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Today we are living in unprecedented times our world suddenly turned upside down by an invisible threat – COVID-19. The human race has adapted remarkably well in such a short time and is showing signs of defeating the enemy.
Business in the UK has been affected in disparate ways. Many of us are working from home whilst others are furloughed as different industries are affected in different ways.
Today most people work from home out of necessity. On the whole, we are all making a good job of it. Imposed at short notice the current way of working is probably not the optimal solution. Concerns over security the reliable speed of employee provided internet connections when whole families are at home, lack of social contact and the effect on mental health are all things that have in many cases not been fully considered given the speed to implement working from home.
Together we have made great strides to keep going and with recent Government announcements are starting to plan for the new normal. So what is the new normal?
Consultants have a great knack for making us move to extremes of the spectrum of possibilities remember decentralisation v centralisation or efficiency v customer service. Most businesses do not fit into a box at the end of the spectrum.
At the moment we have to observe social distancing, so the days of the old office environment are still a way off. Business is thinking about what the new normal will be. Some are keen to return to the old ways of working in the office(s), whilst others have said they will not return to the office and will not renew office leases as they expire. Many, however, are considering something in between as recognition of the need to balance of working from home (better work-life balance, less travel) with the need for social interaction and impromptu interaction over the watercooler, kettle or printer.
Not everyone is the same and whilst many of us work well remotely others benefit and develop in an office environment. Introverts and extroverts and everyone in-between benefit from different environments, management styles and ways of sharing ideas.
Some of our customers are considering closing large offices and creating multiple smaller touchdown sites across the country. They believe this will reduce travel time and increase social interaction. Big team events can be held at conference venues/hotels on a more regular basis rather than the once a year event.
The solution will ultimately vary by industry and/or by the size of business. We know that one size does not fit all. Exploring options now and making plans will prepare us for the new normal – whatever it is for you.
Many existing remote working solutions are rudimentary: a basic VPN using employees' home broadband connections, plus web-based email, a few web apps and possibly some remote desktop sessions. This is fine as a stop-gap measure, but far from optimal.
VPNs create an authenticated encrypted tunnel from an employee's untrusted device to the corporate network. Once that connection has been made, there may be almost nothing to protect the network against malware, inappropriate network use or data leaks. If remote working is to be commonplace, it is worth adding additional network protection, using a Unified Threat Management device. This can also help protect remote workers from having their PC infected by malicious web sites.
It is essential to implement collaboration tools so everyone can stay on the same page. These also provide an element of social contact to reduce the isolation some employees may feel when stuck at home, unable to have their usual chats over the water cooler. In this respect, Video Conferencing, which was promoted as the “future” for many years, is now Normal. If you do not have a video conferencing service, you need to get one. If you subscribe to Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365), you may already have a solution – Microsoft Teams. Many organisations that use Microsoft Teams are unaware that they could also use it to make and receive phone calls using their existing phone number ranges, thanks to Microsoft Direct Routing.
Bandwidth is now more critical than ever. Interestingly, it is possible that your office has enough bandwidth to support multiple high-definition video conferencing calls at once, but new workplaces, such as employees’ homes and perhaps new smaller regional hubs should be taken care of as well. For efficiency and consistency of service, consider dedicated broadband lines, avoiding the family Netflix congestion, and providing security for employee usage.
Most on-premise IT systems were set up to serve users within the same office. Now that many users are working away from the main office, organisations will begin to rethink where their IT platform is hosted. Server workloads, telephone systems, firewalls and web-filtering devices, file storage and backup storage will increasingly move from on-premise server rooms to the cloud. Either to colocation space or to virtual platforms hosted by cloud providers. This will cut the network latency experienced by remote workers and eliminate the need for all remote-user traffic to pass back and forth through the office's connection. The cloud-hosted resources can be made to serve multiple offices, so you don't need as many devices and servers.
With office use declining, office closures and office moves are likely. By shifting IT to the cloud, you simplify future changes, as once you have moved to the cloud, only the connectivity needs to change. The workloads, storage and server-room elements will be able to stay where they are. In some cases, as part of this process, workloads that run directly on physical hardware can be virtualised and then run on resilient platforms, increasing reliability and often scalability as well. You even reduce your carbon footprint in the process of upgrading your IT!
The new normal has shifted what is required of IT. It has not changed the direction of travel, merely accelerated change that would have happened eventually. By adjusting your IT to the new normal, you can help your organisation, its staff and its customers get through this pandemic and bounce back.
hSo is a cloud, network and IT security provider. We can help you adapt to the new normal, with tools such as office and home connectivity, secure remote working solutions and public/private cloud migration.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there have been many surveys published showing how behaviour and opinion have changed. These include UK Working from Home Stats for 2022.