How offices will look and connect after Covid
It’s now over a year since the pandemic. Workplaces are getting smarter or smaller to accommodate social distancing and split-team work environments. Here, we take a deep dive into what exactly they look like and how we’re helping clients design and overcome the network management challenges they cause.
The new normal: Shared workspaces
Enterprises are ditching crowded, centralized workspaces in favor of renting office space in various locations closer to where employees live. This split-office solution cuts crowding and reduces staff exposure to viruses by shortening or eliminating their public transport commute.
More connections, less speed?
This is a health-first approach but takes adapting to. With the same space catering to multiple companies, the number of wireless devices starts causing radio and signal interference plus bandwidth congestion. The end result? Users suffer, from interrupted video conferences to slow data transfer.
Thankfully, WiFi 6 has emerged just in time. When running this latest wireless standard, access points have higher data throughput for bandwidth-intensive applications in higher-density environments. Equally critical has been that Zyxel WiFi 6 APs are equipped with Smart Antenna technology that continually adapts every connection to every device, ensuring optimal performance and preventing connection inconsistencies and delays.
Privacy and mobility in a shared office
We’re seeing the shared nature of these new workspaces cause other problems, too.
In particular, security and speed concerns are pushing tenants to demand their own private networks inside these spaces. They require seamless connectivity at work, especially as they often need to simultaneously connect tens of devices like security gateways, switches, NAS servers, and VoIP phones. On top of that, they sometimes need to share the network with visitors or work outside the office temporarily.
There is also a growing market of clients who need a temporary office but don’t want to build new costly infrastructure. We’re handling all these requests by using indoor LTE routers to create secure, sharable networks for individual teams without great IT specialty.
The biggest concern of all
In a shared office, ensuring confidence in network security against data leaks and intrusions is integral. One of our most requested services in the past 12 months has been deploying a security gateway, which provides multi-layer protection by using measures like web filtering and anti-malware to block security threats and restrict risky behavior.
We also bring together the capabilities of our USG FLEX security gateways with our wireless APs to allow the creation of a secure tunnel between devices being used remotely and a central office. USG FLEX’s VPN settings facilitate easy branch office network management, giving employees secure access to their company’s internal server anywhere there is an internet connection. Of course, when a small number of staff commute to a shared office, their company’s IT guru isn’t on hand to verify the availability and security of their connections. We’ve addressed this by creating Remote Access Points (RAP) available with 802.11ac Wave 2 and 802.11ax standards. Network admins preconfigure the APs with office-level security then simply send them to employees to install. Staff thus get access to their company’s network easily via a secure, encrypted tunnel without setting up a complex VPN themselves.
The next normal: Contactless offices
The lessons of the pandemic are already being incorporated into the design of next-generation offices. These plans borrow from the hygiene consciousness of medical facilities and even look like hospitals to an extent, emphasizing cleanliness and being contact-free. This takes the form of voice-controlled lighting and equipment and more proactive staff monitoring through thermal imaging. To this end, a rapidly growing number of companies are installing new surveillance cameras and putting a stronger emphasis on monitoring their employees’ body temperature.
Management nightmares, dream solutions
These scenarios require an army of smart devices along with real-time monitoring, complicating the management requirements.
We tackle this first by adopting WiFi 6-enabled PoE network switches. Their high power budget can easily scale up to support the use of power- and data-hungry devices like WiFi 6 APs and IP cameras. Switches are an important component of a reliable network infrastructure as they connect users to multiple devices. A managed switch can be configured so that users can deploy their own network on the same shared Internet connection, thus ensuring agile and reliable network connectivity with optimized, high-speed transmission right across both the wired and wireless segments of the network.