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Cisco: Networking, security, collaboration at heart of hybrid workforce concerns

News Analysis
Oct 07, 20213 mins
Cisco SystemsNetworking

Cisco’s new quarterly Hybrid Work Index tracks workforce challenges by analyzing data culled from users of its Meraki networking, ThousandEyes internet visibility, Webex collaboration, and security platforms.

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When it comes to supporting the emerging hybrid workforce, getting the network and security right is top of mind among enterprise IT leaders.

That’s one finding detailed in Cisco’s new Hybrid Work Index, which the company says will be updated quarterly to gauge how worker and technology habits are evolving as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Cisco says the index gleans information from anonymized customer data points culled from a number of its products, including Meraki networking, ThousandEyes internet visibility, Webex collaboration, and security platforms Talos, Duo and Umbrella. The index also incorporates third-party survey data from more than 39,000 respondents across 34 countries.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive increase in remote workers, enterprises have been challenged to fully support a hybrid workforce, and the Cisco index reflects many of the changes that have occured. Some of the Hybrid Work Index findings include:

  • Home networks are now one of the most critical parts of the enterprise network. There has been 2x faster growth in teleworker devices over office-based routers, showing that business-class connectivity is expanding significantly toward the home, Cisco stated. 
  • Devices connecting to office-based Wi-Fi networks increased 61% in comparison to six months ago. This growth is led by the higher education, professional services and hospitality industries.
  • Pre-pandemic, people used mobile devices 9% of the time to connect to their meetings. In a hybrid work world, this number tripled and is now at 27%.
  • During the pandemic, malicious remote access attempts grew 2.4 times. In September 2021, the hybrid workforce was targeted with more than 100 million email threats daily.
  • Remote employees are working using multiple remote and mobile devices, which expands the threat landscape. Hybrid workers are using multiple devices and connecting directly to the Internet to access cloud applications. Work that happened primarily on managed endpoints is now happening on unmanaged ones.
  • Cloud provider networks demonstrate more stability than Internet Service Providers (ISP): From January 2020 to August 2021, cloud provider networks accounted for just 5% of outage incident volume. ISP networks accounted for the remaining 95% of outage incidents.
  • Small businesses are returning to physical workspaces quicker than large enterprises and using more bandwidth, relying on collaboration tools like video conferencing to communicate with internal and external contacts more than ever before.
  • Enterprises view collaboration apps as the most critical application type for hybrid work success: Collaboration apps are now the most closely monitored application type globally. Collaboration apps have surpassed secure access and productivity application monitoring, which were more heavily monitored at the onset of the pandemic and move to work-from-home.

Cisco’s research – especially around collaboration tools – is similar to recent Gartner findings. In its Digital Worker Experience Survey, Gartner reports that 80% of workers are using collaboration tools for work in 2021, up from just over half of workers in 2019. This is an increase of 44% since the pandemic began.

“Collaboration tools found renewed importance during COVID-19 for their role in ensuring the productivity of suddenly remote teams,” said Christopher Trueman, principal research analyst at Gartner, in a statement.

“As many organizations shift to a long-term hybrid workforce model, cloud-based, personal and team productivity technologies, along with collaboration tools, will form the core of a series of new work hubs that meet the requirements of various remote and hybrid workers.”

Storage/sharing and real-time mobile messaging tools also saw increased use during the pandemic, used by 74% and 80% of 2021 respondents, respectively. The shift away from in-person meetings is expected to continue. Gartner predicts that by 2024, in-person meetings will drop from 60% of enterprise meetings to 25%, driven by remote work and changing workforce demographics.