Speaking to attendees at the recent Orange Virtual Connect Europe 2020, I took the opportunity to examine how the traditional office will be transformed as a result of the pandemic.
I believe there will be a jump in the number people going back to offices in 2021, following COVID vaccine breakthroughs. This trend, however, will be short lived. The initial rush back to the office will be driven by our innate human desire to interact face-to-face with our colleagues, socialize again and waylay worries about job security.
Working life has been upended during the world’s biggest remote working experiment. Indeed, the welfare of staff will be uppermost on management’s mind for the foreseeable future. From my perspective, however, the idea that everyone would want to work from home forever has been greatly exaggerated.
Enterprises are beginning to think about the long term and looking at different ways to structure working hours around continued uncertainty. Hybrid working practices, which have already been adopted so successfully by born-digital companies such as Google, is seen by many as the way forward.
It isn’t quite as simple as just adopting a flexible working program. To make the hybrid working model viable and productive, technology is paramount. Employees need access to robust, secure networks and the right tools to make it happen. Software-defined networks (SDNs) provide remote end-to end network management and security alongside scalability and optimized network resources.
Technology is fundamental to hybrid working
I was interested to see that The Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane has been promoting a hybrid approach to working. He has gone as far as saying that the lack of face-to-face interaction is killing off opportunities for innovation and collaboration. He also maintains that productivity claims on homeworking are actually a result of working longer hours.
To facilitate face-to-face teamwork, I believe we will see the rise of Starbucks-style office spaces designed as collaboration hubs. They will require high-speed wireless networks to support an enhanced user experience. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will be essential for health and safety applications, such as social distancing. Employees, however, will have to trade off privacy for providing insight into their behaviors and location to support well-being programs.
As part of this transformation, organizations will need to upgrade office technologies and adopt new solutions. They include improved videoconferencing, which will be at the heart of virtual collaboration. Software-defined networking will be essential in making video applications more scalable, flexible and controllable.
SDN extended to the home
As a result of this hybrid model, I believe that the SDN management layer will be extended to the home office. We have already seen a number of our multinational customers adopting Cisco Meraki for their homeworking employees. This provides a secure in-office IT experience for remote workforces and a solid foundation for hybrid working.
SDN also supports the concept of “zero trust” for network security. We’ve seen a marked increase in cyberattacks during the pandemic, particularly against homeworkers. SDN enables enterprises to deploy microsegmentation as part of a zero-trust model, for example.
SDN, combined with edge computing, also has the potential to boost application speeds for homeworkers, by providing real-time processing power closer to the end user. The combination will make homeworking viable for high-demand remote workers, such as medical professionals and financial services providers. This scenario, however, won’t be mass market for some time to come.
It is important to point out here that SDN requires commitment and a big change in mindset. Software-defined access (SDA) will change the way enterprises deliver and support applications. It provides revolutionary changes in the network that will require significant changes in the way enterprises think and new skill sets. IT teams will have fewer menial tasks because of automation, thereby gaining more time to focus on optimizing networks and security, for example.
The time is right for software-defined access
SDN’s beauty is that it allows for granular control of the network. Security settings can be segmented based on the sources of the network traffic or sensitivity of data, for example, all crucial to the management of remote working.
Even before the global health crisis, SDN was part of many enterprises’ digital transformation roadmaps. Now, with the trend for hybrid working taking hold, the business case is stronger than ever.
To find out more, please do check out my whitepaper: Enterprise networks in the “new normal”.
Tom Gavin has been Head of Orange Consulting Europe since 2019. Previously he has held roles in sales and management. Tom lives in London and has three daughters. He spends his spare time as a post graduate student at the Computing Department at the University West London and walking his dogs.