According to the 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey, 45 per cent of executives do not expect to see a return to a ‘normal’ course of business until next year, compared to 31 per cent who anticipate this will happen later this year. The changes prompted by the pandemic have resulted in one quarter of CEOs saying that their business model has been changed forever by the global pandemic
Post-COVID, only three in 10 of CEOs surveyed for the KPMG report are considering a hybrid model of working for their staff, where most employees work remotely two to three days a week. And according to Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index survey, employees want the best of both worlds. Over 70 per cent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65 per cent are craving more in-person time with their teams.
This month’s panel shares their thoughts on whether last year’s sudden shift to home working has created lasting changes to the world of work and what the new reality will look like for both their own and their customers’ business.
Martin Roberts, Managing Director, Neuways
“On March 23 last year we all had to move to working from home and that presented its own set of problems, with a lot of people outside of the secure corporate network of the office – with plenty of preparation having been put in to make it as safe as possible.
“Going forward I think we’ll see an evolution to this hybrid working, where people will be working from home several days of the week and in the office for the remainder. We have to make sure the transportability of work between those two locations is as easy and as safe as possible, to allow us to provide the same levels of protection for those working both in and out of the office. t was important to us to maintain our employee’s health and safety, as well our customer service standards, and we are delighted to have kept both standards high throughout the pandemic.”
Andy Ratcliffe, Managing Director,Key Digital
“During the initial lockdown we all decided to work from home. While internal communication remained simple, it became increasingly difficult to carry out our sales process due to unsuitable conditions, varying communication success and distractions at home. It became apparent that working from home would only be a short-term solution.
“Everyone in our team wanted to return to the office as soon as we were able – I think this is testament to the relationship we all have and reinforces how much we enjoy working together.
“After making our Burnley head office COVID-safe and by following the latest guidelines, we were eventually able to return to the office. This brought noticeable positive changes: enhanced productivity, reduced stress, improved team morale and made it easier to plan and execute ideas.
“For us, our business model hasn’t changed but our route to market has. We’re no longer having two or three physical meetings before we confirm a sale, we’re not out canvassing, and we’re unable to attend networking meetings or hold exhibitions. However, we have seen an increase in incoming sales enquiries – and I think this is reflective of the market as a whole.
“Our sales process hasn’t changed, but the way we work has changed. Instead of holding physical meetings we’re able to host these meetings online, this means we can have eight to ten meetings per day rather than three to four we might have seen before.
“Furthermore, this way of working opens up the entire market to us. It is just as easy for us to win new customers based in Devon or Cornwall as it is in Burnley or Manchester. We’ve even held meetings with people in Germany and the US – the barriers aren’t there anymore.
“Many of our customers are in the manufacturing and engineering sectors and they haven’t experienced much change in the way that they operate. However, we have seen an increase in our process digitisation services, and we do have some customers whose operations are all now paperless – but this is rare.
“2020 definitely saw a surge in digitisation across all businesses, but I worry that some organisations have just created a digital haystack by undertaking this work themselves. Some of our customers still have staff working from home, so I can imagine their long-term plans containing inbuilt flexibility – favouring smaller office spaces with hot desking capabilities.
“Overall, I think we will see a more flexible work culture opening up and businesses will be more streamlined – if this can be done without cutting corners then it is a positive step.”
Mark Bailey, Managing Director, EBM Managed Services
“Both with our clients and at EBM, we’ve seen that most people prefer to work in the office. There are significant mental health benefits to differentiating between the office, the classroom and the kitchen table. However, now that working from home has been shown as a viable option, the majority of SMEs we encounter are being much more flexible with their working arrangements and leaving it to their employees to decide the best working patterns for them. I think that this approach will continue for a while, but that most staff will opt to come back to the office.
“That’s SMEs though, I think with corporates we may well see something different. When you have large overheads there is a significant cost benefit to keeping your staff at home. HSBC has already announced a 40 per cent reduction in office space and I think more will follow, especially now the infrastructure has already been established.
“All of this, however, will depend on individual leaders and management style. How close do management need their teams to be? Will they be comfortable allowing staff the freedom to manage their own workload when they don’t have to? That will depend very much on each individual organisation. On the whole, I think that the vast majority of people will return full time to the office eventually. However, the flexibility to work from home will forever be an option.”
