The sudden and dramatic shift in the number of remote employees due to COVID-19 was far from a mere numbers exercise. Adapting to the coronavirus meant that many agencies had to work in ways that were completely at odds with the capacity and IT configurations already in place.
Most offices are traditionally configured for 20% of their collective workforce to be able to work remotely while 80% of their staff work on-site, said Fernando DeLosReyes, Solutions Architect at Wildflower.
“Government networks weren’t designed to support 100% remote work,” DeLosReyes said. “But Wildflower has played a key role in helping agencies manage the influx of remote employees, leaning on internal experiences managing a mostly remote workforce and three decades of delivering telecommunications products and services to the government.”
The need for most employees to work from home flipped the 20/80 rule to 80% of the workforce connecting to the virtual private network (VPN) remotely and 20% or even less of the workforce working physically on-site.
This shift causes a host of security problems in the planning and deployment phase to support a mostly remote workforce. Three of the primary issues that must be top of mind when making the switch from 80/20 to 20/80 are licensing, oversubscribed VPNs and excessive back-and-forth traffic through the VPN — known as the boomerang effect.
1. Verify licensing
A crucial first step in handling the 80/20 switch is for each organization to verify exactly how many licenses they have, how many more licenses they will need, and how many VPN connections the existing infrastructure can support. Some organizations have this information on hand and can simply task network and security operators for verification; for others, the information must be gathered from the ground up.
2. Address oversubscribed VPNs
Additionally, when VPNs are trying to manage more data than they are designed to support, and the tools that are in place to monitor the traffic aren’t scaled for the load they’re facing, the network and monitoring tools are oversubscribed. Ultimately, the network doesn’t see the data, which results in data dropping. It’s not only an inconvenience but also a security threat.
3. Be aware of the boomerang effect
The boomerang effect occurs when remote workers connect to the VPN and then access the internet. All traffic to and from the internet first must go through the VPN and then make a U-turn (or boomerang), doubling — and sometimes even tripling — the amount of traffic through the VPN and throughout the network.
But these technology challenges haven’t halted innovation, DeLosReyes said. With fewer employees on-site, agencies have been able to do upgrades that required taking the network down for an extended period. “A lot of organizations are innovating, and now is the time,” he said.
This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Agile for Everyone: How to Improve Everyday Work Processes.” Download the full guide here.