At the beginning of this year, COVID-19 quickly upended normal in-office operations for organizations across the country. It’s no secret that a lot of IT departments were not prepared to move their entire workforce to an appropriately secure, work-from-home setup.
As IT was supporting this sudden tectonic shift to nearly 100% work-from-anywhere, all available budget and talent had to be focused on getting employees productive from wherever they could work. Now that the shift has largely happened, and the pieces mostly picked up, IT should be planning for a similar shift back to in-office, and what that might mean for the traditional infrastructure they already had in place before 2020.
As Three Wire’s CTO, I often advise businesses and government agencies across the country on implementing long-term IT solutions. This remote/in-office shift is one subject area that I expect will come up a lot in mid-2021.
Most leaders have already enacted emergency solutions for work-from-home strategies, addressing the urgent need either with budget shifts from other programs, or from a one-time allocation from the CARES Act. This was a pretty rapid shift in terms of scale, but for most IT leaders the concept of supporting remote workers was not new, just newly universal.
When the pandemic subsides, many office workers are already saying they would prefer to keep working from home. However, that won’t be everyone. Some prefer the nature of a business office, and some jobs really require face to face collaboration to produce the best results for the team. So, a rebalancing is inevitable, where many employees will choose to work in the office at least some of the time. Therefore, it’s important to consider the infrastructure that will have gone unused for many months. Are routers, switches and other network gear still up to date? Are service contracts still in place? Have security patches been kept up with? And, with all the spending on software-defined WAN and datacenter in many places, is the older gear still even relevant?
Now is the time to be thinking about those questions and budgeting for the inevitable projects that will become urgent once the workforce starts using the office again.
There is an opportunity here for IT teams to stabilize their work-from-home situations while also preparing for the future back in the office, or for many, supporting a hybrid model. A cybersecurity survey conducted in April, 2020 found that 15% of respondents indicated their IT departments lacked the resources needed to support a remote workforce, while 34% said the solutions they do have are only temporary. Long term solutions are needed for organizational success. There are many steps that can be taken to ensure infrastructure is properly cared for and ready to be used when teams are able to return to the office.
Think long term
As you think about your current infrastructure, it’s important to consider the relevance of your existing systems long term. Immediate concerns about serving the 85% of remote workers in this new normal may be preventing organizations from considering whether the requirements that drove those purchases will still be there in 18 months.
How much of your equipment will be considered functional, compliant, and up to par with security standards? You should be forecasting and budgeting for these considerations. Plan for the full lifecycle and make specific plans at least 18 months into the future. Is your infrastructure meeting your current and future needs? Is there any equipment that needs to be updated to ensure long term utility? Has your increased use of cloud-based solutions factored into your infrastructure plans? Are the vendors you relied on in the past going to be as important to you, or do you need to be developing new relationships based on emerging technical requirements?
Consider the benefits of the cloud
Cloud service providers are responsible for technology upgrades and maintenance, which takes that job off the hands of your internal IT team. Back office infrastructure can often be retired as workloads move to the cloud, helping to simplify things while you plan for the future.
Take a look at your existing on-prem infrastructure and consider what steps should be taken to support your decision to keep it or retire it. In addition to the benefits of serviceability, VMWare estimates that large organizations can save on average 40% to 50% of IT operating costs by transferring in-house data infrastructure facilities to a cloud service provider. As operating budgets are revised due to COVID-19 business restrictions, selectively transitioning workloads to the cloud can help your organization cut costs and provide more predictability as remote/in-office rebalancing occurs.
Reimagine a budget that serves both in-office and remote workers
It is a challenge for IT leaders to budget and plan for a network boundary that is efficient for both remote and in-office operations. IT departments must take into consideration the needs of in-house operations while also addressing necessary security concerns that are associated with remote work.
Take a step back and analyze where the market is moving. Where is your business now and how did it get here? Where will it be a year from now? What technologies will your team need to learn about in order to support the business?
According to research conducted by workspace provider IWG, 85% of organizations report productivity has increased due to greater flexibility in remote options. Increased flexibility is great for productivity, but it is important to build processes and procedures that meet the needs of both remote and in-office employees. Anticipating the timing and extent of the return to the office will ensure maximum productivity.
Don’t wait to plan
Organizations need to plan for this shift back to the office which should start with its IT leaders. Now is the time to be contemplating new strategies and operational plans to avoid a scramble to patch or update what will be aging infrastructure by the time you return to the office.