The future of work is hybrid. A report by Adecco found that 77 percent of employees want flexibility where they work, and 37 percent of organizations, according to a Jones Lang LaSalle survey, are looking to increase their use of coworking and flex space to accommodate that expectation.
Among the changes enterprises will need to make is to their network infrastructure. Embracing hybrid work puts different demands on in-office connectivity. IDC predicted that by 2023, 75 percent of Forbes Global 2000 companies will commit to providing technical parity to a hybrid workforce.
But what does that commitment require?
For many organizations, the road ahead means confronting key challenges in preparing their networks for hybrid work environments. Two challenges stand out above the rest: hot desking and hoteling, and networking resources. But there are a few strategies that can help pave the way for a smooth experience.
Why Hot Desking and Hoteling Will Force a Networking Rethink
“Digital networks will need to be adapted to an increase in hoteling and hot desking,” says Gary Sorrentino, global CIO of Zoom. Although it’s a cost-effective solution for accommodating employees who are only in the building part time — and therefore have less need for dedicated offices — it does pose a hiccup for an organization’s network.
Previously, digital networks in office buildings aimed for broad coverage: corner-to-corner Wi-Fi, with no cubicle, desk, conference room or office left without stable connectivity. Hot desking and hoteling introduce dense clusters of employees, often with multiple mobile devices, whose network usage suddenly becomes very concentrated. That can lead to unbalanced connectivity throughout an organization’s physical space, with hybrid workers at shared tables using a large amount of bandwidth and compromising the work experiences of others.
Hybrid Work Places a Heavier Burden on Networks
The second challenge is that employees returning to the office — even part time — aren’t abandoning the remote habits they picked up since the start of the pandemic.
Videoconferences are now standard. Full-time and part-time in-office employees will connect with others through Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other platforms, and that places a heavy burden on a company’s network.
“Organizations are experiencing higher volumes of traffic over their networks, reducing the bandwidth available for video communications,” Sorrentino explains. “This lack of bandwidth can quickly become a bottleneck that slows real-time communication and collaboration, resulting in poor audio and video quality.” That doesn’t even include the bandwidth-intensive collaboration tools, including Zoom, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, that are being used more often in the workplace, which can also tax unprepared networks.
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Adapting Wi-Fi for Hybrid Requires Strategy and Teamwork
Long-term hybrid work is an emerging concept that places new demands on network architecture. What’s not new, however, is that as IT leaders rethink their networks, they must assess their organizations’ true needs given the realities of the world they’re in.
With that in mind, companies should first ask: Who is now in the office, when and where are they there, and what are they doing? Simply investigating exactly how much bandwidth is required for a meeting allows for better preparation. Having firm answers to those questions will empower organizations to adapt their networks successfully, identify technological or workflow needs, and create a strategic roadmap for how to move forward.
For many companies, a major component of that strategy will involve adopting a more dynamic and flexible network setup — one that’s capable of allocating different levels of bandwidth to different employees, Sorrentino says. In addition to executives, many companies will probably need to boost network access to workers who are critical to operations, be they in sales, IT or any department for which bad connectivity can negatively affect the business.
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That can be a matter of adjusting network configurations or enabling peer-to-peer connections that use LANs for meetings instead of an internet connection. Contending with the newly required density — not breadth — of connectivity also means that organizations will need to adjust their infrastructure. Access points may need to be added to hoteling or hot desk spaces, and networks may need to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 for faster speeds. Certainly, despite the high costs, bandwidth will need to be expanded, as well as cybersecurity to mitigate the additional endpoint devices hybrid workers are bringing into the office.
“Companies need to prioritize network resiliency in case an outage or threat impacts the organization,” Sorrentino says.
Throughout all the changes, it’s also important that organizations remember one thing: user experience. Yes, adapting digital networks for hybrid work benefits business operations, but if employees aren’t happy, it will affect the work. With that in mind, companies should make workers part of the process to ensure the transition to hybrid work — powered by improved networks — is a smooth one.