Pietro Renda, Chief Marketing Officer, MPS Monitor
“At the moment, companies are managing the work from home dynamic in various ways. Some have given their employees permission to continue working remotely until at least the end of 2021. Others have recalled staff to the workplace on different schedules and in staggered groups, while many are leaving it entirely up to individual workers to decide where to base themselves.
“But businesses around the world are also starting to think about the longer term, including alternative ways to structure work communication and hours as well as physical presence. And what many are converging on amid the ongoing uncertainty, is different models of hybrid working: combining remote working with office-based work.
“I believe that once the pandemic subsides, working from home two days a week will be optimal for balancing collaborative and productive work, while benefitting from the reduced stress of less commuting. Of course, hybrid working patterns won’t suit everyone or every organisation. In general, there’s enormous socio economic and racial inequality between who is able to work from home and who is not; long-term, that needs to be addressed if everyone is able to enjoy the advantages that hybrid working offers.
“There are other issues that need to be considered, too. Partially distributed teams also commonly report communication problems. Conflict is more likely on digital communication platforms, partly because social inhibitions and behaviour codes are more powerful when working face-to-face than they are online. Additionally, the lack of shared social identity that is more common in partially distributed teams can harm team effectiveness and performance, by impairing trust and team spirit.
“Organisations have of course learned how to run complex meetings on collaborative platforms. Client management has been handled so efficiently remotely that many clients now prefer this mode of interaction. This massive shift in preference has persuaded even the most sceptical and converted them into happy users of remote working practices and platforms. This mind-set shift – or, change management – is a key enabler in the switch to the hybrid work model.
“That said, managers would need to demonstrate greater empathy to navigate the team who are handling challenges within the hybrid work model. Team meetings in specific intervals, leaders checking on team members, accessibility to resources, flexibility in dynamic working environments, shifting gears from technology dependent work to human interactions, are all critical aspects of how performance should be measured in the hybrid work environment.
“The concept for this working model isn’t, of course, new. The pandemic has accelerated the pace at which it has been adapted en-masse. By doing so, it has established a whole new perspective on work, the workplace, hierarchy, team structures, and performance measurement. While there are many merits of the hybrid model, there are multiple challenges that leaders and businesses need to think through and overcome. But as organisations become more agile and flatter as a result of the fast-changing nature of the workspace dynamic, it is important for them to embrace this change positively, and look at the immense scope of possibility that it opens up by ‘knitting’ the world closer together… wherever employees are working from.”
Elise McFarlane, Product Marketing Manager, ECI Field Service Division,ECI Software Solutions
“Last year’s sudden shift to remote working forced almost all of our customers to diversify in some way and many businesses are still having to adapt to meet new customer requirements or exploring new income streams altogether.
“Despite the vaccine roll-out now being well underway, I don’t believe the world of work will return to what it once was and our customers are now looking for help to monitor and manage a growing number of devices in the field, keen to understand the true value of these devices and offer more flexibility for staff.
“We’ve been really focused on helping our customers work smarter and this has driven product upgrades over the past 12 months. For MPS businesses, integrating purchasing processes with the central ERP system has saved a huge amount of staff time, streamlining operations and improving the end-user experience – two hugely important factors.
“I think an increasing number of businesses have also realised the true value of data and this has been one of our key messages throughout the pandemic. Manually collecting metered device data is a strenuous task and one that many simply don’t have time for, especially with many favouring more flexible working arrangements and there’s big opportunities on offer for those willing to embrace new systems that allow them to quickly adapt.
“In that vein we have released remote services within the data collection agent (DCA) platform such as remote configuration, or using the DCA to capture a MIB walk for faster troubleshooting of devices and are currently working on even more remote device capabilities to continue to simplify the delivery of support.
“Ultimately, this will make it easier for our dealers to support their customers without always having to send a technician onsite.”
