The last year has seen a dramatic shift in the way that people work. In 2015, just 4.3% of the UK workforce worked from home. Despite technology advancing dramatically in recent years, in 2019, the number of UK employees working from home had minimally risen, sitting at only 5.1%. Of the total UK workforce, just 30% said they had “experienced” home working in some form in 2019.
Times have changed dramatically, and the home worker has become the standard across the globe.
The sudden mass move to home working was not something that businesses were entirely unprepared for. The swine flu pandemic in 2009-2010 had alerted some businesses to the necessity to prepare for certain situations, with many implementing the likes of VPN gateways and Citrix infrastructure. A general switch from desktops to laptops was also underway for numerous organisations, whilst collaboration tools, although underutilised, were in place across many businesses.
As a result of working from home, the way that people work has now fundamentally changed. Desk phones have largely been replaced by mobile and the sudden rise of video for meetings has been unprecedented.
A general shift to cloud services over the last decade has been a saving grace for many businesses, with the foundations already in place to implement remote working, meaning that businesses did not have to start from scratch in the middle of a pandemic.
Protecting the Home Office
Before COVID-19 changed the way that businesses work, the home office was rarely on the radar. Although home workers worked from laptops that were monitored and maintained and the data on them was protected, the home office environment was not a factor considered by many. Even at the beginning of the first UK lockdown, the home office was considered something that should be dealt with by the end-user.
However, as time has gone by and it has become increasingly clear that users will be working from home long-term, whether under government order or later on by choice, the home office has become a beacon of future working.
As a result, businesses should start looking at the home office as they would any other office within their environment. With devices spending a long time sitting on their home office network, businesses should ensure that they are secure and reliable.
Supporting Remote Working
The unexpected nature of the move to remote working meant that many end-users were (and in many cases still are) reliant on equipment that they took with them from the office in a rush. As time has passed, the reality of home working has sunk in and questions have started to arise.
What would have been a simple task in the office, such as updating and refreshing devices or fixing hardware and software issues, is more problematic in a remote working world. The ability to simply return to the office for a laptop rebuild, replacement or fix, is far from an ideal solution now.
End-users working from home still require support. However, many IT teams were not created with the intention of carrying out distanced support. IT teams are running into issues, struggling with supporting remote users who are connected to networks that are outside of business control. Companies are having to train their internal help desks to support the wide variety of home routers that their employees are running on.
Connectivity for Home Workers
When it comes to the majority of employees, their home will have a wireless network on which a variety of devices run across. The type of devices attached to the home network may differ across households, but it is common to see devices such as smart TVs and game consoles that consume large amounts of bandwidth, alongside a whole host of other internet-connected devices.
Homeworkers are having to compete with plenty of other noise on the network from these devices. A lack of visibility into these home networks for IT, combined with the fact that some users are running on routers that are close to a decade old is causing serious challenges.
The solution to these problems is to take the end user’s work device off their home network and on to its own separate connection, designed especially for work. homeConnect is a service by Mobliciti that enables employees to benefit from a reliable, strong signal, whilst IT is provided with visibility into the network to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Every user and business are different. The homeConnect service can be tailored to suit individual needs, with external antennas fitted for those in areas of extremely poor signal and a range of services available to choose from. Whether it’s a fully managed homeConnect service which Mobliciti can proactively monitor, update, and manage 24×7 or a simpler configured service where homeConnect routers are delivered fully configured to the homes of employees for instant connectivity.
homeConnect has arisen as a solution as companies begin to look long-term at the home office and understanding grows around the need to include it within the corporate perimeter.
Return of the Home Worker
Although many businesses expect to provide the option of flexibility when it comes to home working post-lockdown, employees will inevitably start to return to the office. However, it will not be a simple snapback into previous methods of working, with the changes made over the last year expected to have a long-lasting impact.
When users return to the office, even if it is for just two or three days per week with the remainder spent working from home, they will be returning with a very different footprint. Laptop devices are now being used more than ever, as is Wi-Fi, whilst the default way to do a meeting now is using video collaboration tools.
Meeting spaces within the office will have to be bought into this new video-first workplace; ensuring integration with video collaboration platforms, such as Teams and Zoom, will be essential to keep users happy and productive.
The office space itself will also be under pressure to change. Businesses offering flexible working for employees may see fit to introduce hot-desking as the fluctuating number of staff in the office will potentially negate the need for fixed desks. Introducing hot desking also removes the need for voice handsets. The ability to use Teams Voice or Zoom Voice provides a powerful extension to collaboration tools, changing the way that desk-based phone systems work forever. For businesses continuing with fixed landlines, ensuring that that they integrate effectively with their chosen collaboration platform is a must.
One key challenge for businesses on the return to the corporate office is Wi-Fi. The demands on Wi-Fi post-lockdown will be significantly greater than before. With video now the default, they will likely put a strain on existing networks, and poor Wi-Fi is very unforgiving on video, which will show any glitches or lag. As a result, businesses should look to upgrade their corporate Wi-Fi to enable users in the workplace.
Extending the Perimeter
The traditional corporate workplace perimeter has been under strain for some time due to the arrival of mobile devices on a mass scale in the workplace. Mobile has always challenged this traditional perimeter, and the introduction of cloud and SaaS services is now blurring this boundary even more.
COVID-19 played a part in accelerating a change that was already taking place. Network WAN traffic is effectively negligible as users sit outside the perimeter, whilst occasional VPN access is now 24×7.
A drive-in cloud adoption combined with changing network traffic demands has culminated in a shift towards Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). SASE is a cloud-first approach, delivering wide-area networking (WAN) and security as a cloud service. Crucially, SASE delivers directly to the source of the connection, rather than the enterprise data centre. As part of the move to SASE, businesses should consider identity at the heart of cloud security. The virtual perimeter should ensure that only trusted endpoints can access the appropriate data and there should be challenges to access that are effective and appropriate, but genuine users should still be able to easily access data.
How Can We Help?
Whether it’s providing home workers with a reliable connection that provides IT with insight through homeConnect or preparing the corporate office for the return of the home worker, Mobliciti can ensure your business is able to move seamlessly into the future ways of working. Get in touch to find out more.