Hybrid work as we know it isn’t working out

Two years ago, businesses worldwide were forced to go from working in an office to working at home almost overnight. However, we now find ourselves in a post-pandemic world where everything has changed again.

Some people are happier being back in the office, while others prefer working from home or wherever they can find a good WIFI connection. But the reality is that hybrid work as we know it today isn’t quite working out and we need to think bigger than virtual offices.

Every household member will regularly compete for bandwidth when downloading 4K TV shows, movies, and games. That’s not ideal when it happens at the same time as a critical work meeting. Worse still, many constantly fear that their home broadband router or internet connection will suffer slow speeds or a complete outage at the most inconvenient times.

Even if the internet connection holds up, remote workers often find themselves in the dark when their colleague in a conference room starts whiteboarding outside of the camera shot. In addition, a lack of non-verbal cues, such as nodding your head in agreement or the ability to see facial expressions quickly leaves many in the meeting feeling disconnected. Add poor audio and video quality into the mix, and hybrid working can immediately become a frustrating experience.

Businesses of all sizes are faced with managing a new complex IT environment where business-critical applications and communications are scattered across multiple clouds. Meanwhile, every employee expects to work from any device in any location at a time that suits them. When you add all these frustrations together, it presents a case that hybrid working in its present state is not working.

The future of hybrid work

Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration at Cisco, recently told more than 15,000 people at its Cisco Live event that 98% of all meetings have at least one participant who attends remotely. So, we’ve undoubtedly reached the point where it's no longer about enabling people to work from anywhere but reimagining the employee experience to improve how we work.

The future of hybrid working must be frictionless, and multi-vendor interoperability will play a critical role in bringing that vision to life. An early example of this future direction can be found in a recent update to Webex on Apple's CarPlay that allows a user to leave their home and seamlessly remain in their meetings as they get into their car. The new features also allow workers to listen to past Webex recordings and catch up with meetings while sitting in traffic on their way home.

We’re also beginning to see tools leveraging artificial intelligence to enhance audio by automatically removing background noise and cameras that will keep you at eye level, whether sitting or standing. As home workers increasingly rely on an internet connection, we can also expect better ways to manage home bandwidth and introduce greater resilience by seamlessly flipping over to a cellular backup connection should the home broadband fail.

We need to talk about security

Employees connecting to the workplace on insecure networks on unmanaged devices accessing unsanctioned apps is another problem keeping IT teams awake at night. Ensuring every employee is safe and secure to prevent the spread of ransomware or malware attacks throughout an organization also requires a rethink. Do we need a more hybrid approach to security too?

It's not uncommon for companies to have 50 to 60 vendors in their security stack, which is untenable in a world of hybrid working. There needs to be an integrated platform where multiple cloud vendors and security platforms can work together. When I sat down with Jeetu Patel, he told me that integration needs to happen between networking and security, not just security stacked by itself. Ultimately, you can't be in the connectivity business without being in the protection business.

We have finally evolved from the binary mindset of arguing about the pros and cons of remote working versus office working. We now accept that the future is somewhere in between, and conversations are shifting to how businesses can deliver an enhanced rather than a degraded experience. For this to happen, hardware and software solutions will soon be judged on how they work together as the journey to uniting network connectivity, security, collaboration, and communication begins.

Here in 2022, most problems currently faced by workers are caused by a combination of technology, culture, and space utility. The recent Cisco Live event highlighted those enterprises could only create an inclusive experience for every employee by bringing these three areas together. However, fixing hybrid working will require business leaders to forget everything they know and bravely navigate uncharted digital waters.

It's time to retire the concept of multiple vendors who all attempt to lock customers into their ecosystem. Instead, the dream of a seamless and frictionless hybrid working experience with invisible borders can only be brought to life by multi-vendor interoperability.

For these reasons alone, business leaders should be keeping a close eye on the landscape as tech vendors put their competitive differences aside to form new partnerships where everyone wins.

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