In 2001, I started a job as a systems engineer at a small technology startup based in Santa Barbara, CA. It was the first time in my relatively young career that I would be expected to travel regularly, and work—when not traveling—from a small home office in Denver, CO. Little did I know that this would mark the beginning of a decades long journey that would put me in a position to fully appreciate the differences between remote work and work from home.
As we all know, there are countless benefits to working in a centralized office environment. Over the years, me and many of my ‘work-from-home’ colleagues would regularly drop in at corporate offices to maintain relationships, tap into office culture, and engage in necessary company activities. But the recent global pandemic has vividly illustrated that working from home is not the same thing as remote work.
Yes, it’s a nuance that requires a bit of explanation. As I’ve shared, working from home is something I’ve been doing for about two decades, but it was only recently, in the last three years, that I’ve begun a transition to remote work. My transition started with the personal preference of working on Apple products, and my employer providing security for devices like personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It is this focus on device security from IT leaders that shows the gaps in typical work-from-home situations.
The home is assumed to be a predictable environment that is free from typical issues found in open, shared environments like airports, retail shops, and office environments. Homes often have relatively small numbers of devices attached to wired and wireless networks competing for bandwidth on a consumer-grade, best-effort connection. In fact, home Wi-Fi devices are typically designed for rapid set-up, enabling consumers to easily connect devices and stream content, like Netflix eliminating the complex configuration of device or network security to protect against cyber criminals. What might be most unique about home environments is that it’s typically assumed those devices and content are to be trusted. Evidence? When was the last time you updated your home Wi-Fi password or malware protection application? Enterprises run regular updates—sometimes daily—to security and management policies.
The traditional enterprise office is much more complex, with literally hundreds or thousands of employees, devices, and shared productivity tools (printers, IP phones, etc.) competing for airtime. But what truly makes the two environments different is the IT decision maker’s focus on security, application-level performance, and predictable connectivity.
To give you a sense of what motivates an IT planner’s thinking, consider the following in reference to small- and medium-sized businesses. According to Safety Detectives, over 60% of cyber attacks target small businesses (<1,000 employees), and when they do get attacked, 61% are out of business within six months. How’s that for motivation? Before the global pandemic, <5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home regularly. Arguably, one of the many reasons is because CIOs and IT managers believe they can administer and enforce device and network security policies easier in a traditional office environment.
Conventional wisdom says it is easier to manage one environment of 1,000 employees, their devices, security, and performance needs than it is to manage 1,000 remote work environments. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, cloud IT technologies and the Meraki way of simplifying connectivity, security, device, and application performance management, makes scaling remote work possible for any number of work environments, irrespective of whether employees are in conventional offices or remote locations, even if that happens to be someone’s home.
Browse the Meraki Remote Work web page and you’ll learn why remote work solutions provide greater business application performance, enterprise class security, mobility, device management, and reliable, assured connectivity that is not possible in typical work-from-home environments.
I enjoyed hosting the third “Behind The Network” webisode on April 28, along with representatives from two small-to-midsize businesses. From my perspective, the pandemic has weighed heavily on this particular sector. As we begin returning to the office and school campuses, there will be many considerations. If you missed it, you can watch the recording.
Here’s my recap of what was discussed and my insights into some of the compelling subjects addressed.
Hybrid work is here to stay
Over the next 6 to 12 months, I think returning to work and campus will be decidedly hybrid. The process will likely be slow and measured, with a high degree of location-based service deployment to ensure measures such as COVID-19 contact tracing, proximity, and density monitoring are maintained.
For remote workers, organizations will evaluate connectivity platforms to ensure proper scale and security, and solutions that integrate security into the overall networking stack like SD-WAN and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) should experience rapid adoption. Furthermore, I believe that enterprises will adopt a greater degree of automation to ensure both higher levels of network uptime and a more consistent application experience regardless of location. Network assurance and analytics platforms, including AIOps, should also see broad adoption to monitor performance and provide actionable insights.
Finally, I believe that network operators will also benefit from a cloud-first approach in the form of better scalability, economics, and flexibility to support the new hybrid work model. Most often, I hear customers voice a desire to make networking simple and easy to deploy and manage. Thus, networking as a service (NaaS) should also be a huge consideration long term.
