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2021 is the year when organizations of all kinds and sizes can take on board what they learned from last year, and use it as the foundation for more flexible ways of working. There will no longer be a choice between home or office or ‘on the road’: the future workplace can exist as a seamless experience across different locations.

2020 was — among many other things — a mass, forced, and generally successful experiment in remote working. That applies as much to smaller businesses as it does to larger corporations. According to a study from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), 81% of SMEs expect more than a quarter of employees to carry on working remotely most of the time. A PWC survey revealed that 69% of bosses said workers were as productive (or more) at home.

Permanent WFH is not One-size-fits-all

However, permanent work from home is not universally viable or even desired. A YouGov survey in the UK found that there are many people who do not want to carry on working at home all the time after the pandemic.

A lot of people have spent most of their careers in an office and miss the social interaction it provides. Also, while entirely possible via digital methods, brainstorming and team collaboration still feel more effective face-to-face for many of us. That said, as a side note, a recent survey by consulting firm GenGuru found that 84% of Gen Z (born since 2000) say they prefer in-person communication over email or text, but their definition of in-person includes the likes of Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams.

There are also some practical reasons for keeping business buildings running: investments in property or lease commitments cannot be abandoned overnight, and not everyone can or wants to work from home, either due to the nature of their jobs or because of insurmountable distractions.

The Hybrid Workplace Transformation

Hybrid models of working will likely become the new norm. Someone could work from home three days a week, and go into the office for the other two. Another option would be to respond to work emails and chat streams at home, then go into the office for a few hours of face-to-face meetings. Joe Brown could work 100% from his house, while Jane Smith might opt for being in the office every day.

The physical office environment itself is evolving, with more focus on collaboration and knowledge-sharing in meeting rooms and break-out areas rather than desk space. The future workplace could become more of an event hall, a place for team bonding and being creative, with other more routine tasks carried out elsewhere. Flexible office rotations will make sure rooms are never over-crowded. Perhaps we will see a resurgence in the use of collocated shared offices, with companies renting just one part of a building to provide flexible working options for employees that are closer to where they live.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, “hybrid work models, done right, will allow organizations to better recruit talent, achieve innovation, and create value for all stakeholders. By acting boldly now, they can define a future of work that is more flexible, digital and purposeful.”

Efficient network tech is the fluid substrate

However, the success of hybrid working depends on multiple factors, not least of which are business culture, processes and IT systems, and physical environment quality. All of this has to be underpinned by reliable, fast network connectivity, acting as a fluid substrate that brings everything together – people, apps, and devices – regardless of location.

A lot of organizations have, of course, already stepped up to the challenge. The IFMA study findings highlighted that employers are focusing investments towards providing digital tools, equipment and training so that workplace productivity — wherever that takes place — is not affected by outdated technology. As the volume of network traffic, devices, and IoT sensors grows, superior network connectivity will become even more important.

Choose the right network technology and it can create consistency, so that the at-home experience is the same as the office-based one, helping employees to be productive, feel included, and portray a more professional image to the outside word. Strong connectivity – whether wireless or wired – also supports more natural and intuitive ways of working: good WiFi can mean better video quality, which in turn helps to interpret body language and other nuances during a meeting.

We Can’t all be our own IT!

However, the potential benefits of network equipment are undermined if not easy to install and maintain. In 2020, there were many instances where non-technical home-working staff found themselves having to become their own IT managers. WiFi that constantly needs rebooting or drops during the middle of a video conference is bad news for everyone involved. People need reliable connectivity that just works, so they can get on with their jobs and reduce unnecessary tech-related stress (life is challenging enough without having to figure out why the WiFi router has stopped working).

Sure, there is usually someone available to help, but they are often over-worked IT staff trying to support multiple locations and users, or may not even be dedicated to IT, having to juggle other roles.

So wouldn’t it be great if this idea of anywhere, anytime work could be applied to network management, too? If networks could be monitored from any location, no matter how far away? And if problems could be sorted very quickly, or found and fixed before they escalate?

Remote Network Management: The Answer to the Hybrid Workplace

NETGEAR’s cloud-based network management portal, NETGEAR Insight, can do all that, preventing employees of small businesses from having to deal with maintenance and issues, while making it easier for IT managers to remotely respond to requests and manage connectivity performance across different locations. There is also an opportunity for managed service providers (MSPs) to support more customers with a one-stop-shop service from anywhere, all from a centralized single system, with secure, separate networks for each business.

Through a single ‘pane of glass’, whoever is operating Insight can see the health of wireless and wired networks from end-to-end and carry out multiple tasks, including support for remote installation of network equipment. All that is needed is access to the Insight portal, via a web interface or the mobile app, to carry out rebooting, debugging, fine-tuning configurations, and installing upgrades. Settings can be standardized according to groups of user, and within each WiFi system, several separate SSIDs implemented (in effect, creating several separate WiFi networks): one for Dad’s work, one for Mom’s work, one for the kids and IoT-connected devices).

A simple visual overview of real-time status also lets NETGEAR Insight users drill down to any device via expandable menus. Handy features such as color-coded nodes indicate what is connected to a network, Power over Ethernet (PoE) functionality, and details on network performance and traffic.

Hybrid working is one of the most exciting trends in business for years, and has the potential to bring multiple benefits, making it easier to respond to change, giving employees more autonomy over their days, and modernizing the workplace environment. To make all that a reality, the right network technology infrastructure is essential and fortunately entirely achievable, especially with the help of remote network management.

Shaheen Kazi

Director of SMB Product Line Management, Insight

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