Hybrid working: network managers need to take care of unfinished business

For many enterprises, the pandemic involved rapidly deployed ways of enabling remote working. Today, the need for long-term solutions means that hybrid working is one of the top three trends driving network modernization – as reflected in the 2022-23 Global Network Report published by NTT.

According to the survey data for this report, 93% of CEOs agree that even if their staff return to the physical workplace, they will provide an expanded remote or hybrid-working policy.

But even though hybrid working is here to stay, organizations may still lack the cybersecurity controls and business-grade internet connections, like SD-WAN, that are required to support remote and hybrid workers. The burden on the network grows even as some employees start returning to the office.

The report flags three ways in which CIOs and CTOs are reshaping the physical workplace to meet these new demands:

Increasing Wi-Fi density and speed for seamless connectivity and high-bandwidth applicationsConverging information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networksProviding modern meeting rooms and devices with high-resolution video

However, the impact of these increased burdens on enterprise networks isn’t always widely appreciated. Amit Dhingra, Executive Vice President of Enterprise Networking at NTT, says: “Nobody expected it. But the requirement on the network is increasing because even when we go into the office, we spend much of the day on high-definition video calls.

“The network was never built for that. It was built for in-person collaboration within the office, not virtual collaboration. But in the workplace, we have all become guzzlers of bandwidth in a way we were not before the pandemic.”

In the Global Network Report survey, 97% of CIOs and CTOs say that hybrid working leads to a higher demand for network connectivity, generated by both home and remote working.

The result: network managers now need to ensure that networks are both fit for remote working and able to cope with the demands of high bandwidth consumption in the workplace.

The survey also shows that 93% of CIOs and CTOs believe the campus network is the most critical element to enabling a resilient hybrid workplace.

On top of these challenges, Matthew Allen, Vice President, Service Offer Management – Networking at NTT, identifies a further difficulty. “Once you’ve got distributed employees all over the place, how does IT get visibility? How are those users accessing their systems? Are they performing to standard? If employees are not able to access key business systems no matter where they are, you have an issue. Lack of visibility is really one of the key problems that we have encountered.”

NTT’s recipe for hybrid working begins with zero trust network architecture, identity management and multifactor authentication. There’s also the requirement for a seamless transition between different work environments, says Allen: “Everyone returns to the office, carries their company laptop if they’ve got one, carries their phone, carries their watch, carries whatever. If I’m connecting all of these things at home, I want to be able to walk into my office and connect in a similar way without too much drama. If the underpinning technology enables that experience, this becomes a way to start bringing people back into offices.”

Finally, there’s the need to consider access technologies. Dhingra says: “It’s wireless-first if you ask us, perhaps wireless-only campus connectivity. Gone are the days when you used to have lots of fixed LAN cables. This is true in offices, and it’s true in factories too. This, combined with wireless access, enables manufacturers to rejig assembly lines within days, rather than months.”

Enabling productivity and effective collaboration amid hybrid working has become one of the top five business objectives for organizations, the Global Network Report shows. After what was – in many cases – a frantic transition at the start of the pandemic, it’s clear that a good deal more work remains to be done before enterprises can claim to have laid the foundations for a long-term hybrid-working strategy.

NTT’s Global Network Report takes stock of how networks are evolving, organizations’ preparedness for these changes and how they will adapt their networks to these new demands.

Download the 2022–23 Global Network Report