Pål Rødseth, CEO,Asolvi
“It is reasonably uncontroversial to say that there will of course be some permanent changes, but the true extent of these is likely to vary by sector and by country and will probably only become fully clear over the coming months and years. One key continuing theme is likely to be collaboration. In some respects, this has got easier, as everyone, almost without exception, has embraced the opportunities of using Teams or Zoom to communicate. However, on another level, it has become harder because of the absence of informal spontaneous interactions, which can be critical for passing on ideas and information. Flexibility should also be a vital factor on all sides, as expectations, habits and practices have evolved dramatically. Working from home, travelling to meetings and attending conferences are all very different now and all will require flexibility from all parties once some semblance of normality is restored.
“Asolvi has always had some remote working. Our policy has been to not let geography get in the way of hiring the right talent, so adapting to the pandemic conditions was essentially a case of making even greater use of processes and practices that were already in place. We are consulting with our staff members as regards how we will work in the future, as we don’t want to take a top down approach. Some people will be desperate to return to the office, some will be equally keen not to go to an office and others will prefer a blended approach. Flexibility will be key, but we also need to ensure that informal collaboration (the water cooler or coffee machine chats that can unearth really useful ideas and information) is not totally lost.
“One thing that has been clear ever since the first lockdown is that the move to cloud-based solutions has been accelerated. The overall market trend was already moving in that direction, but the need to operate remotely and still easily access client data has definitely driven more people to go down the SaaS route, which is, obviously, a road that we already know very well indeed.
“Many of our customers are also looking at alternative offerings and revenue streams outside the confines of the traditional copy/print activity. Quite logically, they are working on the old, but still highly relevant, adage that it is easier to sell more things to an existing client than to sell anything to a new client. So, we are seeing increased demand for use of our solutions to service, maintain and invoice for complementary offerings including IT services, office coffee, digital signage, telecoms and a myriad of workflow and productivity software solutions. For some, this is a completely new venture, while for others it is an expansion of an existing line of business. In both cases, it is just as important for us to help them to measure the success of these activities as it is to enable them to manage them day-to-day. This means that they will have the data on which to judge viability and profitability of these various ventures and the tools to deal with management of contracts and invoicing made up of an increasingly complex array of offerings.
“It is also interesting to see that we are now working with a growing number of new clients who are acting as service providers to the traditional dealers. Sometimes, this is for complete outsourcing of support and maintenance, while in others it is a case of offering additional resource on an on-demand basis. Again, flexibility is the key driver behind this trend.”
Steve Holmes, EMEA Regional Director,PaperCut
“There’s an element of speculation as to what happens next. Some companies will insist that staff are largely office based with some flexible working options; some may offer a 50:50 split, while others may be happy with their staff being 100 per cent remote. Even amid that, there may be variations from sector to sector depending on that sector’s specific needs. Whatever model they choose, I think organisations will need to make the workplace a more alluring place to be, or to come to, if staff are going to willingly give up the comforts of home.
“It’ll be another six months before we get a real idea of who’s doing what and why when it comes to flexible working. In the meantime, we think that businesses will need to proactively set expectations of what they want and also be flexible with enforcement. For example, like many tech companies, PaperCut is looking at 60/40 split, with an understanding that time in the office is for collaborative work, and time at home is for deep focus work that requires the sort of concentration that you can’t always get when working in the office. Whatever decisions they make, the pandemic has taught us that flexibility, compassion, and technology are very important to our well-being, and they are going to play key roles in determining how and where we work in the future.”
Chris Strammiello, Senior Vice President, Channel Sales, Kofax
“Like many other people, I’ve adjusted to turning my home into a work office. Recently, I evaluated how much time I’ve saved avoiding work commutes and waiting in lines for check-outs. By reinvesting all this saved time in higher value ‘quality time’ activities, I’ve become stronger. Businesses are realising the same benefits. When we look at what enabled this shift, it’s clearly technology.
“The pandemic forced many businesses to transition to remote work almost overnight, but automation and artificial intelligence have made the adjustment easier than many expected. The technology enabling this shift continues to pick up steam among businesses, begging the question: What’s the long-term prognosis?
