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High employee expectations shape the future of remote IT

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Over the past year, IT organizations across industries have seen their support footprint explode as teams that used to manage HQ-centric remote office networks suddenly found themselves supporting hundreds (if not thousands) of individual residential workstations. While helping deliver optimal end-user experience for each end user had always been a top order for IT, the scope of the task had become massively more complicated.

In a global pandemic world, the quantity of unique stakeholders involved in delivering business-critical applications out to end users has exploded. In a world where every user’s location and personal network connectivity is different, so is every user’s experience when leveraging the applications that run the business. In a work from anywhere centric scenario, with the possible exception of heavy WiFi users, end user experience and related network performance issues are often largely the same for every user working from a given branch office that shares access to the same connectivity infrastructure.

End users working from home or other non-office locations flips the traditional “user-to-problem ratio” for IT from a 100s:1 to a 1:1 problem; every user/location/network combination is unique, and thus IT needs to treat every new problem reported uniquely. In a work-from-office scenario, fixing a bad link at a remote office might satisfy a whole cohort of users experiencing bad performance at once. But in today’s work-from-home reality, each IT ticket and end user represents a bespoke set of challenges requiring visibility into third-party and last-mile domains far beyond the traditional scope of IT. 

It's only the beginning

AppNeta polled more than 1,000 knowledge workers who rely on the internet to do their job as part of recent survey and found that almost 80% expect some element of remote work to remain once pandemic restrictions are lifted. As vaccinations rise and businesses plan for a post-COVID future, employees are looking for flexibility and a hybrid model, either hoping to work remotely permanently or have the option to exercise more flexibility when it comes to an in-office schedule.

The survey found that since March 2020, 21% of knowledge workers have relocated from their original address. Now, the American workforce is nearly evenly split between urban areas (26%) and rural areas (25%), while the suburbs account for almost half of all respondents.

This broader trend of urban decentralization creates new challenges for already strapped IT teams, as delivering optimal Internet connectivity to residential and rural communities is outside of the scope of IT’s capabilities and hinges on broadband infrastructure and local availability.

Another report from the Federal Communications Commission estimated that as of December 2019 (i.e., just before pandemic restrictions took hold), roughly 14.5 million Americans were living in areas without access to fixed, reliable broadband. At the same time, reports from Microsoft and Broadband Now estimate that the number of Americans lacking broadband access is actually significantly higher than the government’s estimates.

To fix this, and help enable a future where enterprises can allow employees to “work from anywhere”, the Biden Administration is pushing forward on plans to dedicate $100 billion toward expanding broadband access to rural areas. The plan would target underserved areas and prioritize support for broadband networks affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives, while also setting aside funds for tribal lands, which represent the most broadband-starved regions.

But enabling remote work requires a lot more than just sufficient broadband access out to knowledge workers, after all: The more decentralized an enterprise network becomes, the more stakeholders become involved in delivering business-critical workflows and traffic out to far flung remote users. This new reality requires employers and IT teams to set user expectations around the quality of their network performance, but also for IT teams to leverage a new breed of tools to help ensure visibility into all network environments delivering critical workflows.

Expectations of IT are higher than ever

Despite all of this change, IT still needs to ensure that end-user experience is optimal for knowledge workers in any context, while ensuring access to customers stays open and active. But with widespread enterprise decentralization picking up pace, how IT teams go about meeting these marching orders has to evolve in kind.

Of the technology-related issues causing frustration in the past year for remote employees AppNeta surveyed, the biggest gripe was internet connectivity, with almost half (44%) of respondents expressing frustration. Poor video call quality was also a common issue, with 40% of respondents identifying freezing screens and challenges with popular tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

More than one-third of end users shared that they were frustrated by technology challenges and experiences with their employer’s IT team since the pandemic, even though 21% of respondents acknowledged that the IT team may be doing their best under the circumstances.

The path forward

Forward thinking IT teams have already started to address their new reality, at scale, in order to empower a true work-from-anywhere footprint across the organization. First by restoring confidence in IT via end-user experience and associated network performance visibility across all users, from any location, running any type of application. Next, by thrilling end-users via automatic root-cause determination and resolving problems in minutes vs. days, followed by holding 3rd party providers accountable to the services they provide the end-users, regardless of where they get their jobs done.

At baseline, teams need to be able to access:

  • End-to-end visibility into key metrics like end-to-end total and available network capacity, latency, packet loss, multi-protocol routing/BGP performance, and jitter across the entire network path any application and the remote users leveraging it
  • Near real-time views in VoIP and Video conferencing performance of leading platforms regardless of the source or destination of the calls
  • Automatic hop-to-hop diagnostics that clearly pinpoint where problems are occurring and why they’re happening, even over third-party or public networks
  • Intelligent exception-based alerting and upstream APIs/integrations into existing systems to both track, alert, and inform when performance levels aren’t aligned to business needs
  • An understanding of the ongoing operating costs of their network connections across remote locations

This all hinges on enterprise IT having broad visibility across their entire network footprint, from the third-party cloud environments hosting employee SaaS to the residential ISP connections fueling work at residential workstations. IT requires this kind of visibility to prevent and respond to business-debilitating issues quickly so they don't impact workers or revenue generation.

The only way to keep pace with enterprise decentralization is to deploy digital solutions that can bridge the physical distance between employees, customers, and the stakeholders involved in driving the business.

Employers granting their workforce the flexibility to work from anywhere that suits them aligns directly with what knowledge workers want in a post-COVID world. Where possible, business leaders should add clarity around responsibilities and response time and seek out technology solutions that are able to scale to the dispersed workforce and assist in network performance monitoring to ease the burden of internet connectivity and support with critical apps.

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