Working from home used to be the privilege of a few lucky souls, spared the inconveniences of the daily commute and the tittle tattle of office politics around the watercooler by virtue of their special status. Now after a year or more of Zoom meetings and flaky broadband, some of the ‘specialness’ and mystique of the remote lifestyle has worn off.
Luckily we’re entering a new phase. The future will be a lot more hybridised than we’ve experienced hitherto – with some back full time at HQ, others opting to remain at the kitchen table, while a third and more enigmatic category will flit between the two, driven by invisible motivations of their own. There’s research to support this. Post COVID, IDC expects more than half of employees to be working remotely, either full time or part of the time.
For those remaining solo, sticking with the lockdown lifestyle even as actual lockdown lifts, a term has been coined – the ‘branch of one’. But let’s be clear about one thing: The technical sticking plasters and glue that supported the rush to remote work in 2020 will no longer be considered good enough going forwards. What’s needed is an architecture able to extend enterprise class networks to remote and mobile employees, not by way of a temporary fix but a full-on fixture. Whatever the solution chosen, it needs to deliver a level playing field whereby no individual is inconvenienced or marginalised – or left with a second-class level of cyber protection.
There’s every chance that the technology that will make this happen has not yet been developed. Or it may still be a work in progress at R&D stage. We do know that it will have to ensure resiliency, enable agility, and overcome all of the business continuity and cost optimization challenges that enterprises managing hybrid workforces have. Those organisations will need the right networking in place, accompanied by the kind of real-time insights that support pervasive digital experiences. Yes, working from home counts as an experience and it’s expected to be a good one. Networks supporting the branch of one will have to carry high bandwidth stuff, such as video traffic, so we’ll need to worry about low latency too.
So do all branch of one workers need the same access to the same technology and applications? No, nothing as simple as that. There’s knowledge workers, accounting for the biggest chunk of remote workers. These might just need some solution that ensures connectivity to a cloud gateway. The next tier up are people like developers and call centre workers who maybe need something a bit more than a piece of enabling software. They can ill afford downtime, and would suffer arguably more than knowledge workers from a cyber attack. Then there’s remote workers for whom connectivity failure is just not an option – so C-level types in finance, legal and healthcare. They might need an SD WAN gateway, or a firewall appliance.
There’s a lot of work to be done to make the branch of one a viable reality. That work needs to start right now.
The following webcast will offer very useful insights into this area:
And these are the organisations that took part:
Brandon Butler, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Networks IDC
Samantha Davis, CIO Americas, Arkema Inc.
Mark Parr, Global Director of Information Technology, HFW
Gaurav Anand, Board Member, Tata Communications America, Inc.
Ian Wood, Head of Technology UK & Ireland at Veritas Technologies