There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic workplace. The workforce of the future is hybrid, where employees will be able to work at home, in the office, or anywhere in between. And it’s up to IT leaders to help support this shift.

IDC predicts that by 2023, 75 percent of Forbes Global 2000 companies “will make a commitment to provide technical parity to a workforce that is hybrid by design.”

The research firm defines technical parity as ensuring “all workers have secure access to the resources required to do their jobs no matter their preferred device or if they are local, remote, in the field, or switching between locations.”

Enabling technical parity requires a fundamental shift in how IT leaders think about and deliver core enterprise technologies. And that includes the infrastructure that connects everyone and everything in your enterprise: the network.

To help IT leaders adapt to changes such as this, we have launched a series of articles on how to modernize your enterprise network. In this latest installment, we offer advice on how to connect a distributed workforce, enhance the user application experience from anywhere, and support a smart hybrid workspace.

Empowering a distributed workforce

Technical parity offers potential benefits beyond supporting a hybrid workforce at home and in the office—it can support a truly distributed workforce anywhere. It can, for example, give field workers access to the same apps and data as office workers.

The digital workspace becomes of primary importance in enabling every employee to work productively and collaboratively with colleagues, no matter where they are.

To support the digital workspace, however, your network infrastructure needs to be able to address the key challenges facing every IT leader, as explained in the first article in this series. It needs to allow users to quickly and easily connect from anywhere, secure their devices and business data, and enable your team to better manage today’s complex networks.

Enhancing the user application experience from anywhere

Technical parity is an important first step, but it “must go beyond access and provide experience parity—meaning that all workers should have the same, consistent experience” no matter where they are, according to IDC.

That particularly applies to applications. Enterprise networks must be optimized to provide the responsiveness employees need for business-critical applications and support the bandwidth requirements of video conferencing and similar resource-intensive systems.

It’s vital for customer-facing applications too. A two-second delay in web page load time, for example, can increase bounce rates by 103 percent, according to an Akamai study.

However, as we saw in the second article in this series, business applications have become more distributed and interconnected across multiple clouds and other locations. IT teams need tools to monitor and optimize traffic from users and devices to apps, and between apps, across traditional private networks and the internet.

Supporting a smart hybrid workspace

The shift to a hybrid workforce also has far-reaching consequences for office spaces. They need to be more flexible, with eight in ten executives expecting hybrid workers to be on-site between 21 and 80 percent of the time, according to McKinsey research. However organizations provide this flexibility—through hot-desking or other initiatives—a pervasive high-speed wireless network is essential.

A safe workspace is vital to enable workers to return to the office. This requires smart office technologies to provide essential new systems, such as occupancy management and safety monitoring applications.

These changes also offer opportunities to reduce costs. With more flexible workspaces and fewer employees on-site at any one time, organizations may be able to reduce their office space. Smart buildings can also automatically optimize air conditioning and lighting, depending on occupancy, enabling sustainability and energy conservation.

The foundation of the smart office is the ability to digitally connect devices and sensors throughout the office with Internet of Things (IoT) technology. This enables buildings to become programmable applications, which in turn allows organizations to control many aspects of the office environment. It also makes them much more adaptable, allowing organizations to change office space on the fly.

Connecting the workforce in the campus, at home and everywhere in between

Supporting hybrid work is a big challenge for IT leaders. It requires new capabilities to help you manage your network infrastructure and ensure it can connect and secure workers everywhere.

To enable users and devices to connect from anywhere, your infrastructure should offer:

  • Software-defined connectivity to any user, device, and application anywhere, to enhance network availability and management
  • Unified policies that simplify management and provide a consistent experience for users connected via wired or wireless networks or remotely
  • Devices that support advanced standards such as high-density Wi-Fi 6 and Universal Power over Ethernet (UPOE+) that provide pervasive high-speed wireless connectivity and can connect with hard-to-reach remote devices and IoT sensors.

Securing users and devices anywhere

Your enterprise network needs to secure the hybrid workforce and workspace with:

  • Secure access service edge (SASE) capability that offers flexible, multi-functional security in the one cloud-delivered solution that can quickly protect remote users and devices anywhere
  • Network segmentation, consistent policy, and endpoint analytics that can mitigate the risk of breaches turning into enterprise-wide attacks
  • Tools that can analyze encrypted traffic to find and contain threats.

Automating network management

Finally, you can enable your IT team to control, analyze, and automate the enterprise network with tools that:

  • Deliver end-to-end visibility of users, devices, and applications across private and public networks, data centers, and multiple clouds
  • Provide deep insights and suggested remediations to enable teams to respond quickly to anomalous behaviors, and dynamically optimize the network
  • Use artificial intelligence and machine learning to adopt AIOps best practices and automate network operations.

At Cisco, we believe the best way to gain these capabilities is to take an integrated, full-stack approach to your network infrastructure. It’s an approach that can ensure your enterprise network can connect and engage the hybrid workforce now and into the future.

To learn how Cisco can help you reimagine your enterprise network,
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