Is Your Wireless Network Ready for Hybrid Work?
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As hybrid work becomes the prevailing model, office networks will need to accommodate employees who are using technology differently than they did before the pandemic.
Employees coming into the office are bringing with them more mobile devices, increased reliance on bandwidth-intensive applications and the expectation they can work from anywhere in the office.
By taking the following steps, networking leaders can adapt their wireless strategies to meet the needs of hybrid workers at the office.
Video conferencing applications like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Zoom were widely adopted during the pandemic. Employees will continue to rely on these bandwidth-intensive applications to connect with remote peers when in the office.
One of the easiest steps networking leaders can take is to enable video quality of service (QoS) on their wired switches. Video QoS isn't new. However, we find that many customers have not enabled it because pre-pandemic levels of video traffic didn't merit configuration changes. Chances are you have audio QoS enabled for traffic from IP phones and softphones. Video QoS is just as straightforward. Simply refer to documentation from your collaboration vendor to properly support your video conferencing application.
Before the pandemic, many employees used hardwired PCs or at least had permanent workstations. However, the hybrid work model embraces fluid workspaces. The trends of hot desking, hoteling and collaborating in huddle spaces aren't going away.
Networking leaders will need to shift their Wi-Fi focus from best-effort coverage to concentrated dense capacity. Adding more access points in existing locations won't cut it. Wi-Fi operators should conduct a site survey that accounts for how hybrid workers will be moving throughout the office during the day. This likely will mean adding more access points outside of traditional spaces like desks and conference rooms.
With more access points and fewer hardwired connections, networking leaders will want to find ways to improve visibility into wireless environments.
This could mean exploring a full-stack switching solution with wireless visibility or adopting a cloud-based controller that can provide a streamlined management regardless of how many access points are added. Solutions built for visibility also can help prioritize specific application and web traffic.
Networking leaders are hit with a lot of talk about Wi-Fi 6E. While Wi-Fi 6E allows 6E devices to access the 6 GHz spectrum, few devices are 6E compatible. For organizations limping along on Wi-Fi 5 (802.11 ac), it would be a mistake not to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 now as it offers significant advantages for hybrid work.
Wi-Fi 6 delivers speeds up to four times faster than Wi-Fi 5, which will aid with substantially reduced video latency. Aside from speed, it also offers more consistent data throughput. While Wi-Fi 5 drops off as simultaneous users grow, Wi-Fi 6 stays more linear, perfect for a mobile office in which employees are collaborating in nontraditional spaces.
With hybrid employees bringing more mobile devices into the office, networking and security leaders will want to collaborate to make sure devices are securely provisioned and configured for easy access to wireless networks.
Look for solutions that make it easy for IT to grant unique per device certificates and profiles. This could mean upgrading existing version of your network identity tools. Enabling self-provisioning role-based access methods for your end users can bolster your existing mobile device security policies.
Supply chain issues are slowing down the delivery of enterprise technology. On average, customers wanting to refresh their Wi-Fi environments can expect to wait nearly twice as long for hardware than before the pandemic.
To avoid delays in refreshes, networking leaders may have no choice other than to move away from single-vendor deployments. By architecting the office network for multiple wireless solutions, organizations will be able to source compatible solutions in a timely manner.
The office is transforming into an environment where employees go to accomplish specific, collaborative tasks. As the nature of collaboration evolves so too must office networks. By adapting their wireless networking strategies, organizations can accelerate the office's role as a productivity hub for their in-office hybrid employees.