Should Remote Workers Determine Your Enterprise Network Design in a Zero Trust World?

Markus Nispel Chief Technology Officer, (CTO) - EMEA Published 28 Jun 2022

Here’s an idea whose time has come: We need to unify office and remote networks and build a single zero trust solution that’s the same for all employees, no matter where they work.

Instead of creating one network for the office and bolting on another for remote workers, design one system so everyone can always work the same way, no matter where they are or where they choose to do their job. What if remote networking was the key driver for the entire corporate network design?

Man working on laptop

Because of the increase in remote networking as a direct result of the pandemic, prior methods of thinking aren’t working anymore. And what have we been doing with our current enterprise network systems? Creating workarounds and cutting corners to get something done faster. Sometimes you get rewarded for it. Have only three licenses for a piece of software? Encourage your team of ten to share the password and let them work out who has access and when. Can’t get access to something you need because your company requires four people to grant permissions? Just have someone who can access it grab the doc and flip it to you. That virtual private network (VPN) slows everything down – so work without it as much as possible. Turn off my computer, so I have to log in every time? I’d never leave it in a taxicab signed in, would I?

How many businesses run like this? You’ve created an efficient solution for easy network access and got more done with less if you’re working this way. You’re lean and mean. But you have also created security problems. Many of them!

And why do people figure out workarounds? It’s because the system in place has become bureaucratic and ponderous. According to strongdm’s report “2022: The Year of Access,”48 percent of organizations require three or more people to approve access, with half of the companies also saying that it takes hours, days, or weeks for access to be granted. Systems that cause delays get ignored or worked around.

Digging deeper: Why does that bureaucracy happen? Usually, it is because of the forced marriages of legacy hardware and software to new, cloud-based systems and clumsy security systems that cause as many problems as they fix. Often different owners of different elements need to sign off, bottlenecking the system and frustrating employees who are just trying to get work done. Can you blame the company personnel for attempting to devise a better way and figure out shortcuts?

Building on top of existing solutions creates layers and legacies. However, it’s how many companies traditionally have branched out. First, there was a home office. Then there were remote workers. Those remote workers required a new VPN system to connect back to the office.

It made sense at the time. You had a new way of working which supplemented how the majority worked, so you needed to create a new networking solution designed only for those remote workers.

Today times have changed. “VPNs are insufficient for the remote working and hybrid landscape, and an overreliance on them to secure large numbers of employees working from home poses significant risks,” writes Michael Hill, the UK editor of CSO. In a recent article, he also states, “With remote and hybrid working set to be the norm for the foreseeable future, it is vital that organizations not only recognize the shortcomings and risks of VPNs in the remote working era but also understand how alternative options can better secure the future of remote and hybrid working.”

Hill is unquestionably correct. Our philosophies need to evolve as well. The pandemic has created a move to increase remote work. And our experience with bolt-on solutions should fuel our thinking of what will happen in this next period of revolutionary change in how enterprise networks are built and deployed.

Doesn’t it make sense to have one solution designed for the entire company? And if you’re scaling to one, shouldn’t that person be able to work at home or be mobile whenever needed and have the system be the same in every situation? Wouldn’t that be simpler to manage and build? One system to supply security for, one system to understand that could work for each person.

It’s part of an innovative approach of scaling to one while simultaneously building a solution that can be secure for the entire company. This approach would reap benefits as organizations continue to expand their mobile and remote workforce. Employees would only have to be trained once, as the system would be the same wherever they were located. That would increase adoption and have people using the system rather than working around it. You may need more license subscriptions, and there could be more upfront costs, but the long-term benefits would far outweigh those costs. The enterprise networking experience will become consistent everywhere.

The one-team approach has worked in other parts of building a business. A recent article in Forbes titled “Contractors, Partners, Employees, Robots: The Art Of Managing The New Blended Workforce” suggested that companies will be better off if they treat their employees the same way they treat any other form of labor.

MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte conclude “that those who are adept at treating both internal and external contributors as one are willing to exchange control for more open-mindedness about the roles these new types of workers are assuming. Importantly, it means letting go of an old mindset that tasks need to be accomplished by the 9-to-5 workforce.”

Let’s learn a lesson from another part of the corporate ecosystem: Treat everyone as one. This is the same mindset that needs to be adopted when building networks. With zero trust security, you’re not building one enterprise network for the office and a different network for remote workers. It’s everyone together, with one secure system that works for both.

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