(This blog was excerpted from the authors’ on-demand webinar, “Enabling Secure Connectivity Without Borders”, that you can watch at the bottom of this page.)
As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly starts to recede in our rearview mirror, many companies are considering returning to an office environment. A recent study by GoodHire showed that 60% of managers felt it was likely that their employer would mandate a full-time return to the office. As organizations begin to implement fully in-office or hybrid work environments, there are many challenges that can arise.
In this article, we will talk about several of the challenges that organizations and their employees are likely to encounter when leaving a fully remote work environment – as well as ways you can implement new technology to help improve your transition to an in-person or hybrid work environment.
Challenges to Anticipate When Returning to the Office or Hybrid Environment
1. Wireless Connection
For many employees, this may be the first time they are back in the office in as many as three years. After all this time, it’s possible that they won’t be able to seamlessly connect to the wireless environment. Inability for an employee to connect could be due to several things like having cached workstation credentials on their machine, working on a newly issued device, or not installing new security certificates on their workstation.
2. Legacy Applications
Once employees are able to connect in their office, it’s important to consider what applications they will be using. We often hear employees complaining that, when they go back to in-person work, they’re still attending online meetings because that’s what their clients or other office workers are utilizing. On top of that, during the pandemic a lot of companies migrated their Microsoft Office 365 applications or other workloads from on-premises into a cloud environment. With that transition to the cloud, it’s possible that the technology in the office hasn’t adapted to the bandwidth requirements, latency requirements, or the change in traffic patterns from those relocated applications.
3. Office Layout
While many companies are deciding to go back to the office full time, others have chosen to offer employees the option of a hybrid schedule. This hybrid model provides a more flexible work environment where employees can either come into the office on pre-determined days, or choose which days they work from the office – staggering their on-site time throughout the week. This model is particularly beneficial for companies whose employees highly value the work-life balance that remote work provides.
With either approach, organizations will need to consider if their office is set up in the best way to support the employees who will be there and how those employees are expected to interact. Many organizations have started to utilize hotel spaces or co-working spaces, rather than their traditional office space. Other companies, like Cisco, have redesigned their existing office to showcase new technologies and adapt to evolving work models.
4. Lease Agreements
Office layout ties very closely to the challenge associated with lease agreements. Many companies have returned to an office environment only to have their current lease agreement nearing its end. Looking at the needs of your company and your employees, it may not be in your best interest to keep your current space. Maybe you need something smaller to better accommodate the hybrid work schedule of your employees, or perhaps you need a space that allows for more collaboration between your teams. Any change in office space will require you to examine your technology to ensure it is helping your employees work more efficiently, rather than hinder their ability to do their job successfully.
Enhancing Hybrid Workplace Through New Technologies
Before the pandemic, companies were focused on having the best technologies for their office spaces and devices. Now, with many still remote and even more entering a hybrid environment, organizations have to balance the technology needs of a physical office with those that come with working remotely. There are many ways in which new technologies can help improve a hybrid environment, but here we will focus on the three: Wi-Fi 6 / 6E, Smart Buildings, and OpenRoaming.
Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E
Customers today want to transform their workplace into a safer, smarter, and more productive environment. Although Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E (in which the E stands for “extended”) sound similar, they actually offer very different experiences. While Wi-Fi 6 and the previous generations utilized 2.4 and 5 gigahertz bands, Wi-Fi 6E opens up a new frequency band of 6 gigahertz for dedicated transmission – which helps significantly improve the experience of consuming internet applications. Wi-Fi 6E not only supports IoT devices, but it also supports diversity in device types and the growing need for high density and critical communication.
With Wi-Fi 6E, new levels of security are mandatory as 6E will no longer be able to support legacy protocols. Secure handshake replaces old legacy WPA protocols between the device and the router. Additionally, because Wi-Fi 6E no longer uses a pre-shared key, companies are able to reduce brute force attacks against their wireless networks. Finally, when it comes to encryption, Wi-Fi 6E takes advantage of GCMP256: the latest and greatest of data encryption technology.
During the pandemic, employees had to quickly adjust (sometimes overnight) to be able to work remotely. This often included upgrading their home’s wireless network and increasing their bandwidth to ensure they could easily perform all their essential work functions in real time. As companies look to return to the office, or even introduce a hybrid work model, they want to deliver employees with the same, or sometimes even a superior office experience to that which they had in their homes.
To ensure employees continue to have fast and reliable connections when in office, organizations are making a major shift from AC line voltage to low voltage power over ethernet. Because of this shift, companies will no longer be required to have multiple miles of conduit running through the building. In addition to increasing the speed of connection for employees, companies will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce their CO2 footprint, and ultimately save money in installation labor and energy bills throughout the year.
OpenRoaming is the practice of automating device roaming between different Wi-Fi networks. The idea is to create an experience similar to that of the cellular experience where cell phones are always looking for nearby towers to keep calls and streaming connected while we are on the move.
The graphic below shows the various players in OpenRoaming today.
- The Ecosystem Brokers are the manufacturers and the creators of the wireless hardware, as well as the services for authenticating them.
- The Identity Providers will be responsible for using identities to authenticate users and admit them to roaming.
- The End User Devices are the devices that will be permitted to participate in OpenRoaming.
- The Network Providers are any organization that has a Wi-Fi network that users can connect to when roaming.
Making the Most of Your Post-Pandemic Work Environment
Whether your company is choosing to return to the office full time, or they are implementing a hybrid work environment, there will be changes and challenges that need to be addressed. Creating an environment that your employees want to be part of is critical in achieving adoption of your new work policies.
If your office environment is outdated, whether physically or from a technology standpoint, it will be more difficult to achieve employee buy-in. Ensuring that employees have a positive work experience (regardless of their work arrangements) will be instrumental in your company’s success and future growth.
To learn more about how Core BTS can help you prepare for the shift to the office or a hybrid work model, reach out to our team today.
Watch the Authors’ On-Demand Webinar Below: