Being Prepared for the Next Workforce Disruption: Returning to the Office

By Special Guest
Karen Falcone, Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Juniper Networks
  |  June 16, 2022

Over the course of the next 6-12 months, the way enterprises operate will change. This won’t be as immediate or as striking as when the pandemic struck, but it will shift network traffic patterns once again.

Very few organizations have a clear blueprint at this point for how many employees will remain remote, how many will go into the office each day and how many will do some mix of the two. The back to the office plan may begin one way and then need to shift because of safety protocols or employee preferences. With the current labor shortages, the power is in the hands of the employees to dictate how they want to work – at least in the short term.

What this means is that traffic patterns will remain a moving target, but still one the IT team needs to be ready to support, no matter how they shake out. With that in mind, it has never been more important to ensure the corporate network environment is flexible and agile enough to shift as traffic patterns do, while still maintaining a first-class user experience.

The Need for Flexibility

It’s hard to be sure exactly what the post-pandemic world of work will look like. There have been so many starts and stops already that the best approach is to be ready for any and all possibilities. Some days, the office might be full; others it might have a skeleton crew. Some employees may gather at remote meeting places instead of the corporate office. Some employees may be remote full-time. To make things even more complicated, it’s all subject to change at a moment’s notice.

When IT teams look at office networks from the viewpoint of employees, one thing becomes very clear:  They only care if everything works as it should. The fact that the service and speed goals are being met means nothing to an employee, and are simply outdated metrics. Employees just remember dropped calls or unproductive time waiting for their network access to return.

Success is about the user experience. It means providing the network connectivity and services employees need to be efficient and productive, without suffering outages or slowdowns. They expect this connectivity no matter their physical location.

To ensure a successful user experience, it’s necessary to have full visibility into the traffic traversing the network.

Understanding Traffic

Nearly all of today’s organizations deliver critical information, solutions and services to employees via the cloud. This transformation began before the pandemic, sped up exponentially as remote work became necessary and has now become the norm for the business world.

With the expansion of cloud-based services to every aspect of an employee’s work, life is not expected to change, and an organization’s network needs to be able to handle that increased volume – and the inconsistent need of it by employees.

It is important in a cloud-first business world, however, to recognize that different types of traffic have different importance.

Employees often are connecting and working remotely via open, public internet connections. The days of everything being filtered through the company’s network are long gone. The network of the future lets organizations understand traffic as specific experiences. Modern management tools can identify what is running on the network and why, and can help network management teams prioritize one type of traffic vs. another (i.e., making sure a video call is prioritized over web surfing).

When teams can understand the types of traffic on the network, that traffic can be optimized to protect employee experience. Network teams can make routing and bandwidth decisions based on efficiency and security, and bandwidth can be freed up by not automatically interfering with traffic that is fine to travel over the public internet.

Utilizing Artificial Intelligence

Another hard truth about the IT and network teams in today’s organizations is that they’re overworked and understaffed. Combining this with health issues and the labor shortage, many in the field find themselves trying to balance several competing priorities. This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies can help.

Applying AI, machine learning and big data analysis tools to network management can enable organizations to understand traffic faster and more accurately, speeding up and, in some cases, automating decision-making on what to prioritize. AI can also help to proactively identify and solve any potential issues before they become real problems that could bring down the network, harming the employee experience.

Automating these decisions as much as possible will free IT and network teams from repeatable tasks like this one, further protecting the employee experience and allowing teams to address higher-value problems.

Planning for the Future

As the differences in employee experiences and their related traffic needs rise to the surface, network teams can then start to use that knowledge and understanding to further evolve their networks to reflect the way their employees are working now.

Take the time to track patterns and how they change over time. Perhaps after a few months a baseline can be established, or perhaps it is still inconsistent and random. If the data isn’t captured, it will be impossible to make more informed decisions about what’s needed for future office evolutions.

That said, trying to find a one-size-fits-all approach to the future of work is futile at this point in time. Between differing employee and executive needs and the potential for future health and safety restrictions to crop up at any time, the best path forward is to watch and learn from the organization’s network traffic and be flexible enough to adapt as needed. That way, the employee experience will be protected, no matter where employees may be located.

About the Author:  Karen Falcone serves as Sr. Director of Product Marketing for AI-driven SD-WAN, and Service Provider as a Channel at Juniper Networks. Prior to this role, Karen served as Vice President of Marketing at 128 Technology, which was acquired by Juniper in 2020. Karen is enjoying her tenure at Juniper Networks (News - Alert), having been a member of the Unisphere Networks team acquired by Juniper in 2002. Karen holds a BA in Finance and an MBA in Marketing from Bentley University.

Edited by Erik Linask
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]