In case you (somehow) missed it, hybrid work — a workplace model that allows employees to work remotely part of the time, and that often also gives them leeway in setting their own schedules — is here to stay. By extension, supporting hybrid workforces for the foreseeable future has become a core responsibility for many IT operations teams.
Coping with this new reality can be challenging for IT teams. Indeed, in some ways, delivering IT services to hybrid workforces is even harder than supporting fully remote workers.
Here's how ITOps engineers can adapt to the new world of hybrid work and handle hybrid workforce challenges, ensuring that the users they support are able to work at flexible times and from multiple locations.
Hybrid Workforce Challenges for IT Teams
Not knowing exactly where and when users will work creates a variety of hybrid workforce challenges that fall to IT teams to solve:
- Connectivity: Perhaps most obviously, hybrid workforces require network connections that allow them to connect reliably and securely to company resources from remote locations.
- Security: Securing off-site devices that hybrid workers rely on is more challenging than securing devices on a company site. In addition to managing the risk of unauthorized physical access to remote devices, IT teams have to worry about things like insecure wireless networks that workers might use when logging in remotely.
- Maintenance schedules: If your company lets hybrid workers decide their own work schedules, it becomes harder to schedule major IT maintenance operations — such as running bandwidth-heavy data backups — at times that won't disrupt workers.
- Disaster recovery: Restoring failed systems is harder when the devices and users to whom you have to restore operations are not located on-site. It's even worse if you don't know exactly when or from where users will choose to connect.
It's worth noting that challenges like these are even more acute for hybrid workers than they are for fully remote workers. If your users are never on-site, you can prepare IT environments that are entirely virtual. But with a hybrid workforce, you still have to maintain traditional IT infrastructure for on-site workers while simultaneously supporting workers who choose to be remote when they please.
Adapting IT Operations to Support Hybrid Work
There is, of course, no simple, comprehensive solution to these hybrid workplace challenges. There is no single tool you can deploy or process you can implement to make it easy for IT teams to do their part in keeping hybrid workers productive, secure, and resilient in the face of IT disruptions.
There are, however, certain IT tools and strategies that can help.
Learn to Love VPNs
One of the simplest ways to enforce security rules for remote workers is to require that they connect to a VPN before they can access business applications or data. That way, even if workers' remote devices are stolen, attackers can't use them as a beachhead into the corporate network unless they also have VPN access. (To mitigate the risk that anyone who steals a laptop can connect to the VPN automatically, IT teams might consider not allowing VPN credentials to be stored on devices, and instead requiring that they be entered explicitly by users.)
VPNs also offer the benefit of simplifying network configurations. Instead of having to worry about figuring out how to expose line-of-business apps to the internet, IT engineers can keep everything behind a VPN and retain the same basic network configurations that they'd use if all employees were on-premises.
Another way to bypass many of the security and networking headaches that come with supporting hybrid workers is to provide them with cloud desktops — meaning cloud-based virtual machines that serve as alternatives to traditional PCs and laptops.
With cloud desktops, all of the applications and data that hybrid workers need to be productive can be stored centrally in the cloud. That virtually eliminates physical security risks, and it makes it easier to manage things like patches and upgrades.
The downside is that cloud desktops become one more thing the IT team has to pay for and manage. But the investment could be worth it for organizations whose workforces will be indefinitely hybrid.
Throttle IT Operations
If you can't schedule IT operations around your users due to the fact that you can't predict when users will be active, you should take advantage of tools that allow you to "throttle" processes in order to dampen their impact on users.
For example, many modern data backup tools offer bandwidth throttling features that limit the amount of data they move over the network. Throttling means your backups take longer to run, but it keeps bandwidth available to applications and users so that they don't suffer performance degradations.
Plan for Distributed Disaster Recovery
Recovering from a failure when users and devices are distributed is a real challenge. You can make it simpler by establishing clear policies such as what employees should do if they discover that they can't log in to a system from a remote location, and ensuring that you have an alternate means of contacting users if your central directory services go down.
Strategies like these can mitigate the confusion that arises when something breaks and the impacted users aren't present at the same physical site.
Hybrid work has changed the game for IT engineers. Fundamental IT processes may be the same, but they need to be adapted for workforces that work remotely and that may lack the fixed schedules they had when everyone worked from a corporate office.