Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Back to “work” – but what does that mean?

July 1, 2020

This month I thought I’d bring a guest into my little blogging world, Gareth Furse, who works with me on developing campus managed services, i.e. the LAN in simple terms. We were chatting about government guidance and the direction customers will take as they go back to the office, which inspired me to write a few things down and create this blog.

It’s becoming clear that the future working environment will look very different than it did just a few short months ago. A recent survey found that 4 in 10 UK workers expect to work from home more often as today’s technology makes working from home easier and more manageable. But just how much does it help, and what does ‘back to work’ actually look like going forward?

Our transition to home working has been reasonably simple. Gareth and I have been working from home for 20 years, so we already have the facilities in place. Psychologically, however, we have been challenged. Many of us are social animals and need interaction with people. There is something positive about being in a room with people that can’t be achieved virtually!

Unfortunately, many people haven’t had such a smooth transition, because they don’t have a dedicated workspace, or they have kids who don’t understand working from home — and don’t deserve to be “sshh’d” constantly in their homes.

And of course, many people’s jobs simply can’t be done from home.

So, what will the work environment look like going forward? Social distancing will be needed for the foreseeable future, and cash flow and capital expenditure will be under tight control, so attempts to rework and reorder the working environment may be constrained.

After many discussions, Gareth and I believe that we can use technology to bridge the gap between new working practices whilst remaining productive and effective in the workplace.

Many businesses that have been able to migrate to a remote working model have done so quickly and with a focus on productivity whilst keeping their heads above water. Before we run back to the office, we must retrace the steps taken towards working remotely and make sure we have a firm and secure foundation for the new working environment.

First, it’s essential to review the security of your endpoints, looking at the security policy of your applications and networks. Secondly, you should secure the infrastructure with a set of dynamic and reactive capabilities. As you will read in the links, Cisco has a comprehensive suite of solutions that can be leveraged right now to help mitigate risk.

Reading the UK government guidance on returning to the workplace, I can see that employers will have to make significant changes to the environments in which employees and customers are physically present. I’m sure guidance the world over will be similar and yield similar challenges. Offices will need to be more adaptable to the differing needs of occupants. Downsizing and the need to reduce costs may result in the closure of floors and buildings. The traditional departmental floor and area models may not be sustainable. Hot desking can help mitigate the need for large dedicated areas but brings with its own set of issues associated with hygiene and cleaning.

Maybe the notion of a “clean desk” environment warrants some investigation. Leveraging wireless connectivity with personal mobile or soft-clients, a desk area can be devoid of any devices requiring contact except the desk and chair.

With Cisco Software Defined Access (SDA) or Meraki, high-quality Wi-Fi can be delivered at scale into a clean desking area with sufficient quality of service and capacity to ensure a consistent user experience. Couple that with the capabilities of Cisco Collaboration and you can deliver a capability that will keep your employees consistently connected at home, in the office or on the move.

We’ve even gone so far as to make sure it works simply and brilliantly over the Wi-Fi, through our partnership with Apple and Samsung. We have a deeply integrated network quality-of-service features with the operating system and application layer. This means the delivery of a strong user experience has been hugely simplified, reducing cost and improving the experience.

Taking this approach, the workplace can be made secure and flexible. Permanent and itinerant workers can be supported securely and with no second-class citizens feeling left behind. As the economy changes, this will be vital to support the flexibility and changing modes of work that many businesses are adopting.

Of course, we must not forget that as well as providing phenomenal and secure connectivity, Wi-Fi can provide vast amounts of data where personnel are located and determine how space is being used. Location analytics can be used in the office environment to identify areas of congregation where social distancing may not be being observed. Both Cisco and Meraki offer highly detailed and capable analytics.

Retail data can be used to track the flow of people throughout a retail environment so that changes may be made to remain compliant with government regulation.

In manufacturing and distribution, location analytics can show areas of high traffic and hotspots where people are gathering. When you combine location analytics with digital signage, it can regulate the flow of people to ensure it does not become overcrowded.

When the future is uncertain, technology can help us react quickly to a changing environment. That same technology can help deliver a scalable and sustainable approach to the new working environment.

But there is still a barrier…cost! Everything I have suggested is deliverable today, but the cost of updating and transforming infrastructure to deliver the experiences described may prove prohibitive.

Many service providers have been developing managed services, WAN, and collaboration environments. Building at scale with a mantra of “build once, sell many times,” the service provider can fast forward the adoption of some more advanced technologies. Often the barrier to adoption is lack of skills within the enterprise, especially in the small and medium sector.

Working with Cisco Capital, Cisco software offers resources that service providers can leverage to make the potential transformation cost effective and bring the benefits forwards to the customer as the world emerges from lockdown.

Whatever the landscape turns out to be as we all return to the office, I am sure technology will be a force for good – democratising access and giving us all the best opportunity to stay safe and be productive at the same time.

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