During the panel, I invited Aaron Sturniolo from RRMM Architects and James FitzPatrick from Avenues: The World School to share their experiences during the pandemic and discuss how they pivoted to maintain continuity. We had an interactive question and answer session following the conversation, and a handful of common threads from the panel stood out to me.
First, the pandemic forced both organizations to fundamentally rethink their approach to supporting critical stakeholder needs. Whether you are an architect or a student, it is mission-critical for IT staff to extend a consistent experience from work/campus to remote locations in order to maintain productivity. Second, both fundamentally changed their IT operating models by employing some of the previously mentioned tools to achieve the necessary scale and business resiliency. Finally, one of the silver linings resulting from the pandemic was an acceleration of each organization’s digital journey that will prepare them for unexpected challenges in the future.
The future of work will be hybrid, and IT professionals will require connectivity platforms that scale, are secure, and deliver a consistent application experience regardless of location through automation, assurance, actionable insights, and cloudification. RRMM Architects and Avenues: The World School are two great examples of organizations that leaned into modern tools to not only survive the pandemic but thrive. It has been an interesting journey for all of us, and I believe businesses will be stronger as a result.
Will Townsend is Senior Analyst responsible for networking infrastructure and carrier services at Moor Insights & Strategy. He has been featured on NPR, CNBC, and in the Wall Street Journal, and frequently contributes to Forbes.com, providing insights into enterprise networking and 5G. Townsend is also ranked consistently as one of the world’s top networking analysts, as measured by ARInsights.
I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the first episode in a three-part webinar series with Cisco Meraki called “Behind the Network.” From my perspective, the pandemic shined a bright light on the need for not only networking scalability to support work from home, but also business resiliency and continuity planning. During my discussion with Chris Stori, who leads the overall Meraki business, and Lawrence Huang, responsible for product and solution delivery, we delved into several topics. The conversation focused on which industries have been most impacted by COVID-19, which tools companies need to stay ahead of it, and the future of the workplace. I want to double click into each of these areas, provide insights into what I found most compelling, and draw a lighthearted analogy to one of my favorite movies.
Who is feeling the pain?
I think we can all agree that COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways. Its comparison to the Spanish Flu of 1918 is warranted, though there are noticeable differences that exist nearly 100 years later—specifically the internet and wireless connectivity in the form of Wi-Fi, LTE, and 5G. In our discussion, Chris, Lawrence, and I discussed some of the broader trends related to the response to COVID-19 with Meraki customers. To no surprise, verticals such as education, healthcare, brick-and-mortar retail, and manufacturing are struggling given the physical demands and workload requirements. Consequently, the million-dollar IT challenge seems to lie in supporting the same user experiences remotely. From my perspective, a new tool kit that blends video collaboration tools with more software-centric capabilities to deliver network automation for higher predictability and security for business-critical applications is critical.
The work from home IT tool kit
As a networking analyst, I often speak to customers directly about connectivity challenges. It was apparent to me during the peak of COVID-19 that mid-sized businesses, in particular, were ill-prepared to support remote work. The challenges spanned remote security, network and device management, and application access and support. During our conversation, Lawrence spoke to the need for simplicity and network automation to ensure the highest quality experience. I wholeheartedly agree and believe Meraki is delivering to this end with its investment in health and assurance, a robust ecosystem that includes location-based services capabilities, and an SD-WAN platform that is cloud-enabled and secure.
What is the future of the workplace?
Is remote work here to stay? Companies such as Twitter have committed to supporting it indefinitely. More than likely, as COVID-19 infection rates decline, there will be a gradual return to the office with a balance of work from both home and office. During our last webcast session, Chris, Lawrence, and I discussed how Meraki customers embrace investment in new collaboration tools, such as Cisco WebEx, and improved home office setups and audio gear in light of the pandemic experience. A positive outcome from my perspective has been a revisiting of work-life balance, newly found productivity (something I can personally attest to given less time spent on airplanes), and the elimination of office commute time. How will this impact the future of the physical office? I believe it will result in the reduction of physical conference rooms, sustained use of video collaboration, broader adoption of location-based services, video recognition, and IoT sensors. Lawrence spoke to the latter in our session as a strategic consideration in the overall product roadmap development effort to help customers more intelligently manage office buildings. Meraki has also led the smart camera segment with its MV family of cloud-managed smart cameras, and I believe they will play a role in a safer return to the office.
