Eased restrictions and vaccine rollouts have prompted many employers to start asking employees to return to in-person work. While some workplace transitions are already completed or underway, others are still in the planning stages. Further complicating some companies’ plans is an underlying division between employees who want to return and those who don’t.
As people got to work from home during the pandemic, many found that their values and priorities shifted. They realized their jobs could be done successfully outside of the office. For this set of employees, a return to work means keeping their work-from-home arrangements in place. For others, it may mean compromising through hybrid agreements where they return to the office a few days a week.
For employers, accommodating workers who are OK returning full time and those who aren’t means re-examining technology. Improving Wi-Fi connectivity, upgrading VPN services, and distributing company-owned devices are likely to play a role in the new normal. The return to work is going to cause employers to rethink how they allocate and use network and IT resources. Here are a few steps you can take to prepare for what’s to come:
Test Your Network and Connectivity
Work arrangements during COVID-19 have not looked the same for every person and organization. Some companies were able to shift all employees to WFH situations. Others had to maintain a few positions onsite with social distancing measures in place. Many companies had to stagger different shift arrangements to accommodate in-person work and safety measures.
As a result, managers may have temporarily shut down or scaled back internet and network resources. With more employees coming back onsite, you and your IT team will need to test your connectivity. This may mean contacting your ISP to restore service or increase your bandwidth. Run through all areas of every location to ensure wireless access points are working correctly. Make sure there are enough access points and that they can handle the increased onsite activity.
If you find dead or weak spots, mesh or adaptive Wi-Fi solutions for small businesses can close the gaps. Adaptive Wi-Fi can adjust to fluctuating network demands if you’re going to be supporting hybrid work arrangements.
Adaptive Wi-Fi is an AI-based solution that shifts bandwidth between access points or pods according to network activity. When more employees are working near the conference room on Mondays, increased capacity goes to the nearest access point. If your customer service department returns in shifts, bandwidth allocation will go up and down as needed.
Your IT team should also take time to ensure all software updates and the latest security patches are installed. Check all network equipment including switches, routers, servers, and VoIP resources, to ensure everything is working, updated, and protected. Switching employees or departments to permanent hybrid or WFH arrangements? See whether there are any network resources or equipment you need to implement, reduce, or retire.
Assess the Need for VPN and Cloud Services
Research indicates one in three people will leave their jobs if remote work is no longer available post-pandemic. This all but cements permanent WFH and hybrid arrangements as employers struggle to maintain qualified staff. While remote workers use home networks and Wi-Fi, they still need to access files and applications from the company’s network.
A virtual private network (VPN) server allows your employees to connect to internal resources while they’re outside the office. Depending on where you store internal documents and apps, WFH employees may depend on a VPN connection. However, not every worker needs it to perform their jobs from home. Using cloud-based services to share documents and resources could be enough. These apps and services can shift demand away from VPN solutions and the need to maintain a separate server.
Assess what’s feasible from a company-wide and IT perspective. Both VPN and cloud services require licenses, which can add to your overall costs. If you decide to implement both, consider which employees will be unable to rely on cloud-based solutions alone. Just be sure remote employees aren’t locked out of the resources they need to help your company accomplish its objectives.
Speaking of VPNs, since IT resources vary between companies, some may have allowed remote workers to use their own computers. Some organizations may not have had enough laptops or mobile devices for everyone who needed to work from home. This means employees probably have company documents stored on personal computers, even if VPN or cloud services were in use.
Establishing procedures and tools so workers can transfer these documents back onto company-maintained resources is essential. Let workers know where these files should be uploaded and give them a deadline. Organizations that implement personal network folders for each employee are already ahead of the game.
You may need to temporarily expand the number of VPN licenses so workers can transfer locally-stored files to their network folders. Another solution is to set up replicas of personal folders on the cloud. Employees can sign in from their personal devices and upload the files.
Redistribute Company-Owned Devices
IT departments will also want to check and update the company’s computer assets before workers come back to the office. Desktops and any devices that remained on site should be checked for functionality. Update outdated software and repair any machines, including printers, that are no longer working or connecting correctly.
There is the possibility that you’ll need to change the allocation of company devices. This can mean shifting some machines to employees who remain onsite full-time. Reassess what assets you have and how practical they are for workers. This may be a good time to look at the remaining useful life of your devices. Determine whether it makes sense to repair or replace them.
Returning to the office is going to require individual approaches for employees and organizations. At the same time, most employers will need to balance changes to work arrangements and demands for IT resources. By reassessing your network connectivity, remote resources, and computer assets, you can craft solutions to facilitate a positive return.