The last several months gave the term “modern workplace” a whole new meaning. Before mid-March, it mainly described efforts to replace non-digital processes with digital ones and figuring out if new technologies could provide a more modern and more flexible work environment. But no matter how many advances were made, it still described a workplace that was still mostly centered around an office.

Fast forward eight months and we all have become proficient in Teams, Slack and Zoom while ensuring we are business ready from the waist up. All organizations and their people have learned a great deal about their ability to adapt, be resilient and rise to challenges, and they should be very proud of that.

Although there’s still a long way to go until we can get back to “normal,” we’re making progress, so it’s a good time to take a look at the workplace we created over the summer of 2020. Many of the changes were great — some even badly needed. In a few years we’ll look back at these times and ask, “Why didn’t we do this years earlier?”

But when we do things quickly — and especially when there’s a certain amount of leeway around the rules — they tend to be a little less perfect than they should be. The changes we want to keep around for the long term will need a little buttoning up in the areas of security, compliance and regulations, but also in terms of features, functionality and productivity. We must ensure that our modern workplaces are designed to handle whatever challenge we may face next, and, perhaps most importantly, to empower people to do their best work. For some, that means having the social interaction of the office, while for others that means being able to cut out the commute. For most, it will mean a combination of all of the above, and that state has been called “hybrid work.” It means that the office, home or a co-working space are all valid and valuable workplaces.

To support a proper hybrid work scenario, we need to ensure employees have proper access to applications and devices from which to run or access those applications. Virtual desktops and applications are an easy way to deliver applications to users in any location with almost no concern for the user’s device. Adding an edge operating system, like those made by IGEL or Stratodesk, further reduces the need to provide users with computers to use at home. A simple USB flash drive will boot the edge OS with no access to the user’s personal data; their personal OS isn’t even powered on. Providing users with a portable computer instead of an office computer so they can easily change locations without needing a lot of additional infrastructure is another avenue to consider, as are large screen tablets.

So, how does printing factor into all of this? Printing is an absolutely crucial business process which probably explains why there is no “good printing” — there’s just “printing” and “bad printing.” When we do need printing, we just need it to work, and if it doesn’t there’s a major problem. No one is grateful the document printed — that’s what’s supposed to happen, after all. Printing is also complex and not usually particularly easy to use or manage.

Going forward, we will need to enable users to print at home, at the office, or at another site like a co-working space. They need to be able to print when they are not allowed to use the USB ports on their company laptop and a VPN blocks all access to the local network. They need to be able to print whether their applications are run locally on their computer or in the cloud.

Just as the future of the workplace is the modern (hybrid) workplace, the future of printing is cloud printing. A truly and fully implemented cloud printing strategy leaves all the intricacies of printing, such as testing and managing all the printer drivers, to a service, so that organizations can simply bring their applications and any printer and have cloud printing connect the two. Gone are the days of testing, installing and updating printer drivers on a user’s computer. Gone are the days of setting up print servers, patching the OS, trying to figure out which drivers could live on the same servers and which needed to be separated out, writing log-on scripts and all the other things that made printing complex, time-consuming and expensive.

For the end user and their organization, cloud printing will greatly simplify printing. The right solution will relieve them of printer drivers and still support all printers. It will make print servers obsolete and provide cost-effective “hub” appliances to connect offices or remote sites rather than individual computers. It will allow them to print even if their local machine isn’t allowed to access USB ports or communicate on the local network. Cloud printing lets users authenticate before their job is released and keeps analytics about print activity at hand. It will connect cloud desktops and applications to the user’s home or office printers, and it will seamlessly support users as they move from their home office to the company office and back – or even stop at another location along the way.

For the office equipment channel, cloud printing is a great way to offer additional services, expand into managing an environment for the customer, sell additional services and solutions in addition to printers and supplies, and start to build a cloud practice with a recurring revenue model.

Henning Volkmer drives the execution of ThinPrint Inc.’s strategy as an expert in print management. A cloud printing innovator and launch partner for Windows Virtual Desktop, ThinPrint is the technology leader for fully processing print jobs in its ezeep cloud without having to rely on on-premises printer drivers. He has established a broad technological background and has been at the forefront of technology trends for more than two decades.