Millions of people now work from home, where they strive for better productivity and work-life balance. But many people also go into a corporate office a couple times a week to collaborate with colleagues and access resources unavailable to them at home. These people are known as hybrid workers. IT organizations are finding hybrid workers have new requirements that are driving major changes to on-premises networks, according to new research from Enterprise Management Associates.
EMA recently surveyed 354 IT professionals about how they support the networking requirements of remote and hybrid workers. The results were published in the new report titled "Modernizing Network Engineering and Operations in the Era of Hybrid and Remote Work." More than 96% of respondents told EMA that they were supporting hybrid workers.
"We just started doing an organized approach to hybrid work," an IT manager for a midsize software company told EMA. "If you live near one of the offices, you're expected to come in two days a week. Leadership wanted to see more people collaborating."
Hybrid workers demand more bandwidth
Hybrid workers simply work differently. For instance, the time they spend working from home has increased their reliance on real-time communications applications, like voice and video, to enable collaboration. Nearly 90% of IT professionals have observed an increase in the consumption of these communications applications since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People were not as quick to use Microsoft Teams before the pandemic," an IT project manager with a $6.5 billion energy company told EMA. "Utilization was at 50%. Now, it's at 100% -- lots more video."
Hybrid workers bring this workstyle with them when they go to the office, which means on-premises networks are seeing a massive increase in bandwidth-hungry, real-time communications applications. Nearly 80% of IT professionals said hybrid workers have increased the overall bandwidth demand on their on-premises networks.
Many IT organizations have found they need to upgrade both LAN infrastructure and WAN links to accommodate this bandwidth demand. In fact, IT professionals who reported the largest increase in voice and video application consumption also reported the greatest increases in bandwidth demand.
"With Teams usage at 100%, bandwidth demand is going up," said the IT project manager with the energy company. "We had to upgrade MPLS virtually everywhere."
Hybrid work drives more mobility
Hybrid workers also interact with the physical space of a corporate office differently. They spend less time at desks and more time in meetings, both planned and impromptu. This means that they need mobile connectivity wherever they go, whether they are at a desk, in a conference room or with a co-worker at the water cooler.
Nearly 90% of IT professionals reported that the presence of hybrid workers in their corporate offices has created new mobility requirements that are prompting network infrastructure teams to expand or upgrade Wi-Fi networks.
"Campus wireless is an ongoing battle," said the IT project manager at the energy company. "They're moving around, and the access points don't match up with the people now. The coverage they have isn't great."
These updated wireless networks must also support location-based services. More than 80% of IT professionals said hybrid work has created interest in using location technology to facilitate things like reserving and tracking the availability of hot desks, conference rooms and other resources.
Network access policies must evolve
With hybrid workers floating between the home and office, network access controls are becoming complex, and complexity can lead to errors or rogue behavior that heightens security risk. Most IT organizations have one set of controls for on-premises networks and a second set of controls for remote work. This creates friction for the end user, who must deal with at least two sets of authentication and access systems. It also creates complexity for IT organizations, who have to manage access policies in at least two separate systems, leading to inconsistencies.
In fact, 76% of IT professionals reported they need to unify network access policies across on-premises networks and the home offices of employees. Unfortunately, only 27% are completely satisfied with how that unification is proceeding so far.
EMA recommends that enterprises adopt a network access service that can work across on-premises and remote access. However, this is still an emerging requirement, and few vendors offer such services today. EMA research found that effective unification of access policy controls correlates with higher productivity gains from remote and hybrid work. Not only is the network more secure, but end users encounter less friction when working.