In March of this year, commercial offices began closing around the world, and businesses sent millions of their employees home to do their jobs from there. For the most part, I.T. successfully supported the transition. The global Internet did not crumble, and most people found they could access resources and videoconferencing tools just fine. It’s a testament to I.T. workers around the world that this emergency transition worked as well as it did.
But we are no longer in the emergency phase of the shift to work-from-home. It’s time now to plan for a long-term change in where people work, how they access online resources, and how we support and secure these users and their workloads.
The fundamental shift is that we need to think about our people working from home, and the home networks they use, as the default network. We cannot think of these home installations as second fiddle to our corporate-controlled, office-based networks. Now we must consider every work-from-home worker, and every one of their home offices, as worthy of the same level of connectivity support as our company headquarters and branches.
Of course, we can’t really provide every worker with headquarters-level support for their home networks. But we can attack the challenge by breaking down the way we approach the different needs of different workers. And by using new methods to head off issues before they become critical.
The Status Quo: VPN Users
For many office employees in companies that rely heavily on corporate applications, the standard model of equipping them with Virtual Private Network (VPN) software for their computers will continue to work. Configuring split tunneling can optimize performance to cloud-hosted services while still giving employees secure access to corporate-hosted resources.
There are even some users who can throttle back from using VPNs. Today, we have employees who work exclusively on cloud services (like Office365), and we can take a zero-trust posture with their networking stacks, relying instead on the applications for security.
But even in cases where the end user isn’t connected to corporate-controlled resources or for whom connecting to a VPN is superfluous, we should still monitor the performance of the services they are using, to get ahead of any issues that may arise in their cloud services. With digital experience monitoring, it’s possible to check on network and application performance, even for networks and applications that do not touch our corporate infrastructure.
Enhanced Connectivity: Corporate Access Points in the Home
For employees for whom best-effort connectivity isn’t enough, we can replace or augment a home wireless access point with a Wi-Fi router that acts as an extension of the corporate network. A home wireless access point, configured by company I.T. before the employee installs it, can provide advanced security and monitoring and prioritize bandwidth for applications that need it.
As a side benefit for users, corporate access points can make an in-home network appear just like the at-the-office network. If their devices automatically connect at the office, they’ll do the same at home. There’s no need to bother with firing up a VPN.
For home workers who need to get non-PC devices, like IP phones, on the corporate network, dedicated corporate access points are also an easy solution.
Some of our customers support engineers working at home as well, and some of them need to get multiple devices on their companies’ networks. For them, extending the network into the home is by far the best solution.
In fact, for pure simplicity and ease of use, having a company Wi-Fi access point in the home can’t be beat — especially for the many employees who use multiple devices for work, like perhaps a laptop, a phone, and a tablet. This solution removes the need to ever sign on to a VPN and makes seamless connectivity to work resources a snap.
And as remote extensions of the corporate network, corporate IT will have full visibility into these access points. They can manage the devices remotely and track performance and security issues.
Our Remote Workforce Wireless Solution is designed for these use cases.
When Poor Connectivity Means Lost Revenue — or Worse
And then you have the employees who absolutely cannot suffer downtime or performance outages: for example, real-time traders and medical professionals. These are workers for whom the vast majority of their productivity is interacting with remote systems or other people. For these workers, even a reliable ISP connection to their home office may not be good enough.
Furthermore, for high-security workers like traders, it may not be good for them to go direct to the Internet and risk falling prey to a honeypot attack from a van sitting outside their house.
More commonly, for a worker who has limited ISP bandwidth in their home, it may be unacceptable if, say, a video consultation degrades because a child in their house is competing for bandwidth during a distance-learning class at the same time.
For these workers, we recommend secure SD-WAN routers that can select better or alternate paths to necessary resources in real-time. In these homes, consider a router (like our LTE Advanced Pro) that has an independent wireless connection. I.T. personnel can configure this equipment so critical communications are routed over it – either all the time, or when the main link becomes burdened.
While a home-based SD-WAN router is overkill for most workers, when connectivity is mission-critical (and when you’re equipping execs who cannot stand being disconnected), it’s the best option. It’s also a good solution for employees who don’t have a reliable primary ISP.
Work from Home is Not One-Size-Fits-All
Our employees have been working from home for months, and it is time to start finessing their networking solutions. We need to consider individual circumstances, including the availability of reliable ISP connectivity for each user, the number and types of devices they work with, and how important it is that they remain online 100% of the time.
Even when people start returning to offices, there will be many employees who work from home more frequently – and many who rarely, or never, come in to the office. Their home installations deserve the same level of consideration and support as any other place where our employees gather.
For more on how Cisco can support IT teams, please see Secure Network Solutions for Business Resiliency.
This blog was originally written by Greg Dorai for Cisco Blogs.