Much of IT has been built on two outdated assumptions about how work is done. First, that employees all sit in the same building or branch offices. Second, that those employees will work full-time at the same company for years.

Both of these assumptions are no longer true.

Employees now work from anywhere. In the course of writing this blog post, I opened review tickets in our internal JIRA from my dining table at home. I reviewed internal wiki pages on my phone during my commute on the train. And I spent time reviewing some marketing materials in staging in our CMS.

In a past job, I would have suffered trying to connect to these tools through a VPN. That would have slowed down my work on a laptop and made it nearly impossible to use a phone to catch up on my commute.

The second challenge is ramp-up. I joined Cloudflare a few months ago. As a member of the marketing team, I work closely with our product organization and there are several dozen tools that I need to do that.

I’m hardly alone. The rise of SaaS and custom internal applications means that employees need access to all kinds of tools to effectively do their job. The increasing prevalence of contractors and part-time employees is compounding the challenge of how to get employees productive. On-boarding (and off-boarding) is now not an occasional thing, but has become a regular rhythm of how companies operate.

All these factors are combining to cause a bigger question: how can I make teams that reflect the new modern workforce — often remote, and increasingly not the traditional full time, permanent employee — as productive as possible?

Step one: put the VPN on a performance improvement plan

We’ve blogged extensively about our own troubles with VPNs. As we became a complex, multinational organization made up of contractors and full-time employees, the private network we deployed to host internal applications began to slow our teams down. We built Cloudflare Access to address our own challenges with the VPN, and since then hundreds of customers have used it to accelerate access for their remote workforces.

India’s largest B2B e-commerce platform, Udaan, is one example. They used Access to avoid ever having to deploy a VPN in the first place. As Udaan grew to new locations around the world, their IT team needed fast ways to give access to the thousands of users — including contractors, employees, interns and vendors — that needed to connect to their internal systems.

Now that their internal applications are protected with Cloudflare, Udaan’s IT team doesn’t need to spend time manually onboarding contractors and issuing them corporate accounts. And logging into Udaan’s tools, whether they’re SaaS apps or private applications, looks and feels the same every time, for every user.

“VPNs are frustrating and lead to countless wasted cycles for employees and the IT staff supporting them," said Amod Malviya, Cofounder and CTO, Udaan.  Furthermore, conventional VPNs can lull people into a false sense of security. With Cloudflare Access, we have a far more reliable, intuitive, secure solution that operates on a per user, per access basis. I think of it as Authentication 2.0 — even 3.0”

Cloudflare Access can help speed up remote teams by replacing VPNs with Cloudflare’s network. Instead of placing internal tools on a private network, teams can deploy them in any environment, including hybrid or multi-cloud models, and secure them consistently with Cloudflare’s network.  Remote teams get work done faster without having to deal with a VPN client, and IT teams spend less time troubleshooting their VPN issues.

Step two: make tools easier to find

High performing remote teams get new employees started fast. That starts with day-one access to the right tools. If you’re like me and you recently joined a new organization, you know how hard it can be to find the right applications you need to do your job. I am drowning in an ocean of new productivity tools.

App launchpads were designed to be a life-raft in the tools ocean. They make discovering apps easier by bringing every application a user can access into one easy, graphical dashboard. But they’re hard for IT teams to customize for different types of users with different permission levels (intern/contractor/full-time), and often not comprehensive of every kind of app (internal/SaaS).

Cloudflare Access’ App Launch is a dashboard for all the applications protected by Access. Once enabled, end users can login and connect to every app behind Access with a single click.  IT teams that are setting up contractors can send contractors a custom launchpad of everything they need to access on day one.

When administrators secure an application with Access, any request to the hostname of that application stops at Cloudflare’s network first. Once there, Cloudflare Access checks the request against the list of users who have permission to reach the application.

To check identity, Access relies on the identity provider that the team already uses. Access integrates with providers like OneLogin, Okta, AzureAD, G Suite and others to determine who a user is. If the user has not logged in yet, Access will prompt them to do so at the identity provider configured.

Step 3: fast-track your contractors

Modern remote teams are made up of whatever combination of people can get online and get the work done. That means many different kinds of users are working together in the same tools –full-time employees, contractors, freelancers, vendors and partners.

IT models predicated on full-time workforces imagined identifying users as a straight line process, where users could be identified and validated against one source of truth - the corporate directory. The old model breaks down when users join organizations temporarily to work on isolated projects, and you need to figure out how to authenticate them based on their organizational identity, not yours.

In response, many organizations deploy VPNs to temporary users, scotch-tape together federations between multiple SSO providers, or even have administrators spend hours issuing contracted users new corporate identities to complete one-off projects.

Meanwhile, contractors waste valuable cycles getting set up with the tools they need, and feel like second-class citizens in the IT hierarchy.

Cloudflare Access prevents contractor onboarding slowdown by simultaneously integrating with multiple identity providers, including popular services like Gmail or GitHub that do not require corporate subscriptions.

External users login with these accounts and still benefit from the same ease-of-use available to internal employees. Meanwhile, administrators avoid the burden in legacy deployments that require onboarding and offboarding new accounts for each project.

How to get started - at no cost

Cloudflare for Teams lets your team use all the same features to stay productive from anywhere in the world.

Effective until September 1, 2020, we're making Cloudflare for Teams products free to small businesses. We're doing this to help ensure that small businesses that implement work from home policies in order to combat the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) can ensure business continuity.

You can learn more and apply at cloudflare.com/smallbusiness now.