Wi-Fi’s role in the growing hybrid workforce

Employee remote working
(Image credit: Shutterstock / GaudiLab)

The rise of the remote workforce has challenged IT teams and network administrators to ensure a smooth Wi-Fi experience for end users and their devices. Since the start of the pandemic, 94% of enterprises have experienced a permanent increase in the number of employees who work from home at least part-time. But work today for most office workers is nearly impossible without a reliable internet connection, and the responsibility to ensure a smooth, reliable internet connection falls mainly to internal IT teams and MSPs, who need to be aware of the latest Wi-Fi technology and the tools available to properly manage and maintain it.

Before the pandemic, just 18% of employees worked from home, according to recent research by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). That figure has risen to 43% of employees today, and is projected to reach 49% by 2025. In addition, 39% of remote staff are hybrid workers who split their time between home and the office, further complicating their Wi-Fi needs.

Network architectures, operations, tools, and processes all must be updated to support this workforce development. In fact, 90% of organizations with hybrid workers have already made some adjustments by upgrading Wi-Fi networks to handle the increased requirements of office mobility.

Wi-Fi 6 technology has made great strides in recent years by providing better security to prevent attempts at guessing passwords, and wider channels that allow multiple devices to transmit at once. Those wider channels have doubled the bandwidth available for Wi-Fi access points, enabling greater bandwidth for wireless transmissions and features.

The updated 6E version of Wi-Fi has already been adopted in about one-third of all new-to-market Wi-Fi devices, and that adoption rate is expected to grow over the next few years. To get ahead of this trend, IT decision-makers should plan for all their purchases of new laptops and access points to be Wi-Fi 6E-enabled.

The biggest challenges for the remote worker experience involve weak setups for home Wi-Fi, latency due to long distances from enterprise applications, and low-quality Internet Service Providers. Another problem cited by home users involved shared Wi-Fi in multi-family housing. As a result, supporting this complex shift to remote work has increased the workload of nearly three-in-four network operations teams (73%), according to the EMA study.

Alex Hoff

Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder at Auvik.

Common issues facing remote users

Several common IT problems can negatively affect a remote user’s experience due to a lack of clear network monitoring and visibility. Network monitoring solutions are used to track a range of valuable historical data about devices attempting to join a network, along with providing notices where something has failed.

One recurring issue for monitoring involves the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), which automates the assignment of IP addresses to devices connected to a network. Any misconfiguration of the DHCP server can block Wi-Fi users from obtaining an IP address to access the internet. In other cases, the DHCP server may have exhausted its list of available IP addresses.

Another area of concern involves the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates human-readable domain names into IP addresses so users can easily access websites and network resources. When users experience slow or intermittent website access, the cause is often a DNS misconfiguration or a DNS server that is unavailable or stopped responding.

Network monitoring can help to troubleshoot how efficiently devices are connecting to the Wi-Fi network. The problem often involves pure human error, such as users entering the wrong password or running outdated drivers that are incompatible with the network’s configuration.

One other area for focus involves issues that can impact the performance of the access point. Such issues can include low signal strength in client devices, problems with the access point’s radio channel utilization, or high channel utilization levels of access points in that area.

The demands on network administrators to safeguard the end user experience for connectivity and security will only increase with the wider rollout of Wi-Fi 6E and 7 in the coming years. Network monitoring solutions can help by revealing deep historical data about client connections. These solutions show a time graph and maps of access point locations, including a history of access point associations. Many modern solutions even provide APIs, web hooks, and other helpful forms of telemetry to allow near real-time troubleshooting. By applying such consistent, proactive monitoring, network administrators and technicians can get a more accurate understanding of where things have gone wrong, and what is needed to fix them.

Recent surveys like the EMA report have demonstrated that less than half of IT professionals are performing Wi-Fi management, despite well over two-thirds supporting a remote workforce at least some of the time. What's more, job performance is highly reliant on the satisfaction of their end user or customer (remote employees). There are few IT issues more “unsatisfactory” and frustrating than poor Wi-Fi connection. IT teams need modern tools to keep their remote workers online, productive, and free of connectivity worries.

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Alex Hoff is Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder at Auvik.