SecurityBrief UK - Technology news for CISOs & cybersecurity decision-makers
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Supporting the future of work by transforming hybrid working
Thu, 23rd Nov 2023

IT decision-makers (ITDMs) are no strangers to network challenges. Many organisations are still adjusting their infrastructure and processes to fully support a hybrid work environment, with security and connectivity at the crux of the transformation. 

It’s clear that IT departments need the right skills to be able to maximise network capabilities. In fact, when it comes to successful hybrid working, employing the right team is crucial. However, organisations must strike the right balance between protecting their employees and their data while also allowing the freedom necessary for teams to work in the way that best suits them. Organisations that embrace this change can be better equipped for the future of work – and further technological shifts on the horizon.

However, we must ask whether ITDMs are properly supporting their employees’ working needs. At the very minimum, hybrid working should be available, secure and efficient for those who need – or want – to work in this way. Many organisations seem to have both technological and recruitment hurdles to overcome before this vision can become a reality. 

The Disconnect Around Connection
Hybrid working may now be well-established, but various related issues are still widespread. For example, research commissioned by Juniper Networks suggests that nearly all (97%) of surveyed ITDMs across EMEA have encountered at least some networking challenges with hybrid working in their organisation. However, this contrasts with office workers’ views: ‘only’ 78% say there are connectivity challenges. 

Our research also shows that ITDMs are most likely to say there are problems managing IT helpdesk queries (57%), and on average, 29% of calls or online ticket requests to their organisation’s IT helpdesk are in relation to networking challenges with hybrid working or working from home. This demonstrates the pressure that IT departments are under. Although fewer office workers are experiencing problems, this is likely due to the hard work of IT teams, who inevitably are well-versed in overcoming challenges within the office environment before the wider business feels them.

Taking Stock of Security
When reinforcing internal security systems, IT departments must balance current needs against those of the future. With staff working outside office perimeters, ITDMs have a challenge on their hands when protecting constantly shifting network boundaries. And although cloud servers are typically secure and easy to access off-site, there is always a risk of data being compromised. 

Implementing network-based security, such as granular access control and encryption for data in transit, can help to reduce the risk of a data breach. 

Unfortunately, this can cause operational issues. Our research highlights the tension between providing seamless access for users and adopting a stringent security approach, with 72% of office workers feeling conflicted in this regard.  

If companies are planning to continue using their current VPN – this may not be the best decision. To fully prepare for what the future of work may bring, traditional firewalls should be replaced with connected security models that can inspect all network traffic in and out, monitor key applications and provide intrusion protection and detection services. Ultimately, to keep sensitive information secure and improve network performance, investment in software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) is critical.

Narrowing the Skills Gap
While IT security triggers multiple challenges, recruitment and key IT skills are of equal concern. These problems are unlikely to disappear soon, at least based on current approaches. Our research reveals that four in ten (40%) ITDMs say recruitment is not carried out with future tech in mind, and nearly eight in ten (79%) admit they will need to recruit for different skill sets in the next two to five years. If IT departments want to maintain their organisations’ networks in a way that allows them to support hybrid working needs, they must address this issue.

The threat to industry success continues to be pervasive. According to research by Salesforce, nearly 75% of employees feel ill-equipped to learn the digital skills necessary for the future of work, with only 28% involved in digital skills learning and training programmes.

One way of empowering teams is by ensuring their day-to-day work is meaningful and productive. To do that, ITDMs must recognise the potential of combining artificial intelligence (AI) solutions with human intelligence. With AI tools under their belt, workers can automate routine tasks, freeing up time to focus on value-adding tasks. Plus, AI can help optimise processes and even solve complex problems. 

Looking to the Future
Hybrid working practices are widespread, but IT departments often still struggle to meet employee expectations. There is also a mismatch between the priorities of IT departments and the priorities of employees. 

Of course, the practical impact of this discrepancy between the IT department and employees is different depending upon the sector of the organisation – and the amount of sensitive or confidential information that they share. IT departments should be trying to improve their communication with the rest of the business to have better visibility of the key issues and, thus, where to focus their efforts when improving the network.

It’s clear that organisations will need to work hard to streamline connectivity, security and operational matters of hybrid working. Organisations now must find a way to balance secure working practices with accessible working while simultaneously keeping employees at the heart of every decision they make.