If you are a “Back to the Future” fan, you remember that the flux capacitor enabled Marty to travel through time in an attempt to change events for the better. It would be nice to have a piece of technology that does the same in light of COVID-19. However, networking infrastructure providers such as Meraki have stepped up in recent months to deliver solutions to bring businesses of all sizes the networking scalability, security, and business continuity they need. To this end, I am looking forward to participating in the second episode in the series on September 9, that will include Meraki customers from Australia Post, Regions Bank, and Tandem Health, and personal stories from around the world. It should be a great discussion, and if interested, please register for the event.
Will Townsend is Senior Analyst responsible for Networking Infrastructure and Carrier Services at Moor Insights & Strategy. He has been featured on NPR, CNBC, in the Wall Street Journal, and frequently contributes to Forbes.com, providing insights into enterprise networking and 5G. Mr. Townsend is also ranked consistently as one of the world’s top networking analysts, as measured by ARInsights.
Moor Insights & Strategy provides industry research and analysis to the high tech industry. This blog was commissioned by Cisco Meraki. Moor Insights & Strategy disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of such information and shall have no liability for errors, omissions, or inadequacies in such information. This document consists of the opinions of Moor Insights & Strategy and should not be construed as statements of fact. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.
We recently hosted the first of our “Beyond the Network” conversations. The topic: the workplace of the future. As our host, Will Townsend, and two Meraki leaders discussed how businesses and IT teams are adapting to a newly distributed workforce, I was surprised that one of the most popular questions in the Q&A was focused on how to keep remote workers connected, not through their corporate network, but socially.
As the Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Meraki, I lead a distributed team of 75+ employees around the globe. Keeping my team socially engaged is an issue I have also wrestled with over the course of these last five months. Here are some of the lessons I have learned to help keep my team engaged, productive, and social.
There have been many unknowns recently, but one thing that should not be uncertain is the cadence of communication with your team. By providing a schedule of touch points, whether through email or virtual meetings, they know when to expect updates. For us, bi-weekly meetings with agenda items contributed by the whole team have been helpful in keeping everyone up-to-speed on the happenings across the organization. I’ve set up a daily stand-up with my direct reports to replace the many hallway interactions we’d have throughout the day to update each other on need-to-knows.
Use collaboration tools
Nothing will take the place of hallway chats in the office, but by utilizing tools like Webex Teams, there is no end to the amount of conversations that can take place. There’s always opportunities for private 1:1 discussion and the all-team channels can be very productive, but also consider creating spaces where everyone can share their personal interests. Within Meraki Marketing we have spaces for everything, from team members’ latest cooking adventures to daily jokes and our favorite dogs. The social connection remains, and is available to all.
We are all making the best of what may not be the most ideal working conditions. Some of us may be working from our laundry rooms (it’s me, I’m working from my laundry room … on an ironing board no less) or using a stack of books to create a standing desk. While efforts are underway to optimize our home environments, it’s best to create a culture where that’s OK. You can create a space where everyone can laugh at the unexpected fire alarm or meeting cameo by a coworker’s child instead of having it causing frustration.
Make yourself available
As a leader you are most likely pulled in many directions on a given day and may not have the time you want with your team. By setting aside dedicated spots in your calendar, it breaks down the walls and keeps communication flowing. I have established three lunch or coffee breaks each week that are optional for team members to attend. These set times create another opportunity for continued social connection, as our one rule is ‘no work talk allowed.’
Have a little fun
It feels like we have all been working more hours in recent months than normal. But with the hard work, there should also be some play. Many of the teams within our organization have taken virtual cooking classes or participated in coffee tastings for a little break. We have also created work-from-home challenges for the marketing team. Whether it’s a TikTok video or trivia competition, those weekly events have been valuable for team-building.
I look forward to continuing this conversation about the workplace of the future—stay tuned for details on Episode 2 of the “Behind the Network” series. If there’s a specific remote-work challenge we can help you address, please let us know.