The COVID-19 pandemic is an epic health crisis that has resulted in what is effectively the largest “work from home” experiment ever conducted in human history, enabled by the Internet. This puts employee productivity in the spotlight, as successful outcomes for digital workers are at the center of today’s business operations. We are seeing increased usage of the Internet and cloud apps versus internal network resources and applications. Traffic patterns are shifting as employee needs become more dynamic, with a pivot towards cloud-based technology.
Managing a remote workforce is incredibly complex because enterprise IT and network teams do not control their employees’ network environments from end to end, making it much harder to manage their experience. Sitting between SaaS/internal apps and enterprise workers is a host of dependencies and third parties, such as public cloud providers, secure web gateways (SWG), CDNs, DNS providers, last-mile ISPs, and home WiFi networks.
Right now, the pandemic is acting as an accelerator for digital change that was already underway when companies had the ability to forecast revenues based on employee location and available resources. But the current public health crisis, and the need to keep all employees safe, is an incredible shift in thinking that will accelerate all digital transformation projects previously planned. What some organizations had not fully embraced for a decade is now core to business survival and innovation. It is indeed a sea change, as this digital mindset will persist, and it is highly unlikely companies will try to return to what worked prior to the “new business normal.”
A Gartner, Inc. survey on June 5 of 127 corporate leaders, representing HR, Legal and Compliance, Finance and Real Estate, revealed 82% of respondents intend to permit remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace. Nearly half (47%) said they intend to allow employees to work remotely full-time going forward. For many organizations, employees will be working both onsite and remotely.1
Remote worker enablement, SaaS/public cloud performance, and Internet health are key areas to focus on as the new normal drives IT planning for remote digital employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic puts employee productivity in the spotlight. Balancing an increasingly remote digital workforce and supporting business-critical, performance-sensitive functions (e.g. call center, help/support desk) is the name of the game now for IT teams in enterprise teams. Instead of reacting to problems as they arise, it is more effective to proactively monitor user digital experiences so that successful outcomes are designed into business processes. Having the right kind of visibility into all aspects of remote employee experiences ensures business continuity.
VPNs play a key role in enterprise employees accessing internal apps and services. They establish a secure connection from a remote worker’s device to the enterprise network by wrapping an additional layer of security and privacy to a user’s online activity. VPNs are an indispensable part of enterprise networks but tend to add a layer of complexity to network monitoring and troubleshooting. Making sure remote workers have robust VPN access to corporate services can be accomplished by proactively monitoring VPN connectivity, availability, and usability by setting-up tests to VPN endpoints.
As an example, call center workers are now working from home, necessitating more reliance on their VPN connections. Moving call center employees to home environments needs to support logins to internal applications as well as external SaaS-based omnichannel collaboration solutions that include a mix of SaaS-based VoIP, messaging and video conferencing services.
The SaaS app model has become indispensable for remote workers' productivity during the pandemic. It had already represented a significant trend pre-pandemic, but now that is accelerating as enterprises push to support a higher percentage of remote versus office workers. SaaS solutions can deliver the flexibility and agility the modern enterprise requires, but the resulting ecosystem of external dependencies and third-party services creates significant operational blind spots for IT.
While SaaS-based productivity and collaboration tools have been a game-changer, it has been a cause for concern for enterprise IT teams responsible for ensuring consistent performance of their SaaS applications. Understanding why SaaS performance degrades or troubleshooting the root cause for SaaS outages is challenging, and IT teams are often left to fend for themselves with minimal to no assistance from the SaaS provider.
Further complicating matters, the traditional monitoring techniques that IT is familiar with flatline with SaaS because IT doesn’t own the infrastructure or the app stack to instrument code changes. Overcoming SaaS-blindness requires a new approach to monitoring and a deep understanding of how SaaS applications are delivered over the Internet.
When Internet outages happen or performance degrades, it can be extremely disruptive to your business. For employees working from home, their situation is highly dependent on the Internet, including last-mile access to their ISP and SaaS reliance that can be prone to outages. While application delivery is dependent on many different Internet Service Providers (ISPs), it also increasingly relies on a large and complex ecosystem of Internet-facing services—such as CDN, DNS, DDoS mitigation and public cloud.
Whether these services suffer a full-on outage or experience a drop in performance due to increased latency or packet loss, there can be a significant impact on employee productivity. At the same time, enterprises are increasingly relying on Internet transport to connect their sites and reach business-critical applications and services. Gone are the days in which applications are solely hosted in private data centers and office locations are connected primarily by MPLS circuits.
The Internet is now effectively the enterprise backbone, which as a “best-effort” transport can have significant yet unforeseen consequences for businesses. By looking at the Internet as a collection of individual (AS) networks connected on a dynamic set of routes versus a “black box,” gives IT and digital operations teams the information they need in real-time to make informed decisions that can positively impact their employees no matter where they are.
Enterprise Remote Worker Best Practices
Enterprise remote worker best practices are needed during this time of rapidly accelerating digital transformation. Here are some key best practices that will help enterprises navigate the new normal to enhance employee digital experiences.
- Isolate user-specific network issues (e.g. LAN, WiFi, ISPs)
- Monitor VPN connectivity and performance
- Ensure user experience (availability/usability) for business-critical internal/SaaS apps
- Avoid relying on employee troubleshooting assistance
- Quickly identify problem domain (e.g. ISP vs. SaaS) and gain successful escalation with responsible provider
- Avoid long MTTI, MTTD, and MTTR for network team
- Embrace on-going verification of SaaS/Internet performance to measure KPIs
- Help internal stakeholders validate/troubleshoot app-level issues (esp. SaaS)
- Assess the availability and performance of a large and complex ecosystem of Internet-facing services—such as CDNs, DNS, DDoS mitigation and public cloud platforms
- Alert IT teams when these services undergo brief disruptions that can have a significant impact on your business
- Assess ISP performance from end-to-end in employee workflows
- Alert when internet outages are the result of BGP or other routing issues may impact your workforce.
Managing a remote workforce is incredibly complex because IT and network teams do not control the employee’s environment, but they are still responsible for their employee’s experience. There are many more variables to consider when supporting remote workers and delivering high-performance experiences. While these are typically areas that IT looks at when diagnosing the cause of an issue, the rapid increase in remote workers of late means that the number of end-points is orders of magnitude larger.
To ensure employees remain productive while they are working remotely, Enterprise IT teams need better visibility into remote worker experience—monitoring user SaaS and internally-hosted app experience and correlating it to underlying network connectivity. This is what ThousandEyes offers, making it easier to scale remote worker activities while maintaining the best experience possible.
1 Gartner Press Release, "Gartner Survey Reveals 82% of Company Leaders Plan to Allow Employees to Work Remotely Some of the Time," July 14, 2020. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-07-14-gartner-survey-reveals-82-percent-of-company-leaders-plan-to-allow-employees-to-work-remotely-some-of-the-time