity.
Employees’ homes have effectively become an extension of a business’ wide area network (WAN), and IT departments need to have some sort of control over this extended network. With the appropriate tools in place, technical teams can monitor home environments to ensure quality connections, and they need to work alongside employees to do this.
Securing WFH capabilities
Then there’s the question of cybersecurity, which is probably the greatest challenge the hybrid workplace faces, as bad actors have been cashing in on employees working remotely. Attacks against cloud-based email, remote desktop applications, and other technologies designed to assist with remote work all soared last year.
Moreover, a recent survey that polled some 3000 people, including technology executives and members of networking, security, and operations teams, revealed 61% of respondents said they had a tough time providing the appropriate remote security to support workforces outside the office.
In a hybrid workplace, employees who are splitting time between the home and the office are continually moving in and out of the corporate network. Portable devices and sensitive corporate data are more vulnerable to ending up in the wrong hands if they are lost or stolen, and using unsecured networks can expose employees to malware, electronic eavesdropping, session hijacking, and man-in-the-middle attacks.
For the IT department, monitoring employees who are everywhere is an arduous task, particularly considering how the attack surface has widened exponentially with multiple devices and applications now attaching to the company network, many of which are unsecured. With the move to the cloud, cloud-specific security concerns will also need to be managed, such as unauthorised access, misconfigured cloud settings, and insecure interfaces. With a hybrid workforce, the physical security perimeter no longer exists, and an employee working from home needs to be treated in the same way as an employee working from the office.
For businesses to realise the value of their collaboration and productivity tools, they need to ensure they have appropriate plans in place to secure the connectivity and security required to support a hybrid workforce. Collaboration with an ICT partner that can offer the support, solutions, and insight a business needs to manage these issues, means they can do so seamlessly, and get on with business.