A lot of change has happened over a year, not the least of which, for the imaging channel, is the blossoming of the remote, work-from-home workforces of its customers. Before 2020, at least 5% of full-time employees with office jobs worked from home regularly. That figure shot up to more than 80% during the pandemic and is expected to settle into the 20%-30% range as the vaccinated population increases and corporations bring employees back into the office. By some estimates, by 2025 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month. Adapting to the “hybrid office” dynamic, in which some employees are in the office full time, some work in the office only on specific days, and some continue to work remotely, presents challenges and requires changes in companies and in the imaging channel resellers who serve them.

An important adaptation for the channel is to accept that the office environment will not return to pre-2020 “normal” mode. The hybrid office is here to stay. During the pandemic, companies and employees found that productivity didn’t suffer due to a remote workforce and in fact, remote working has been quite successful. The workforce itself is increasingly demanding remote work flexibility with almost 60% of workers in one study saying they would not return to jobs that did not offer work-from-home. Although two-thirds of employees may still want to spend some time in a traditional office,  almost three-quarters of Gen Z — primed to soon become the majority of the workforce — are very interested in hybrid work practices. Companies, and more importantly, workers, are bringing about the permanency of the hybrid office.

Adapting also means viewing the hybrid office as an extension of the established corporate and SMB marketplace that has been the home for most imaging channel resellers. The hybrid workplace spans traditional business buildings and campuses. It also now covers employees’ homes and other remote locations. Corporate and SMB customers have relied on channel resellers for office-based solutions and now are looking at those same resellers to help support their employees in whatever location they may be working from. In our recent webinar covering The Imaging Channel Market Trends Survey, 76% of dealers reported that during the past year, customers asked them for printer/copier bundles for WFH employees (23% said that question was asked extremely often); 66% said customers asked about remote work collaboration tools, and 65% asked about home network and document security solutions. Even a good percentage of SMBs see high value investing in technology that supports their remote workers and more than three-quarters say that it is extremely/very important that their vendors provide strong data security and privacy solutions. At their core, these are all similar requirements that imaging channel resellers have faced and met in corporate offices.

Yet, it’s more than delivering technology solutions. The cloud and e-commerce giants like Amazon have redefined the way consumers and businesses shop, select, and purchase merchandise and services. Adapting to hybrid office needs calls for challenging and changing old marketing, sales, distribution, and support models.

Some OEMs and dealers have addressed this with work-at-home solutions and bundles that address the remote employee needs of their corporate customers, and over time, more independent dealers will no doubt actively market their hybrid office solutions just as they have vertical market solutions.

Delivery and support models for remote/work-from-home solutions, in locations that have not been traditional spaces for imaging channel resellers, will need to be adapted. Here is where the trust relationship between the dealer and OEMs is important. Imaging channel OEMs have the capability – and the opportunity – to invest in e-commerce, distribution, and support infrastructures, and to collaborate with independent resellers to not only deliver products but services and programs that support all the needs of the hybrid office. Some OEMs have built infrastructure with these goals in mind. However, to carry this out and achieve success in the new hybrid office marketplace, the scale of trust and collaboration between OEM and dealer must be at new levels. OEMs must ensure that a dealer’s business is sacred when the dealer participates in these types of programs. Only then will dealers consider whether to extend their trust and participate in these OEM programs or whether they will need to invest in creating their own infrastructure.

Work-from-home/remote employee trends, accelerated by the 2020 pandemic, have given full traction to the hybrid office concept. Corporations and SMBs are making clear statements of the need for and making investments in, equipment and technologies to support their remote employees. Adapting to the hybrid office dynamics of the marketplace will present challenges and require changes for both channel resellers and OEMs. We have no doubt that, as in the past, the imaging channel’s creativeness, commitment, and customer focus will prove that the new challenges will be met, and successful changes made.

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Thomas O’Neill, an analyst for BPO Media, is a 35+ year marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise imaging and print industry. Beginning with positions in sales and training management, for the past 24 years he’s held director and manager positions at Canon, Océ, Lexmark and Minolta. He has extensive experience in hardware and software product marketing, strategic product planning and sourcing, solution sales, marketing content creation and strategies, branding strategy and vertical marketing strategies. Contact him at tom@bpomedia.com.