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How to implement WFH network strategies for the long-term

All over the world, businesses have had to think on their feet in order to maintain operations as the effects of COVID-19 took hold. This is especially true of IT and networking teams, who’ve had to pivot significantly to give workforces all the support they need to work from home - and get it all up and running quickly.

Measures such as rapidly expanding corporate VPNs, leveraging new collaboration and communication tools and relying on insecure home networks using generic public internet services, all did the job in the short-term. But all of these ‘fixes’ contribute to a relaxation in security standards, which will lead to serious and lasting vulnerabilities if they were to remain. Now that home-working has become more of a long-term reality, more robust and permanent strategies need to be devised and implemented.

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So there is a pressing need for all organisations that are adopting remote or hybrid working models to reassess their approach to networking. This blog covers the key considerations to take into account, and the technologies and solutions that can underpin more resilient, secure solutions.

Replicating the office at home - but with flexibility

It’s important to get into the mindset that a home-worker should feel as much as possible that they’re in the office. From a networking perspective, that means ensuring connectivity closely mirrors the kind of functionality that employees are used to in their ‘normal’ day-to-day corporate environments.

Home-workers should be able to easily access private company networks from home, so that they can access relevant data and applications without the security risks of solely using their own personal internet provision. 

This should help employees move away from the assumption that their own internet connection is the default option when working from home - although in any case, organisations should make efforts where possible to bolster its workforce network security practices and general vigilance.

At the same time, the flexibility of networking in the wider context of the business must be factored in. Through the current turbulence, many organisations are having to make sudden and far-reaching decisions about human resources, whether that be scaling down through furlough or redundancy, or scaling-up by forging ahead with growth plans. Either way, there will be knock-on effects on existing corporate networks in terms of how they are used, the capacity demands placed on them, and the levels of employee collaboration they need to support.

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The essential technologies

There are a variety of solutions, which can all work together to make corporate-style networking at home a viable reality, including:

  • Home networking access points: routers that essentially work in the same way as a home WiFi router, but that instead act as an extension of the corporate network. This can replace personal WiFi for home connectivity with no requirement to use a VPN, no added user complexity to implement or connect, and the ability for devices to automatically connect to the corporate network at home, just as they would in the office.
  • Secure 4G with APNs: leveraging corporate-grade SIM cards, 4G mobile coverage and 4G-enabled (or 5G where possible) routers for reliable business connectivity. These can be deployed in routers so that devices where SIMs can’t be installed can connect, or alternatively into smartphones, tablets and MiFi devices directly. These combine with private Access Point Names (APNs) to provide connectivity without VPNs, either in the home or when working in any remote location.
  • Split tunnelling: where traffic can be divided up between public and private connections, ensuring sensitive work-related data and applications are always accessed through the secure, corporate option. This also means users don’t end up using the business connection for personal use, as this traffic can be directed through their normal public internet instead.
  • SD-WAN: minimises the reliance on multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) by combining a variety of different ways of connecting, like Ethernet, 4G and DSL. Home workstations enabled for SD-WAN can connect to the business’s cloud directly, requiring minimal hardware, and can be adapted for quality of service based on typical traffic and application usage. SD WAN will require new skills and an increased investment in internal IT resources, which is why many companies using this approach rely on service providers to manage it for them.

In summary

There are two elements that make up a successful long-term networking strategy for a remote workforce: a change of philosophy and a change in technology. Only with the former being implemented successfully can the latter also be achieved. But at a time when everyone is having to adjust to very different ways of working, enabling flexibility, security and easy connectivity will be vital in supporting seamless operations in the unpredictable months and years ahead.

Learn more here about how Convergence Group’s expertise, from secure 4G to flexible Connectivity-as-a-Service, can help you adjust to a future driven by remote working.

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