It's everyone's work-from-home nightmare. Just as that all-important client meeting gets underway, your screen freezes. The host's voice starts stuttering like a 1990s rap song, and just as it's your turn to present, your connection crashes.
Variations of that scenario played out with distressing regularity in homes around the world in 2020, causing frustration for employees, headaches for managers, and more work for IT support staff—themselves often working at home. Yet, although it was a pandemic that forced more people to work from home than ever before, industry analysts expect the trend to continue well after the crisis has passed.
Leaving aside adjustments required for children at home, noisy roommates, pets, and other human factors, workers and their organizations face a trio of crucial network challenges in the remote work environment.
Fortunately, ready solutions exist.
1. Slow connection speeds
U.S. homes have an average of 11 connected devices, according to the most recent connectivity and mobility survey by Deloitte. With parents, housemates, kids, and everyone else sharing a connection for more hours during the day, less-than-robust connections can quickly max out.
Getting a more stable internet connection starts with workers calling their internet service providers. Faulty cables and physical connections, old junction boxes that allow rain to leak in, and modems that need updating all can contribute to low speeds and dropped connections—problems that a visit from a technician can potentially solve.
To rule out issues more directly under their control, IT organizations should deploy software that detects slowdowns in the company-provided cloud and on-premise systems that employees use for work. That includes cloud storage, productivity apps, communications services, and more. Armed with that knowledge, IT can reroute traffic to unaffected systems and raise trouble tickets with the company's own service providers.
2. Security concerns
More people working away from the protection of corporate networks increases the risk of data breaches. According to the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2020 from IBM and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach was $3.86 million in 2020, and most organizations (70% of those surveyed) agree that remote work makes breaches more costly.
In fact, the report attributes an additional $137,000 to the average data breach cost to working from home.
In this environment, regular security patches and software updates are critical. IT executive Willie J. Anderson II says that means IT departments must push out updates and patches every day—somehow without disrupting work with unexpected reboots and background processes that could bog down work devices. One possibility: updates that launch only when users turn on their devices, not during the crush of the workday.
The constellation of cloud services and apps that today's knowledge workers rely on for their jobs can also present security concerns for IT departments, not to mention overly complex contracts and a myriad of subscriptions to worry about. That's why many organizations have deployed single sign-on platforms that let IT staff manage multiple apps from one administrative backend and let users sign on just once to use all of them.
Monitoring tools can also consolidate monitoring functions that can quickly alert IT to abnormal behavior that might indicate a security issue; for example, a spike in activity caused by an attack.
3. Team communication challenges
Finally, let's not forget the most important part of the work-from-home environment: the people. This area is critical, Anderson says. He, for one, spends more time with the people he leads and that his team supports than on the technology they all use.
Especially for workers who tend to thrive in an office environment, ensuring that peer communication is smooth, consistent, and regular ultimately lets businesses focus on the future rather than productivity issues.
Recognizing the anxiety caused by the less structured nature of work-from-home life, Anderson has his team leaders open chat lines with their workers first thing every morning. "That quells a lot of fears," he says.
Despite the challenges, the benefits to both businesses and their workers of working from home—including reduced real estate costs, more opportunities to foster a life/work balance, and even increased productivity—mean that the practice of working from home should only continue to grow. Now it's up to businesses to tackle the technical challenges.
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