Navigating connectivity for your staff
A dynamic workforce needs a more flexible approach to connectivity, supporting employees to work wherever and whenever they work best
For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we work. The office is no longer the only workplace, or even the primary one. Instead, we've adapted to working from home, even when that means collaborating remotely or living without the systems and support staff that we've previously counted on. This isn't a situation that will flip back once things 'get back to normal.' Recent O2 research found that, pre-pandemic, 88% of the workers surveyed worked mainly from the office and just 5% mainly from home. When asked how they would like to work post-COVID-19, only 10% wanted to return to the office full-time, 74% wanted to work from a mix of locations, and 16% wanted to work from home permanently.
Many employees see this as an opportunity to improve their work/life balance or work where and when they're at their most productive, and this shift allows IT, Ops and HR teams to redesign the tools and processes with which they support their workforce. Technology has now been proven to enable people to work both remotely (from other locations) and flexibly (at other times), with many organisations now having developed a remote working infrastructure to keep the business operational day to day, Now there is a need to think about how they support a dynamic workforce for the long term. This doesn't simply mean giving employees the option to work from home, but the freedom and flexibility to work almost anywhere and at any time they can be their most effective and efficient.
For some employees, this might not necessarily mean working from home. 55% of those O2 surveyed didn't have a proper desk to work from at home, and only just over a quarter (27%) had an ergonomic chair. But as lockdown regulations begin to ease, these workers don't just need robust connectivity inside their home, but robust, seamless connectivity wherever they choose to work.
Meanwhile, those working from home may face other challenges in terms of services and connectivity. O2's research found that two in five remote workers still don't have access to all the relevant work systems, while 43% didn't have a reliable Internet connection. Workers may be stuck with slow or patchy broadband, and without the business-grade support to get it improved. Many will be sharing their connection with others in the household, including children, partners and housemates, who may be using the connection for homework, games or video-streaming, not to mention their own remote work.
Meanwhile, IT teams have lost the network visibility they enjoyed on-premise, but also need to contend with the new risks that come with using consumer-level network hardware and security, with reduced control over software updates and patching . How can organisations provide the connectivity and network or systems access their workers need while safeguarding their systems and data?
The first thing to understand is that not everyone in the workforce works in the same way. Through its research, O2 broke down the new dynamic worker into seven different personas, each with their own requirements. Career Starters, likely to live in shared housing and in need of mentoring and skills development, are more likely to want to work in the office. The same goes for Command and Controllers, who like collaboration, project management and centralised support. Hobbyists, preferring their own space and online collaboration tools, are more inclined to work from home, as are the Homebodies who enjoy their flexibility and prize their work/life balance.
In the middle, you'll find what O2 label 'Mixers'; employees who want the flexibility to work at home, in the office or from other spaces, including work hubs, cafes, customer sites and public spaces. Of these, the Nomads are looking for flexibility outside both the home and office and want the support to work effectively wherever they are. Socialisers prioritise their in-person relationships and want to mix time in the office with time spent working remotely. Planners, meanwhile, want to be able to choose between the home and the office to maximise their productivity, while balancing their work and family commitments.
For those who choose to work from the office, remote connectivity isn't such an issue; they may need to work from home or on the road occasionally, but it's not their priority. For home-based Hobbyists and Homebodies, however, home connectivity is key. It's the three Mixer personas, though, who pose arguably the biggest challenge, as they need connectivity both at home and in the office, but also in work hubs, cafes, and public spaces. What's more, they need that connectivity to be seamless, reliable and safe.
Both home workers and Mixers will have requirements that need addressing to allow them to work at their best. Virtual Private Network (VPN) connectivity, delivering a secure tunnel between the client PC and the office network, is a must for secure access to on-premise resources, and just as important whether employees are working from home or from a shared or public network. Unified Endpoint Management and Mobile Device Management solutions ensure organisations can maintain security and deliver secure access to corporate tools and data, even on devices that they're unable to go physically hands-on with. Sometimes we forget that connectivity isn't just about enabling productivity and collaboration for workers, but also ensuring that IT teams can deliver crucial security updates and provide support to a dynamic workforce from a distance.
Endpoint Protection solutions are also important, protecting end-user devices and containing any threats so that they can't infiltrate the corporate network. More organisations are realising that, as they work to secure a more remote and geographically diverse workforce, old-fashioned perimeter security strategies no longer work, and that zero trust security policies, where you assume end-user devices may already be compromised, are now a necessity. These solutions aren't hard to find or implement, either, with O2 offering a wide range of management, security and Device as a Service (DaaS) solutions that work across a diverse desktop and mobile estate.
In terms of the connectivity technology itself, relying on home broadband technology might not always be the answer. After all, this means leaving workers relying on a consumer-grade connection, with competing demands for bandwidth from others in the household. How many video meetings are derailed by someone bingeing Netflix or downloading console games in the background? What's more, security can't be guaranteed when it relies on a poorly protected router with the default passwords still in place, and, as households bring in more and more devices onto their network, the need for effective security only grows.
Some businesses will consider bringing in their own work-specific Internet connection – and 23% of respondents to O2's survey felt this was a company responsibility, rising to 36% for C-suite members. However, there's a smarter, cost-efficient alternative; to provide mobile connectivity to those that need it, either through mobile devices or 4G or 5G WiFi routers. Across most of the UK, 4G connectivity is fast and reliable enough for most business use-cases, including video-conferencing and virtual collaboration, while the 5G services now rolling across major urban areas offer more bandwidth than many fibre broadband plans. By providing these services and the equipment to their workers, businesses can have more control over their security and over how they're used.
This makes 4G and 5G connectivity a great option within the home, either as the main Internet connection or a failover option. Last year, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), chose 4G and 5G mobile connectivity as a means of delivering affordable, work-only Internet to support its remote workforce and separate home and work Internet costs. However, this path is also the best fit for the Mixers we talked about earlier, as it could give them fast, stable connectivity everywhere they want to work. Where a landline-based connection always grounds you in one location, mobile connectivity gives dynamic workers real choice.
O2 provides a wide range of true business-grade mobile broadband plans and devices, designed for every size of business. It also offers O2 Gateway; a single connectivity platform that brings mobile, Wi-Fi and WAN services together, under a single contract. This gives users access to the full corporate network, wherever they are, and on any device, with secure tunnelling to protect data in transit between the two. A dynamic workforce needs a more flexible approach, focused on the work style and needs of individual employees – and not just the needs they have right now, but their needs as their persona changes as they move through different stages of their life. By empowering workers wherever they need to work, combining the right broadband, WAN and connectivity services, organisations can deliver just that.
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