How IT Leaders Can Successfully Enable Hybrid Work
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For many organizations, the transition to hybrid work has been complicated. Just like the rapid shift to remote work in 2020, IT leaders are discovering their environments are unprepared to effectively support a hybrid workforce and secure their organization's valuable data and assets from anywhere.
In fact, researchers and hybrid work experts are already observing "fault lines" between on-site and remote workers due to poor connectivity, a lack of inclusive meetings, an inability to collaborate effectively and insufficient access to the tools they need to do their jobs. If left unaddressed, these fault lines can lead to significant cultural and business consequences, from poor digital employee experiences and higher turnover rates to slower time to market and increased costs.
I spoke with hybrid work experts from Cisco and WWT to get their take on how IT leaders can adapt their current environments to successfully support hybrid work.
By prioritizing these four technology areas, IT leaders can realize immediate benefits for their organizations and all their employees — including the staff tasked with managing it all.
A crucial component of hybrid work is enabling consistent collaboration experiences both digitally and in person. Many organizations, however, are finding employees are reluctant to return to the office.
"The office must be a destination for innovation, highly collaborative projects and social events," says Joe Berger, WWT Area Vice President – Digital Experience. "We've helped many customers adapt and enhance their office spaces to foster inclusion, improve collaboration and allow employees to transition seamlessly from home to the office and back again."
To get started, make sure your spaces are equipped with the right collaboration technologies — video screens, digital whiteboards, room scheduling systems, etc. — and focus on making the meeting experience simple and seamless.
"Employees get invited to a variety of meetings throughout the day," says Berger. "If your video platform does not interoperate across all these tools, employees are not going to use it and they're not going to be productive."
Today's hybrid workforce is extremely dynamic, placing new demands on the network. Offices must be prepared for an increase in bandwidth-intensive video meetings, more mobile devices, and employees working fluidly throughout spaces.
"Employees are working from anywhere in the office which makes it difficult to predict traffic patterns," says Neil Anderson, WWT Area Vice President – Cloud & Infrastructure Solutions. "We're helping many customers modernize and reconfigure their networks to accommodate this new level of flexibility."
In addition to bolstering office connectivity, IT leaders must also understand remote employees' traffic patterns and how they might benefit from global connectivity solutions like SASE, secure service edge (SSE) and SD-WAN.
"Talk to your employee experience leaders to understand the percentage of office-based versus remote employees, anticipated workflows, and any special considerations, like contact centers," says Anderson. "Without this context and insight, you're operating blindly."
A hybrid work model introduces a wider attack surface with employees working from home, in the office and anywhere in between. This creates new challenges for IT leaders who are tasked with protecting their organizations' most valuable assets and data while also providing employees with seamless access to the information they need to do their jobs.
"Employees are connecting to the network from unknown environments outside of the office rather than an organization's managed and measured environment," says Chris Konrad, WWT Area Vice President – Global Cyber. "This creates additional risk that organizations must account for."
A good starting point, Konrad says, is evaluating your organization's risk levels from a programmatic and technological standpoint and having a clear understanding of your asset inventory. From there, CIO's and CISO's can prioritize security approaches, like zero trust, and how it might benefit them.
"Don't attempt to go too far too fast," says Konrad. "This is a multi-year journey, not a sprint. Keep in mind security is a process, not a product. Stay focused on the fundamentals and consider securing your critical assets first with some core zero trust functionality and maturing your zero trust architecture from there."
Without a compelling employee experience, organizations risk losing their best talent. Visibility and analytics tools can help IT leaders monitor and measure the entire hybrid work experience to proactively identify issues and make improvements.
"Visibility into remote employee onboarding processes is especially important," says Berger and Anderson. "If new hires can't connect to the network or access their applications, IT must identify that as soon as possible. You can't afford a bad experience."
Taking it a step further, Berger and Anderson also recommend exploring automations and cloud-based solutions to alleviate strain on understaffed IT departments.
"It's one thing to identify issues, but it's another to have staff available to address them," says Berger. "Many of our customers are utilizing our Managed Services offering for that reason."
Cisco's complete solution portfolio is designed to help IT leaders overcome the complex challenges of hybrid work while also providing business stakeholders with unparalleled visibility into their environments.
"Hybrid work is where we shine," says Chris Stori, Cisco Senior Vice President and General Manager – Networking Experiences. "Our solutions help organizations unlock the specific outcomes they want to deliver with hybrid work, and oftentimes, we're leveraging your existing technology, so it lowers the barrier to entry."
IT leaders can gain hands-on experience with Cisco's hybrid work offerings in WWT's Advanced Technology Center (ATC), a collaborative ecosystem used to design, build, demonstrate and deploy innovative technology products and solutions. There, you'll find:
- Cisco SD-WAN
- Cisco Secure Edge (Umbrella)
- Cisco Secure Access by Duo
- Meraki Smart Cameras
- DNA Spaces
Stori says he is especially excited about how Cisco is connecting several of these products together to solve new hybrid work use cases. For example, Cisco DNA Spaces brings together data from Catalyst, Meraki and Webex to help IT and Facilities leaders answer questions like: How can we use spaces more effectively? What are our visitation rates? What is the air quality in specific rooms? Where can we conserve energy?
"Organizations must deliver a complete end-to-end experience," says Stori. "It's not just about collaboration tools, networking tools or security tools. It's about how these things work together, and that's where Cisco can help. It's our ability to stitch those things together into a seamless experience."
Creating a seamless, secure, flexible and connected hybrid work model requires vast experience and expertise with collaboration, networking, security, and visibility and analytics technologies.
WWT's strategic consulting expertise and ability to execute complex IT deployments across these four areas and more, combined with Cisco's innovative technologies, helps organizations:
- Improve their hybrid work experience and reduce turnover
- Accelerate time to market and digital transformation
- Reduce costs and optimize licensing
- Gain better visibility into environments
- Remain secure and compliant