If office workers of the 1950s could board a time machine and travel to the present day, they would be flummoxed by what they would encounter.
Instead of scarred metal desks holding typewriters, notepads and pens, and rotary phones, they would be confronted with a multitude of screens – PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet, wearable – at every individual’s workspace and in conference rooms, lobbies and hallways. They would see meetings held virtually, with employees from across the globe interacting in real time via teleconference, and even employees in the same office using virtual chat mechanisms like Slack or Gchat to communicate instead of talking face-to-face.
The modern office exists in a highly digital world full of tools meant to solve problems and create efficiencies. But all of the devices that we use in a workplace ecosystem today – and the way the workplace itself is evolving – means there are new challenges to overcome.
The Evolution of the Workplace
There have been some sea changes in the workplace in recent years that have raised questions around the best way to maintain or jumpstart employee productivity:
- The “bring your own device” trend started when more people began to own smart devices like tablets and smartphones and chose to work on those rather than on a company-provided desktop PC. Citrix reports that three or more devices are used each day by employees for work activities, with a 72 percent increase in the number of devices used in an enterprise from 2014 to 2015.
- Many employees now telecommute on a regular basis, with 61 percent of employees working outside the office at least some of the time.
- Many businesses have remote employees who might be working all over the globe or while on the road, but still require access to the business’s network functionalities.
- The physicality of the office environment itself is changing, as we move from workplaces with defined offices and cubicles to large open-plan collaboration areas or “hot desking,” where employees don’t have a designated desk or cube to go to each day. Ad Age reported that some businesses even encourage their employees to office-hop to various co-working spaces around a city in an effort to stimulate creativity.
- In early 2016, Apple chief executive Tim Cook predicted the death of the PC, saying that people will start to use tablets as replacements for laptops and desktops, and that soon may become the reality in the workplace as well.
The reason strategies like telecommuting, office-hopping and BYOD have taken off is because employers want to do everything they can to ensure their people are being productive, and that includes promoting the mobility of the office worker. People are more productive when their tools move with them, whether that’s on the road, at home or in a remote office.
But a sticking point here is that despite being on a variety of devices and being mobile, people still need to be able to print.
Printing: Still in Fashion
Yes, the office space is going digital. But here’s something that may be surprising: Even in our screen-heavy, digital-everything world, people actually still want to print – even millennials.
One might assume that nobody cares about printing anymore – especially not millennials, who get a bad rap for just about everything. But studies say differently: When IDC asked respondents how often they print documents, for both millennial and 36-plus age groups, 65 percent of respondents said they printed very frequently – every day or three to four times a week – in their office environments.
What’s more, the same study indicated that millennials are twice as likely to print jobs that run from six to 15 pages in length, compared with the age-36-plus respondents, who print three to five pages. Especially as more millennials continue to enter the workplace, it seems premature to assume they don’t have as much (or more) desire and need to print than other, older generations – even though those millennials might be working off their own devices.
The Need to Print from Mobile
According to an InfoTrends study, 95 percent of consumers and 67 percent of business users want the ability to print from their mobile devices. But unfortunately, many workplaces aren’t meeting their employees’ desires – research shows that only 56 percent of users are satisfied with current mobile print options.
Paper is the great equalizer – no matter how many devices someone uses, the printed word remains the quintessential form of media. As much as electronic devices and paperless workflows are improving automation and reducing the need for paper, there are still reasons that documents may need to be physical. Printed documents have grab-and-go functionality that doesn’t exist with a document living in a cloud – the nature of print makes it easy for someone to take a document with them and mark it up or read it closely. It’s harder to read documents on a screen, especially on a smaller screen like a tablet or smartphone – so as tree-friendly as we may try to be, sometimes you just have to have a hard copy in order to work effectively.
Additionally, if Tim Cook proves correct and the PC does in fact disappear, there is an even bigger case for the need to print from mobile: If two employees working off their personal tablets need to collaborate on one document, it’s not ideal for two people to look at one relatively small screen to do so – the easiest way would be to print one or two copies of the document. But if you’re an employee who doesn’t use a PC connected to a network printer, it becomes a cumbersome task. You would need to track down a coworker who does use a PC and ask him or her to print for you, which means you’re interrupting his or her work as well as taking longer to do your own – not productive.
The ability to print from mobile devices makes the BYOD culture more productive; all an employee needs to do to print is hit a few buttons from whatever device he or she is working on, from wherever he or she is, and the paper comes out of the connected office printer instantly. Even remote employees should be able to print from wherever they are (as long as they are on a device connected to the office’s VPN or server) and know that the document is being printed at a designated office location for a coworker’s review.
Separating Printing and the PC
All the various technologies used in the office each day are intended to foster communication and productivity, and workplaces are allowing employees to go mobile with their work to help boost their output – but sometimes these well-intended actions can make it more challenging and frustrating for employees when they try to go mobile but don’t have the same capabilities as they would if they were chained to a PC in a cubicle.
Mobile printing can help provide standardization across the sea of devices used in today’s workplaces and give employees the capabilities they expect to have in an office – no matter how unconventional the setup or where people do their work.