Security, IT tools, and right policies key for hybrid work

Cisco Live 2022 emphasized the hybrid work future, but security, the right tools and skills for network teams, and policy alignment to technology are key.

At this week’s Cisco Live, there was one notable post-pandemic theme: hybrid work.

It felt awfully good to be face-to-face with IT and networking professionals on a convention center floor again.

But two years later, most of us realize that remote work is not a temporary workaround. It was clear in Las Vegas that some form of fully remote or remote and in-office work is the future.

This tectonic shift in how and where we work has real implications for networks and the professionals who administer them. To help you navigate hybrid work models for your enterprise, BlueCat culled what Cisco’s experts and research partners said about it this week.

First, this post will explore the research data that shows that hybrid work is here to stay.
Then, it will delve into the criticality of security for effective hybrid work.
Next, it will look at how network teams need the right tools and skills to support it.
Finally, it will touch on the importance of calibrating hybrid work policies to an organization’s technology capabilities.

A hybrid work future: The research backs it up

In partnership with global market intelligence firm IDC, Cisco’s Hybrid Work Index reveals some compelling stats.

  • 64% of respondents agree that working from anywhere vs. coming into the office directly affects whether to stay or leave a job.
  • There has been a 200% increase in mobile device use for accessing meetings since early 2020.
  • WiFi 6—the latest generation of WiFi with speeds of 9.6 Gbps—went from zero to 80% penetration in two years.
  • WebEx, Cisco’s web conferencing product, has seen a 44% increase in total meetings, a 37% increase in meeting participants, and a 45% increase in meeting minutes.

According to Amy Loomis, Research Director for IDC’s Future of Work market research service, by next year, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 companies will deploy remote and hybrid-first work models.

Key hybrid work stats from Cisco Live

“If you were thinking you could just put this off until next year, if you could cut your budget, if you could just stay steady state, 80% of the people that we studied in this Cisco study had work transformation initiatives that were either underway or had been completed,” Loomis says. “Forty percent have a technology roadmap and they are implementing it to address work transformation.

“And, oh, by the way, zero had not done anything,” she adds.

IDC calculated that organizations will spend a billion dollars on work transformation by 2024.

For hybrid work success, security is paramount

Loomis notes that security is the foundation of any fully remote or hybrid work model.

Indeed, according to Cisco’s Hybrid Work Index, VPN and remote access experienced 1.5x growth at the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, malicious remote access attempts grew by 2.4x during the same period. And attackers often use DNS as a vector.

But what does that mean for network teams?

“What kinds of skills will those IT support people need to have to keep up with the security protocols that they are responsible for enforcing?” Loomis asks. “How can they look at a landscape and be able to have visibility into the vast amount of IT support that is going to be required?”

Certainly, hybrid work models increase both responsibilities and complexity for network teams. Security is needed for a vast number of connected end-user mobile devices. Further, those devices must connect to enterprise networks from globally distributed endpoints at both speed and scale. And all in a manner that maintains integrity over time.

Network teams need the skills and tools to enable hybrid work

Investing in the right digital tools to drive creativity and innovation is crucial to sustaining an effective hybrid work culture. But it’s not enough to just provide the tools.

Loomis suggests that what’s needed is a company culture of parity in employee experiences.

“How is it that we can feel like we’re all together in one room when we’re in different rooms or when some of us are together and some of us are apart?” she says. “And then think about those integrated workflows. This is the fastest-growing area of automation that we have seen.”

Consider how employees working from home experience those endpoints and workflows. When they’re at home, what technology does it take to quickly connect them to their office network, making sure they’re stepping through all the necessary security checkpoints along the way?

Furthermore, what if those team members choose to work in the office a certain number of days per week? What does it take for them to book an office space cubicle or conference room?

“All of these things start to become part of an ongoing workflow that gets increasingly complex and increasingly complex to manage,” Loomis says.

What does the technology workflow look like?

It’s critical to consider, from a technology standpoint, what that workflow would look like. Do network teams have the right tools, network speed and capacity, and expertise to support it?

Clearly, work is still needed. Of those 40% of organizations that IDC found had implemented digital roadmaps for hybrid work, only 20% of them have implemented cloud and mobile-first solutions.

“If you want to get that flexibility, if you want to have that fluidity, if you want to have a culture of trust that is based on having access to the right tools and the technology and the people, you need to make that investment,” Loomis says.

Optimized DNS resolution is critical

Whether employees have opted to return to the office or are working from home, it’s important for network teams to remember that DNS is the first step in everyone’s network path. If there’s latency, decreased speed and performance can spell disaster for a hybrid work model.

For network teams, optimizing DNS resolution can help prevent this issue. As more organizations embrace hybrid work, unified visibility, control, and DNS resolution are crucial. DNS management tools can also increase network resiliency. They minimize downtime and cut latency to deliver a seamless and scalable experience regardless of work arrangement.

Hybrid work policies must meet the technology where it’s at

Technology is critical to the equation. However, Loomis notes that a successful hybrid workplace also requires investment from other business units, especially HR.

“Being able to have these accessible tools that allow people to work in different lifestyles across different devices and different configurations is a critical component not just of your technology landscape but part of your human and cultural landscape,” she says.

Loomis says that a common downfall is that HR may implement hybrid work policies without consulting with IT to understand current capabilities.

“Many organizations may have a policy that is far ahead of what their technologies can offer in order for people to be able to effectively execute on hybrid work,” she notes.

Other organizations use metrics to understand how hybrid work is or is not integrated into their organization. How is the learning, flow of work, and application usage progressing?

Matching and regularly adjusting hybrid work policies to what those results show is imperative, Loomis says.

“That’s what the hybrid work leaders do,” she says. “They align their hybrid work policies to whatever the maturity and the sophistication and the capability is of their culture, their people, their leadership, and their technology. Making sure they’re calibrated, making sure they’re iterative and not just something that’s just, sort of, writ in stone.”

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