The top five technologies powering hybrid working in 2023

hybrid working
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Return to office mandates, set office days, the four-day working week: the relationship between employees, employers and the office environment continues to be a topic of conversation, to say the least. And while the leaders of certain companies might be forcing their employees back to the office at any cost, the evidence suggests hybrid working is here to stay. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, more people expected to work from home in 2022 than in 2021. This is certainly the case at Cisco, where over 75% of employees expect to work from home at least half the week. 

About the author

Chintan Patel is Chief Technology Officer, Cisco UK & Ireland

But hybrid working doesn’t stand still: it’s constantly evolving as technology improves. As we look towards 2023, and three years on from the start of the pandemic that sparked the hybrid working revolution, it’s worth taking stock of the latest trends in hybrid working today, and the technologies that will shape the future of the way we work in the years to come.

Holograms for hybrid collaboration

So far, hybrid working technologies have focused on 2D interfaces – TV screens, phones, tablets, or just audio. 

But there are signs that more immersive, 3D technologies are finally ready for the big time. While some businesses are going all-in on the metaverse, VR, and cartoonish avatars as the future of digital collaboration, I think holograms that provide more phioto-realistic representations of the people you’re connecting with are ultimately much more likely to catch on.

When people think of holograms, many will conjure up images of their favourite childhood science fiction films – but the technology is now fact, not fiction. And while its use by the likes of ABBA in their virtual concerts might be making the headlines now, it shows real promise in facilitating more natural collaboration in virtual meetings. 

Hologram technology offers numerous benefits over relying on just screens, or a more immersive VR experience. The technology can better mix virtual and in-person attendees in the same space, enhancing the potential for natural collaboration that would previously only really be possible in person. Realistic holograms also allow users to better read facial expressions and body language. These types of non-verbal cues are vital for certain types of meetings, such as negotiations or new business pitches.

Wi-Fi 6E

As more devices and sensors are connected to the network to facilitate both existing hybrid working technology and newer technologies like holograms, it’s inevitable that demand on the network will increase. 

6GHz wireless spectrum accelerates data transmission and clears the air for the kinds of high-resolution video streaming, teleconferencing, IoT data, and other high-bandwidth applications that are essential for distance collaboration. Whether it’s 8K streaming video, or remote IoT cameras on-site at an industrial facility, a WiFi 6E network will be increasingly essential to handling the growing baseload of traffic in 2023 and beyond. 

5G for seamless connectivity on the go

5G has been around for a while now – early adopters included manufacturing, entertainment, retail, quick-serve restaurants, and other industries where a seamless network experience was essential. But as more businesses bring more IoT devices online – such as smart TVs, cameras, and yes, holograms – private 5G networks will increasingly become a major differentiator in delivering that reliable connectivity to enable hybrid working to stay as seamless as possible. 

To succeed in a hybrid context, businesses need to have the flexibility to enable employees to work in different configurations within the office environment. No one wants the frustration of coming into the office, only to be faced with connectivity issues. Private 5G networks will go a long way towards solving these challenges.

Next-level micro-segmentation to secure the network

More devices on the network mean a bigger attack surface for criminals. IT departments have used network segmentation for years to control the flow of traffic through their infrastructure. This helps support organisations by controlling how traffic flows through the different parts of the network, which is especially critical in today’s hybrid environments. Think of it like the hulls of a ship: if there’s a breach in one section of the hull, the damage will be limited, and the ship will stay afloat, if the hull is segmented into multiple parts. 

Currently, segmentation technologies can be enforced by firewalls, an access control list, and virtual local area network configurations on networking equipment. Microsegmentation goes in deeper, using even more information such as application-layer data. This empowers organisations to create even more granular and flexible policies for highly secure and efficient hybrid working set-ups.

Full network observability

Holograms, 5G, microsegmentation: all these exciting innovations have the same effect on the overall IT network, making it harder to troubleshoot when things don't work they want we want or when we need to resolve problems. 

Network observability is critical to a modern hybrid working IT architecture. In the past, networks were relatively simple, but those of today often span multiple data centres, clouds, and might be mapped across both physical infrastructure and software defined infrastructure. 

Tools exist to help understand this complex mix of inputs and outputs. Observability tools work by collecting and analysing a broad range of data, including application health and performance, business metrics, user experience, infrastructure and network telemetry, to help fix issues before they have a serious impact. As delivery of reliable hybrid working services across a growing range of channels becomes mission-critical, so too will these tools that help IT leaders understand what’s going on with their networks and catch problems quickly. 

Hybrid working is here to stay, and its future is looking bright. New technologies like holograms promise to bring even more nuance and clarity to workplace communication in a hybrid setting, and 5G and WiFi 6 will enable this to happen even faster, more reliably, and with less lag. But it’s often the ‘under the bonnet’ innovations that are the most important in enabling all this to happen: microsegmentation and network observability are vital technologies for delivering on the promise of hybrid communications and will become the critical building blocks for any modern business network in 2023 and beyond.

Chintan Patel

Chintan Patel is  Chief Technology Officer, Cisco UK & Ireland