The pandemic created a massive paradigm shift in the future of work. For centuries, people congregated and worked in major city centers and large corporate headquarters. But now, that once all-important “center” is dissolving. People are increasingly working, shopping and learning from anywhere and everywhere. For enterprises, this shift has caused us to think about networks in a new way. Rather than big campuses or data centers, networks must be designed to support an infinite number of branches, requiring solutions that scale down to the individual. The connectivity and security experience an employee has in a campus environment also needs to match their experience at home. We refer to this concept as the “Infinite Enterprise.”
The fact is, the “work-from-anywhere” movement is not a temporary change and will likely continue even after the pandemic is over. According to a recent report from Gartner, 31 percent of all workers worldwide will be working remotely this year. Enterprises will have workforces that are widely, permanently distributed, and IT leaders will need to deliver enterprise-grade connectivity and seamless experiences no matter where employees are.
Here are three key tips for IT leaders tasked to help support these changes.
Adopt cloud to meet employees where they are and streamline IT operations
Cloud has served a key role in helping enterprises continue operations during the pandemic—but it’s more than just SaaS tools like Zoom and Slack. Networks will continue to become more distributed as part of the Infinite Enterprise, and cloud solutions can dramatically reduce complexity and streamline management for IT teams. With a cloud-managed network, a network administrator can easily configure, provision and monitor equipment for remote workers as well as provide network allocation to multiple devices.
Many IT teams are also managing new cloud services and SaaS solutions that enterprises have adopted in response to the distributed workforce. Cloud network management platforms can greatly reduce the effort necessary to monitor network health and performance, ensuring new solutions and devices are performing as expected. Additionally, cloud-based automation can be used to offload mundane tasks, freeing up valuable time for IT teams and driving greater efficiency. Automation can also help save costs for the enterprise long-term as it enables them to shift resources toward tasks that provide greater business value.
Leverage the onslaught of new data to your advantage
With employees and users dispersed across locations, more data than ever is stored in the cloud. However, the most important challenge is not collecting data but extracting valuable insights from that data.
For example, in healthcare, a secure network enables patients to utilize telehealth services and remote care solutions. Organizational leaders can then analyze network data to see when patients are scheduling the most visits and schedule doctors accordingly. This enables greater use of telehealth and outpatient services and can help address overcrowded hospital waiting rooms.
In education, students learning at home access school resources remotely through the network. School administrators can analyze network data to determine how and when students access resources, what the most popular resources are, and then make adjustments to improve engagement.
At my own company, we utilize cloud network management tools that provide analytics and insights on network behavior. We reference network data to see what applications employees are most often accessing to help ensure remote workers have the support they need.
It’s important to keep in mind that IT must also have a strategy in place for keeping data secure across multiple locations where employees work. This may require instilling new security policies, increasing the number of backups to the cloud and keeping digital communications centralized across the enterprise.
Prioritize culture across virtual lines
Ensuring success in the Infinite Enterprise is about more than technology. Fostering entirely new ways ofinterpersonal connection across dispersed environments requires changes in behavior, investments and even social norms. Business leaders are now tasked with being stewards of company culture so that employees feel connected to their workplace even when working outside of the office. Businesses must adopt new methods and innovative ideas to ensure that culture remains the leading function of an organization’s success, regardless of the business strategy.
For example, not only as a CIO but as a people manager and leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that my team still has a sense of belonging and suggest ideas to foster the social interaction employees get while working at home. Our “Flex First” approach has helped us balance the full needs of the employee with work productivity. Outside of meeting virtually, we identify opportunities to bring departmental and cross functional teams together for project phases if it can be done safely. This has been received positively and has helped employees adjust to and feel good about the hybrid working environment.
Building culture while distributed takes a thoughtful approach and consistent, clear communication at every level, from IT to HR.
The Infinite Enterprise is the vision that everyone can have the same fulfilling experiences no matter where they are, from centralized locations to highly distributed environments. With the use of cloud, data and organizational buy-in to build strong culture across geographies, CIOs can feel empowered to push their enterprises forward into new ways of working.