Craig Williams is the CIO of Ciena. His post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
For years, my team felt we had discovered the secret to making work more productive, effective, and enjoyable while balancing it with our lives outside the office. I can speak to this from personal experience as I have been a virtual CIO at Ciena for three years; living, working and traveling from my home in Raleigh, North Carolina. While Ciena’s headquarters is in Maryland, our employee base of more than 6,500 employees is dispersed globally across more than 35 countries. And, many of our employees worked remotely full-time before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though we all observed the teleworking culture change slightly over time, it was not until this global pandemic forced many companies into the grand experiment of running businesses close to 100% remotely that they understood the importance of having the right tools to support working from virtually anywhere.
Contrary to the traditional—or may I say "old-school"—belief that employees are less productive when working remotely, I can attest to the opposite. Since my colleagues at Ciena have been working 100% from home as well for the past few months, I have heard unanimously that people are indeed very—if not more—productive than before. This has sparked a conversation inside our organization that is shifting from working remotely to working where you need to at any given time. I will say that working remotely during a pandemic is harder than when we’re not faced with a global crisis, but I’m confident that this new world order will set the stage for a paradigm shift to remote working for years to come.
Obviously, working remotely will never replace face-to-face communication. But thanks to many innovative technological advancements in the past decade, we are now able to communicate and collaborate efficiently using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, G Suite, and numerous other applications. In my opinion, virtual video conferencing technologies make meetings more interactive. We can all simultaneously engage, observe nonverbal cues, interact via chat, take live polls and even record meetings for reference after the call. Some may argue that, if facilitated well, virtual meetings can lead to better and more productive outcomes than meetings in the physical office. I’ve also noticed that by going virtual, we can shorten our meetings so we’re as efficient as possible, which helps to avoid online fatigue.
As a CIO, I am aware that organizations are still struggling to make remote working a seamless reality. However, based on personal experience, I can share a few firsthand best practices that may ease this transition. At Ciena, our digital transformation journey has not only allowed my immediate team to work from home successfully, but it has also enabled us to scale from 70 to more than 6,500 “office locations” without impacting our network architecture.
For some background, Ciena provides networking hardware and software solutions—the nuts and bolts of the internet. For decades, Ciena has helped the world’s largest telecom and internet content providers deliver reliable connectivity. Whether it is a phone call, email, video transfer or large amounts of data moving between organizations, Ciena’s technology is hard at work, helping to make communications happen. We’re in the business of accelerating our customers’ digital transformation—which is especially important as companies increasingly take a digital-first approach with remote workforces.
When we set out to embark on our own digital transformation journey a few years ago, it began with simplifying our network and investing in collaboration tools that drive employee engagement with video functionality.
We approached this transformation first by thinking about what we would do if we could start over as a company of our size. We made it a point to rethink our entire infrastructure, applications, systems and support models in order to support our growing company and to enable employees to work from anywhere on any device. We conducted an audit to assess what was already in our wheelhouse to meet the diverse needs of our growing workforce. During this audit, we also took a hard look at the next 5 to 10 years, and what we’d need to implement now to enable employee productivity.
We also invested in a new cloud security platform. The Zscaler platform has been a wonderful product that allows us to secure users accessing the open internet and SaaS applications from all endpoints being secured through Zscaler Internet Access and the integrated Cloud Firewall, which is a security feature that, with our previous solution, was only available at the corporate offices. In addition, Zscaler Private Access securely provides remote access to internal applications without the need for a VPN. As a result, our VPN infrastructure is not nearly as critical as it used to be and that also means that our corporate resilience has improved significantly, too. Now, the experience that our users have while working from home (or anywhere for that matter) is no different than if they are on our WAN in one of our corporate offices.
When making major decisions about what IT investments to make, turn to colleagues or trusted sources within your network to help you better understand if products can deliver what they promise. For example, I suggest that potential vendors conduct a “bake-off” between different products to showcase a side-by-side comparison.
This pandemic sparked a conversation about best practices for working virtually—if we couldn’t return to the corporate offices, which technologies and processes would we implement to further improve the experience? I believe the next step of our transformation will be redefining what an “office” looks like to incorporate a blend between corporate and home offices.
While some people may be more comfortable working at a physical office location because their job functions are not completely conducive to working remotely, it shouldn’t be about being in an office to be seen and to demonstrate productivity. We should be able to work seamlessly anywhere, on any device at any time.
It is my mission to help change the negative perception of working from home into a positive one that will alleviate the strain on our environment while contributing to the well-being of our people. At Ciena, we are fortunate that our employees have been so flexible in this sudden transition to working remotely.
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