You have a remote workforce – what now?

The pandemic caused an abrupt shift to the way we work, and is expected to have implications for years to come. The biggest impact was on businesses that had to pivot to managing a remote workforce. Understandably, at first, many companies and their employees were concerned about moving fully online. Today, the majority of workers believe they are as effective when working remotely and, in many instances, want to ditch the office all together.

As most companies have already leveraged technology that enables flexible working models, such as cloud services, dedicated networks and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), leadership is now looking into making flexible work a permanent operations model. With that in mind, the next step for IT and security professionals on the digital transformation journey, is to avoid unnecessary risks caused by rapid changes in both user and attacker behaviour.

Post-pandemic IT headaches

The changes to the nature of work are likely to stay for virtually all companies across most sectors. This throws a number of challenges and considerations into the mix for any enterprise IT professional tasked with enabling existing workforce to continue or those joining in to begin to work remotely.

In light of the growing appetite for cloud solutions, there has been a massive uptake in cloud-based business applications particularly for collaboration and communication. Applications such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom, and anything that enables unified communication or video collaboration will be in demand and workplaces need to ensure smooth access to those tools.

Maintenance is another potential challenge facing corporate networks, as it has been much more difficult to carry out scheduled network maintenance over this period. In addition, employees working longer hours and more frequently online in the evenings and weekends blurs the lines of a ‘working day’. All of this has an impact on the network traffic, which previously was more predictable and fit a recognisable pattern. For instance, network managers were able to set expectations around low traffic times such as holidays. But that’s all in the past.

Furthermore, VPNs are no longer fit for purpose when it comes to the large-scale shift to remote work. As more employees use a VPN to access the network, more traffic is pushed to the network edge. In other words, the majority of network traffic is now originating from outside of the office, and needs to travel, for example, to the server room then back out to the edge again. The traffic flow increases demand for edge accessibility as well as the load on the hardware responsible for terminating the VPN connections.

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Thriving despite challenges

Unsurprisingly, enterprises may start to look at direct connectivity to the applications themselves. Establishing direct and private connections to your cloud provider can help alleviate some of the new demands on a corporate network caused by remote working.

When struggling with maintenance challenges, one approach could be adopting a network model that is flexible and scalable. This is particularly beneficial in the face of unpredictability and potential disruption with connections and bandwidth that can be set up, flexed up, and torn down in near real-time. That’s again where a service that securely connects data centres, clouds, applications and business partners can play a role. By using technologies that interconnect networks and clouds in real-time, businesses can self-provision redundant network links – for a day, a week or even a month – that can be used to carry traffic during maintenance.

Furthermore, it is critical to have transparency and visibility over the whole network, allowing IT managers to ensure that business applications are all up-to-date and that employees are running the most secure version. As more and more workers pick up these tools a harsher spotlight has been cast on their suitability. For example, Zoom’s initial lack of end-to-end encryption being just one consideration, but then there was concern over the company’s privacy policy and what it could do with the data of its hundred million (or more) users. Companies need to have visibility into the traffic to see where the pinch points might be and where traffic is destined to ensure the flow of remote work.

Empowering the virtual workforce

Although moving workforces online was necessary for many companies, it is now the right time to think of the IT and business infrastructure that will enable operations in the long run. Businesses need to focus on now to efficiently manage the needs of new remote workers while keeping the network secure.

Written by Jay Turner, vice-president, development and operations at Console Connect by PCCW Global

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