The cloak of winter and the long dark cloud, which has had the world in its grip for a while now, will eventually lift and soon we will all be able to get back to our lives as we did before Covid-19 showed up and changed everything as we know it, maybe forever, maybe not. But whichever way you look at it you will need to accept one fact. You will need to do things differently going forward. In that context the change may very well be forever. A term that has floated in and is now more or less a permanent fixture is “the new normal”. So in the new normal the world is going to go on the way it did go on, a bit differently in a few things and a lot differently in some others.

One of the challenges is going to be for the corporate world and businesses that need to return back to as near an ‘old normal’ as possible in the context of the ‘new normal’. They need to get people back into the offices. There are companies that have announced varying timelines that they will allow their employees to work from home, but sooner, rather than later, they will have to start bring back employees back to the workplaces. This could be in phases, could be in varying numbers or any other combination that they can come up with. This will bring in the concept of a hybrid workplace, a workplace where employees will be able to move seamlessly back and forth from the home and the office as and when work from either location is required and with the same amount of productivity and efficiency.

The most important challenge for the corporates is going to be how to reassure their employees that they can remain safe and healthy at the workplace. How can they enable a hybrid work environment where employees can continue working from home and return to the office for in-person collaboration and meetings? How can the companies foster a workplace culture when the experience shifts to this new model? There is consensus that this is going to be a phased approach with the phases starting from people working from home (which is where we are today) to the next phase which will be bringing employees back into the offices and setting up the hybrid workplace model. And the third phase which  will see the maturing of the hybrid workplace model making it a sustainable model.

This is going to be a cross functional responsibility that will involve the HR, Security, Legal and IT teams and they will have to work together to lay down the guidelines and enforce strict policy that will ensure the health and safety of all employees. If organizations are to succeed they will have to successfully manage the health and safety of employees, guests, partners and customers as they return to the office, the store, and the campus.  

The role of the network infrastructure becomes critical in the new scheme of things. Connectivity, and the technologies that support it, will be even more important in setting the foundation for the hybrid workplace.

Companies who hope to be successful in implementing a successful hybrid workplace will need to be able to successfully implement changes which include

  • Extend the network to the home
  • Deploy Preventive solutions to support in-office social distancing
  • Upgrade to a new generation of networking

Extending the network to the home

Here the most important part will be ensuring secure connectivity. Companies should be able to enable a distributed workforce at scale that will be able to connect securely into enterprise networks and applications to maintain business continuity.

The main challenges that companies will face will include delivering an in-office experience at home which will be difficult. Another challenge will be applying consistent security controls across the distributed workforce. The IT support should be able to remotely troubleshoot and support connectivity issues. A company should be able to ship out access points to the employee’s home and have the employee plug it in, download a configuration from the cloud, and be secured with centrally managed access credentials and zero trust security that maps directly to corporate policies. The company’s IT teams should be able to manage centrally from a cloud based platform and have full visibility and be able to control and make use of AIOps assisted troubleshooting from anywhere to manage this distributed workforce.

The home wireless network along with the VPN clients for mobile devices such as phones and tablets can offer a secure solution that enables access and security from anywhere to provide a complete remote workforce portfolio.

Preventive solutions to support in-office social distancing

Companies should ensure that they have location-aware offices. Contact tracing apps and proximity solutions should be used. Network access points should include Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Bluetooth radios that deliver smart telemetry, which is precision indoor and outdoor location data, necessary for these new density planning and contact tracing applications. These cloud-based proximity solutions should be able to operate seamlessly on the corporate networks. The quick identification of employees, visitors, or customers who may have come into contact with an infected person using contact tracing applications using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will help minimize virus spread. Applications will need to be deployed that will help identify hotspots and do heat mapping of locations that carefully pinpoint physical locations that require quarantining and special cleaning schedules.

Nobody had thought that contact and location tracing would be so crucial to “return to work” and certainly no company would have set up the network with that application in mind. The network should enable connectivity and the collection of telemetry data from the devices and this location data should be used by analytics application to turn into useful actionable information. Raw data available from devices is not useful by itself, but the ability to interpret this data from the multiple devices used by users on location to build comprehensive contact profiles and correlate devices to users is what is required to be deployed.

New generation networking

The hybrid office will become the focus and the blended workplace will require a new generation of home office products and form factors that build on current work-from-home solutions. There will be increased reliance on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, IoT sensors and the applications that will be built using data coming from these devices. Touchless solutions for many manual functions will need to be deployed. Network access points should include Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Bluetooth radios that will be able to deliver smart telemetry which is so necessary for these new applications

To sum up the company or companies that can achieve to a fair extent the capability to reassure its employees that it is safe and healthy to return to the workplace and work when required will be at an advantage. This will mean companies should have the capability to deploy changes to reinforce in-office social distancing by making modifications to floorplans based on foot traffic detected by location based and proximity apps and making changes to cleaning schedules based on density. They should be able to deploy contact tracing apps that trace contacts, sorting by total contact minutes with identified infected persons, and locations traced listing the dwell times at various building locations for the sick person. And they should be able to have a new generation network infrastructure either in place or deploy one so that they can effectively leverage the edge context and tools with cloud delivery capability and be in a position to offer an effective pandemic response at the workplace and safely bring the workforce back into the office.