With many enterprises seeing a permanent expansion in the number of employees who work from home, three-quarters of IT organizations will deploy network hardware in home offices, according to new research from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).
EMA recently surveyed 312 network infrastructure and operations professionals about how they are adapting their networks to post-pandemic business requirements. The results were published in the report, “Post-Pandemic Networking: Enabling the Work-From-Anywhere Enterprise.”
Overall, 85% of the research participants reported that the pandemic had permanently expanded their work-from-home (WFH) user base. The average respondent said around 20% of employees worked from home regularly before the pandemic. They are projecting that 50% of employees will work from home post-pandemic.
Expectations for home office user experience is increasing
Traditionally, IT organizations have taken a “good enough” approach to supporting remote employees. If network performance problems undermined employee productivity, the most expedient remedy was to require the employee to work from the nearest corporate office, where IT had more control and more visibility into the network.
EMA projects that expectations for home office user experience have increased as companies allowed more people to work remotely. For instance, call center agents who work from home need a network connection that can reliably support real-time applications like voice, video conferencing, and screen-sharing.
Installing network infrastructure in homes
To deliver a better user experience, IT organizations may need to deploy network infrastructure in home offices. EMA’s research found that 75% of enterprises are planning to deploy network hardware within the next two years in at least some home offices to address the new requirements of their remote users.
A network engineer with a large regional U.S. bank told EMA: “I think we need a home office network-in-a-box. You can send them [a Wi-Fi] access point, possibly a little switch, and a security gateway. The footprint would be really small. It could be one device or a modular system. It can get expensive if you have 10,000 users, but I think it would give home users an in-office experience. It would probably still be cheaper than paying for real estate.”
Of the three-quarters of companies that are planning to deploy network hardware, one-third of them expect to deploy this equipment in 20% less than 50% of their end users’ homes. A little more than one-third plan to deploy them in 50% to less than 80% of users’ homes.
EMA asked survey participants to describe the network capabilities that they plan to implement on the hardware they are deploying to home offices. Network security (80.9%) and Wi-Fi (68.1%) were the priorities. The popularity of network security indicates that IT organizations are focused on security risk as much as, if not more than, user experience. Many of them are adding a new layer of security to their increasingly distributed networks, likely combining new network security functionality in home offices with their existing core security solutions in data centers and the cloud.
The interest in deploying Wi-Fi suggests that many IT organizations are supporting users whose existing in-home Wi-Fi is inferior. For instance, one CIO told EMA that many of his company’s call center agents live in apartment complexes with shared Wi-Fi networks. To ensure that these agents have reliable voice and video application performance, his team has started installing Wi-Fi access points in these homes.
Beyond the subject of network hardware, EMA’s research also uncovered strong interest in leveraging SD-WAN, SASE, and 4G/5G services to improve the security and user experience of these remote workers. Ultimately, the edge of corporate networks is expanding into home offices. Network teams need to define this new architecture now and figure out how to support businesses that have been permanently transformed by the pandemic.