5 Changes Necessary to Support Long-Term Hybrid Work

Making the transition to a hybrid work model in which employees split time between home and the office won’t be as simple as it might seem. Even though companies have been supporting remote workers for more than a year now, a more permanent hybrid environment will require a variety of network enhancements to address unique connectivity, performance and security issues.

The Problems with Off-the-Cuff Remote Work Operations

Distancing requirements forced organizations to make some hasty decisions about how to quickly support work-from-home (WFH) operations. Most relied on VPN connections for remote network access and encouraged employees to access cloud-based productivity and collaboration apps through their home Internet connections.

This off-the-cuff approach worked for the most part. Countless companies were able to remain operational with minimal loss of productivity. But there were significant tradeoffs, including increased security vulnerabilities, uncontrolled proliferation of cloud instances and unreliable broadband connectivity.

To effectively support a hybrid workforce going forward, companies must revamp existing networks to ensure that home-based workers enjoy the same security, connectivity and application performance they would have in the office. That will require changes to ensure networks are optimized for increasing levels of cloud, mobile and video traffic that originate beyond the firewall.

Here are five changes that will accommodate the hybrid work experience:

Implement SD-WAN. SD-WAN solutions were designed to support traditional branch offices, and they can help turn the home office into a “branch of one.” SD-WAN enables organizations to mix and match connectivity options dynamically to maximize availability, optimize performance, control costs and boost security. It also streamlines cloud connections, which supports remote use of more cloud-based assets and resources.

Use VPN split tunneling. VPN tunnels ensure that data being transmitted between a remote user and the office network is encrypted and protected in transit. However, they aren’t well suited for time-sensitive cloud-based tools like communication and collaboration apps. Increased usage can overload VPNs, leading to slowdowns and packet loss that diminish voice and video applications. Split tunneling can address latency issues by routing time-sensitive traffic through the VPN while moving less-sensitive traffic across the Internet.

Employ SASE. Home computers and Wi-Fi networks are enticing targets for cybercriminals, but SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) makes it possible to extend advanced security and networking tools to remote employees. SASE unifies SD-WAN, DNS security, secure web gateways, Firewall-as-a-Service, cloud access security brokers and threat intelligence into a single cloud-delivered service. Administrators can centrally set and manage security policies across the distributed network.

Enhance wireless networks. New standards for wireless (Wi-Fi 6) and cellular (5G) enable greater speed and more data capacity with lower latency. However, network design modifications may be required to support these new standards. For example, achieving the multigigabit speeds possible with Wi-Fi 6 will require new access points with a faster WLAN interface. The core network backbone may need to be upgraded to prevent communications bottlenecks.

Reduce cloud sprawl. The uncontrolled proliferation of cloud services creates significant risk. Data scattered across various platforms with no central oversight increases the risk of data loss or data leakage. A cloud governance program can help organizations eliminate waste. A well-designed governance framework allows IT organizations to exercise control over the cloud environment through the enforcement of rules, policies and processes that formalize how the organization will access, use and retire cloud resources.

In 2020, organizations had to make some very quick decisions about how they could support the overnight transition to remote work. As they begin to reopen offices, they must now take the time to develop a long-term strategy. We’d welcome the opportunity to discuss the networking and security strategies that will help you build a robust hybrid work environment.