Finding Opportunity in Hybrid Work

As we wrap up the first quarter of 2023, the office technology industry is still working to claw its way back from years of challenges, including COVID and depleted supply chains. Add to this the acceleration of hybrid work and many in the industry must feel like they’ve taken a punch to the gut.

Fortunately for the industry, hybrid work is not a new phenomenon. Even before COVID-19, industry insiders were already dealing with hybrid work — it just didn’t have such a fancy name. We used to refer to this as remote work or remote workers. How boring. Maybe we can shorten hybrid work to HW, much like digital transformation has become DX. But I digress.

So, what has changed since this trend was referred to as remote work? Not much, frankly. The most significant difference is the speed at which this transition occurred. Back in the old days (2019), it was estimated that approximately 20% of workers were remote, a trend that was likely to grow steadily in much the same way printed pages were forecast to decline steadily (these two trends weren’t directly related). Steady growth in remote work was quite reasonable. With broadband access becoming ubiquitous, communications software was expected to provide the connectivity needed to maintain employee cooperation and ultimately provide companies with the ability to source talent well beyond their physical footprint. To a large degree, this is exactly what has happened, with the exception of one wrinkle – the pandemic.

By now, we’re all tired of speaking about the pandemic. For hybrid work, its main effect was acceleration. As indicated, hybrid work was already ascending, but like many trends in the office technology industry, it was steady and manageable. The pandemic changed all this with a vast acceleration of hybrid work, which is just now showing some signs of slowing.

For an industry that still relies heavily on printed page volumes to generate revenues and profits, the impact of hybrid work is concerning. Every worker not working in a general office environment is a loss of approximately 10,000 pages annually. If over 30% of the workforce is now hybrid, it is easy to see that the resultant loss in pages, revenue and profit can become quite significant.

So, how does the industry adapt to this new normal?  Like all changes, by finding the opportunity. For industry OEMs, many have already lessened the potential damage of this transition through their sale of home office printers. While not offering a total recapture of lost office prints, companies like Canon and HP have seen their consumer inkjet products perform well during this transition, helping to stem the bleeding.

The real opportunities, however, don’t live in the world of print. As the hybrid work environment continues to grow, companies are faced with many challenges, two of which represent excellent opportunities for those in the office technology space. The first is collaboration. Although collaboration tools are better than ever, they still don’t do a great job in terms of content collaboration. With years of experience in supporting companies and workers with document creation, it stands to reason that industry players would be well-positioned to provide solutions to help customers effectively manage content and serve up that content for hybrid worker collaboration.

The second is security. Likely the single biggest challenge for companies thrust into a hybrid working environment, security takes on new difficulty as more workers operate on in-home networks. Dealers and a number of OEMs are well positioned to support customers in this area given the investments many have made in IT services delivery and their relationships with small and medium businesses who need this support more than ever.

Outside of the opportunities mentioned above, the best news of all for industry players is the recent demand from CEOs for workers to return to the office. In a trend started by Elon Musk upon his acquisition of Twitter, we have now seen the likes of Apple, Starbucks, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Google and Salesforce, among others, call for workers to get back to the office – at least for a portion of the work week. Interestingly, a number of the companies calling back their employees are tech industry leaders, many of whom started the remote working trend to begin with. Apparently, what’s old is new again.

Regardless, more workers in the office can only mean one thing – more printing!

So, what do we expect for 2023 and beyond?  More of the same. As indicated, although many companies are now calling their workforce back to the office, a majority are doing so with more flexible work arrangements.

With continued improvement in hybrid worker security, content management and collaboration tools, the move to the hybrid work environment will continue – although at a manageable pace. For print, things will revert back to that slow steady decline; such a welcome change compared to the last several years of chaos.

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Dennis Amorosano is the president and founder of Dendog Strategy Insights LLC, a management consulting firm focused on strategic planning, new business development and go to market execution. Providing services in the areas of strategic business planning/execution, new business development, content creation/marketing automation and technology sourcing support, Dendog Strategy Insights brings 30 years of technology marketing, sales, product planning, software engineering, and professional service experience to help clients implement strategies that yield success.