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The Future of Remote Work Requires Network Changes

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COVID-19 proved to be an unpredictable test for organizations worldwide. With the shift to remote work, businesses saw all of their processes and systems tested to their limits, including addressing challenges to maintain continuity, customer satisfaction, and supply chain integrity. Organizations today are now armed with a wealth of information on which areas of operation passed the test and which elements they must reinvent and reinforce as they prepare for the future.
 
For many organizations, looking back, their most difficult challenge was adapting operations for the sudden move to support a remote workforce. Looking ahead, many have decided that flexible working practices will remain for the foreseeable future. But those not embracing a remote or hybrid strategy must ensure they can survive a crisis like this again.
 
Equal Access for Workers Anywhere
One of the biggest priorities for organizations is to ensure that all locations have an excellent quality of experience and connection capability, regardless of whether the organization is embracing the remote/hybrid workforce approach or bringing staff back into the office immediately. While most organizations continue with their cloud migrations, many still deliver remote network access via older legacy VPN solutions, resulting in a significantly disparate level of security and accessibility between remote and office workers.
 
It shouldn’t matter if workers are at their dining room table, office desk, or another offsite location—all require the ability to securely and reliably access network resources and applications to maintain a consistent level of productivity. This connectivity is critical for customer-facing jobs since customer relations negatively impact workers if they don’t have the right support.
 
While it was easier to cut companies some slack during the earlier days of last year’s lockdown, at this point, businesses have had more than enough time to get their processes and systems in order. Any organization still offering pandemic levels of service and quality to its customers these days will find they are losing them very quickly.
 
Security is also a more prominent issue since threat actors have sought to take advantage of businesses left hampered during the pandemic. While things are closer to normal now, remote workers remain vulnerable to an attack if an organization is still depending on a perimeter-centric strategy that focuses on protecting workers on location.
 
A Strategic Outlook Ahead
Instead of setting goals to get back to where they were at the start of 2020, organizations should focus on adapting to the evolving work environment.
 
IT decision-makers must consider the best approaches to address the new hybrid model that includes a heavy dose of remote working. They must take a long-term perspective and make strategic decisions to protect themselves for at least five years while also mitigating other external issues. From all accounts, COVID-19 isn’t yet behind us.
 
Organizations that have already taken advantage of the opportunities and lessons learned during the pandemic have a significant competitive leg up over those that viewed the pandemic as a one-off and have looked to return to their previous status quo.
 
A New Technology Approach
Another critical element of adapting to the new remote or hybrid future is having the right technology in place.
 
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that workers can make high-quality calls regardless of their location. And with its advances over the years, VoIP can now provide better quality than an actual office phone connection (see related No Jitter article).
 
Organizations should also look to retire ineffective legacy technology as much as possible. For example, many businesses still have assets that require a VPN connection, but as part of their transformation they should explore a fully cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) model.
 
Another recommended approach in this remote work transformation is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), which bundles multiple software-defined networking and network security functions into a single cloud-based provision for advanced but simplified services. Since SASE integrates various networking and security functions such as Zero Trust Network Access and firewall as a service into a single service, adopting SASE creates a better-streamlined network infrastructure that is more cost-effective and easier to manage.
 
SASE creates a single point of control that delivers the same level of functions to all users, regardless of their location and which server they’re utilizing. That means home workers and small branches can have the same level of service as large office locations, all delivered through the cloud with no on-prem installation required. For organizations supporting a large remote workforce or locations spread across various areas, this creates significant savings through economies of scale.
 
The SASE approach is particularly advantageous when it comes to security. With key security elements tightly integrated, it can counter the threat of cyberattacks focused on home workers. Combined with other efforts such as employee training, this can significantly reduce security vulnerabilities created by a remote workforce.
 
An Opportunity to Grow and Transform
Organizations must see the pandemic as an opportunity to grow and transform if they want to remain competitive. However, while they must move quickly to keep up, they should take a logical, data-driven approach. Organizations need to look back over the past year to consider which systems need replacing or refining while also determining which capabilities they will need in the next few years and beyond.
 
By evaluating requirements from a blank slate perspective rather than being tied to existing legacy technology, organizations can move forward from reacting to the pandemic and look ahead to creating a flexible and resilient remote working operation that will support them for years to come.

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