The three-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. marks an important milestone for businesses as they evaluate how they operate and get work done. IT leaders have implemented smart strategies to make digital work efficient, collaborative and sustainable, but the landscape continues to evolve.
A June 2022 Gallup survey found that 50 percent of employees who are capable of working remotely are working hybrid schedules, spending part of their week onsite. Around 30 percent are working remotely exclusively, and 20 percent are in the office full time. According to PwC’s 2022 Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, 63 percent of respondents prefer a mix of in-person and remote work. The same percentage also expects that employers will continue to offer this option for the next 12 months at least.
Businesses managing the future of digital work will need a variety of tools to optimize that work, including networking technologies such as software-defined WAN and Wi-Fi 6.
Networking technologies provide the “connective tissue” for business operations, says Will Townsend, principal analyst of networking infrastructure, carrier services and security at Moor Insights & Strategy.
“It’s about ensuring consistent connectivity,” Townsend says. “And it’s not just about a connection. It’s also about how that consistent connectivity can provide a campus- or office-like experience from anywhere.”
SD-WAN Gives Businesses Efficiency, Flexibility and Security
Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst for ZK Research (and a BizTech contributor), agrees. Because businesses are using more applications that are network-sensitive — especially the collaboration tools that enable digital work — “the network itself is the thing that provides a great quality experience,” he says.
SD-WAN can help on both of those fronts. Instead of having remote workers connect to enterprise applications through a VPN concentrator, users connect directly through the cloud to an SD-WAN client or remote hub, Kerravala notes.
That results in less latency and better application performance. Users can also access applications in a sleek, seamless fashion because this tech is invisible — there’s no need to connect to or configure a VPN client.
Another key benefit of SD-WAN is that it provides a coherent company experience that goes beyond the confines of a corporate network. While it may not be cost-effective to scale it for businesses with tens of thousands of employees, Townsend says, many small and medium-sized businesses will benefit from the ability to set granular policies, including on traffic optimization and network access, via software tools.
Further, SD-WAN opens the door for organizations to adopt secure access service edge to bolster their network security. SASE, Kerravala says, is the “only way to really effectively scale zero trust” for cybersecurity.
“SASE marries the best of SD-WAN architecture and integrates security into the network fabric,” Townsend says. Instead of focusing on users’ connectivity first and then bolting on security tools such as next-generation firewalls after that, SASE uses zero-trust principles of authenticating users to applications to embed security into the network architecture.
Wi-Fi 6 Delivers a Performance Boost for Remote Workers
Wi-Fi 6 is another networking tool that businesses can use to optimize the performance of employees working remotely. First introduced in 2019, Wi-Fi 6 brings improved connection quality, faster speeds and increased data capacity per cell, as well improved performance for applications such as 4K video streaming, according to Kerravala.
“If you’re doing a lot of video calls and things from home, then Wi-Fi 6 will perform better than Wi-Fi 5,” he says.
The percentage of respondents who prefer a mix of in-person and remote work
Source: PwC, Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, May 2022
Wi-Fi 6 vendors such as Cisco Systems, Aruba Networks and Juniper Networks have developed sophisticated tools and dashboards that make it easier for IT administrators to manage and provision connectivity, including for Internet of Things devices, Townsend says. “Wi-Fi 6 can support many more devices than earlier versions of Wi-Fi,” he adds.
As organizations consider adopting or evolving their deployments of either SD-WAN or Wi-Fi 6, Townsend says, it’s important for them to partner with trusted advisers to determine the best connectivity options for their specific business needs.
For Townsend, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to finding the right partner; businesses should look for one that can help them implement these advanced technologies to achieve a higher level of success with digital work.
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