We are hopeful that, with the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine, a return to normal — and the office — is around the corner. As we consider what office life will look like, all signs point to a hybrid work future. That is, employees will split time between their home and the office. After a year of working entirely from home, all workers won’t return to the office all the time, and only a much smaller group will be in the office in on any given day.
A workplace survey by PwC notes that 55% of employees surveyed prefer to work remotely three days a week.
55% prefer working remotely three days a week.
The tech fallout
With fewer employees in the office longer term, we wondered what impact the pandemic will have on technologies: will some be left behind if there is reduced need for network capacity and security services?
We surveyed a mix of IT networking/infrastructure, desktop, and security professionals in our recent report, Security Risks 2021: Ransomware and the Return to the Office.
“What are the top 3 security tools you are considering deprioritizing/spending less on, if any, with far fewer employees at the office?”
Perhaps the results are not entirely surprising: fewer people will be at the office, so technologies supporting those on the network will be deprioritized.
Additionally, according to the survey, investment in traditional campus network security controls may falter in 2021. The leading candidate to lose its job, or least see less investment, is the firewall, with 30%of respondents putting it at the top of the list of pink slips. That is followed by Wi-Fi technology at 25%, which ties it with Network Access Control (NAC). Thinking a bit outside security, 17% note that they’ll decrease spending on route/switch infrastructure if there will be fewer employees in the office, coupled with many working directly in SaaS apps.
Decisions yet to be made
The survey results tell us that we’ll see fewer investments made in security technologies, most specifically with security appliances. The results also suggest that most companies (90%) have employees using VPNs for remote work. And importantly, VPNs rely on devices like firewalls to terminate encrypted connections that let remote users onto the network.
How then will remote work be supported and secured? It appears that having some employees back in the office will reduce the strain on the remote access VPN, with no need to upgrade firewalls or related network security devices like intrusion prevention. Further, there has been much talk of a VPN-less future with software-defined perimeters. This may accelerate in the coming year alongside the unabated shift to cloud-based SaaS apps, further decreasing the need for appliances.
Also, given that a much smaller fraction of workers will be at the office compared to 2019, technologies like Wi-Fi and NAC, which let employees onto the network, will also be impacted. Spending on Wi-Fi and NAC may be pushed out into the future or perhaps replaced by spending on newer technologies that deliver some of the NAC segmentation benefits from endpoints, for example.
As we all consider the future of securing remote work, we cannot help but think of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s remarks from last April: “We saw two years of digital transformation in two months.”
It appears that organizations still have decisions to make, but given what we learned in our survey, it looks like those two months have dramatically influenced how organizations pursue the future of the workplace.
How does your organization rank in preparedness for a return to the office? And what can you do to protect your business, whether employees are on or off the campus network? Download a copy of the report for more on our findings and insights: Security Risks 2021: Ransomware and the Return to the Office.