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Written by Guido Kragten, Category Lead for Cloud Platforms at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard company

Finally, there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. As we get closer to the easing of lockdowns and social restrictions, many organizations are starting to look forward to welcoming employees and clients back to the office. But if you think that this is the end of working from home, think again. While working from home was initially a reactionary solution to COVID-19, now that it has demonstrated its value, it is here to stay.

In fact, I believe we will see a renewed focus on the home office as it becomes an integral part of organizations’ long-term hybrid workplace strategies, and not just a stopgap solution. This new approach will require a further change in mindset and network infrastructure. If organizations wish to enable their employees to successfully work from home in the long-term without impact or risk, their remote foundations need to be as strong as possible – before they even start thinking about the physical office. Here are three things they must consider.

Connectivity and Access at the Edge is Critical
With the home office set to become a permanent place of work, organizations can no longer afford to ignore the limitations of home network solutions and consumer-grade network equipment, which can cause user experience problems that pose a very real threat to workforce productivity and business continuity.

Indeed, as expectation levels rise and patience levels fall in the wake of the pandemic, employees at home must be able to connect and collaborate at the same level and access the same network functionality and applications as they do when in the office. To achieve this, organizations need to find ways to extend their infrastructure to the Edge of the network (where employees are now connecting).

This will include looking for remote access solutions that can provide home workers with fast, reliable enterprise-level network performance. These solutions must be able prioritize network tasks to eliminate bandwidth bottlenecks and have built-in policy enforcement to ensure that employees can connect securely to the network and key applications.

Plug-and-play options should also be considered, as they make installation effortless for employees – and in turn, IT teams.

Network Security will be More Complex Than Ever
The rapid transition to working from home throughout the pandemic brought with it significant complexities for network security – complexities that must now be addressed if employees are to be allowed to move freely between the office and home.

IT teams no longer have complete control over which devices employees are using and the risks they are taking. This new explosion of unmanaged devices connecting regularly to the network at its Edge means that organizations are faced with a much larger attack surface, but lack a good view of it.

They must find ways to increase visibility and control – without increasing workload. After all, securing and monitoring end users, devices and things, on a scale that a hybrid workplace model requires, takes time that IT teams do not have.

Automation and Zero Trust Security models are the only way to effectively streamline security operations. With real-time monitoring, IT teams will be able to detect, prevent, isolate and stop network breaches, ideally before they happen. Solutions like automatic device categorization based on network fingerprint and dynamic segmentation will provide the reliable, effortless control needed.

But they should also be aware that any failures in connectivity and access will have implications for security and can compound threats. If employers fail to provide adequate remote working solutions, employees may search for digital workarounds, potentially downloading and installing tools and apps from questionable sources. Security must get back on the front foot.

Organizations Need to Take Full Responsibility for the At-Home Employee Experience
The only way a hybrid workplace model can truly succeed is if the work-from-home experience is on par with the in-office experience. We have already spoken about the need to provide the same levels of connectivity and access. The quality of network experience directly impacts workforce productivity, collaboration and working relationships and as such, employee experience is fast becoming a performance metric for IT.

But network performance cannot be the only consideration, and satisfied employees require more than just digital capabilities. If the home office is to truly be a permanent extension of the workplace, employers must take a more holistic approach to equipping the employee experience.

This means that factors such as physical workspaces, comfort and ergonomics, and additional equipment like headsets and monitors – which have largely been left to employees to date – may now also be considered the employer’s responsibility under a hybrid workplace model.

What other benefits are employees missing out on when they work from home? What tools and equipment do they not have access to? What aspects of the employee experience would discourage them from seeing the home office as a viable alternative – and can we address them?

These are all questions that organizations must ask if they want to successfully integrate the home office into their long-term strategy.

What Does the Future Hold?
The truth is that no one knows. As we saw in 2020, circumstances can change at any moment and organizations must be ready to respond accordingly. What happens if your employees grow tired of working from home? If the trend for third-party collaboration spaces picks up where it left off pre-pandemic?

With this in mind, flexible network technology such Remote Access Points offer a low-risk solution to support home workers at the Edge as needed. They offer easy provisioning and can be easily turned off and mailed back – providing control and visibility while ensuring a consistent, safe experience.

Longer-term, organizations will need to focus on building an agile network that can scale when and as required. This will be the most resourceful way of ensuring that you only pay for the connectivity you need at any given time.

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