“Today’s business leaders understand decades of industry experience alone aren’t enough to win. Success requires a willingness to balance traditional experience and futuristic innovation. CEOs are placing automation investment themes at the centre of many corporate digital transformation strategies. Content-aware print and capture enabled companies to quickly adapt to remote work, and it will continue to play a key role as all signs point to a long-term hybrid model. This way, hybrid becomes a simple transition rather than a disruption.
“When looking to the future, we’re left to ask if leaders are going to be bold and nimble enough to blend diverse perspectives and make risk-adjusted modernisation decisions to position to win. As the adoption of automation and AI continues to accelerate in 2021, more organisations will find themselves working like the digitally enabled companies of tomorrow.”
Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director,Brother UK
“The sudden onset of lockdown in March last year forced companies to embrace remote working and many firms are re-evaluating their relationship and reliance on offices long-term as a result. We count ourselves among those businesses that are changing the way they work for good. We were ready for lockdown on day one and we’ve introduced a hybrid working option for those that want it on our full return to work scheduled for the 21st of June.
“We’re transforming our HQ to facilitate greater collaboration and social interaction by introducing new breakout spaces and hot desking areas for when social distancing fully eases. We want our people to make the most of face-to-face contact with colleagues after a year of video conferencing, while also having the option to work from home. We think this strikes the right balance between work output and the social cohesion of company culture.
“Embracing this transition positions us well to support partners as they help customers adapt to hybrid working, we’ve already learnt the lessons of what you need to think about. Businesses are reviewing how they can provide employees with the technology they had in the office for their home set-up to boost productivity, which includes everything from high spec printers, to laptop risers, microphones and lighting.
“Reseller-vendor partnerships have a key supporting role to play here, supplying solutions like cloud-enabled managed print services that allow IT leads to monitor devices in people’s homes as well as the office.
“Clearly, many companies expect to adopt hybrid working arrangements at least in the short-term and there is a sizable opportunity for the print IT sector to help its customers in delivering them.”
Stuart Sykes, Managing Director,Sharp UK
“The uncertain attitude of CEOs surrounding their businesses returning to normal shows the sheer unprecedented nature of the pandemic. The lasting effects of COVID-19 will definitely be sector and industry specific, with some emerging healthier than others. The print sector was already changing and the pandemic has only further reinforced this need for change and highlighted that this process needs to happen faster.
“Our clients are a collection of people and clearly the pandemic has changed us all in some way. In the workplace, people have learnt new things quickly and done what humans do the best – adapted. There will be a shift towards more flexible working and the balance between office and home will be different for different businesses – but it will be critical to retain staff whilst maintaining productivity and culture.
“We want our people to return to the office for a vast majority of the time for the next six months to re-cement the relationships with colleagues, hone team spirit and work on our strategic direction. After that, there will be a move to much more flexible and agile working. As our clients work differently, we need the flexibility of our people to match our customers changing demands.”
Tony Wills, Country Director, Document Solutions, Canon UK & Ireland
“The workspace landscape has rapidly evolved and the reality for many businesses is that the central office has not been the main working location for quite some time. As we look towards a post-COVID world, it is unlikely that most of us will be working from the office all of the time. Instead, employees will increasingly be moving between different environments, including working from home. However, a survey by YouGov revealed that 41 per cent of employees have an ‘inappropriate’ working environment at home. It is therefore important that the new hybrid working model is supported by technology solutions that facilitate seamless adopt a multi-layered approach to online security combining VPNs, a zero-trust architecture, updated antivirus, and tracking software – to ensure they remain secure with a distributed workforce.
“To encourage high-quality remote working, companies will need to adopt the right technologies to empower their workforces to collaborate safely and securely. Poorly managed systems, slow VPN access and insufficient IT support can all affect employee efficiency. Having an inadequate home office can also hinder worker morale and impact the bottom line.
“Print can be forgotten in the hybrid world. Yet, a study, which surveyed 2,000 British office workers, found that 38 per cent of people missed a printer the most whilst working from home. And printers are critical for many industries such as education, professional services and finance to name but three – all of which have seen a significant uptake of agile working. To flourish in a hybrid environment, businesses must look for devices that have cloud-ready, digital workflow solutions and are able to offer security solutions that match the office environment. A solution should also allow print to office from home, from home to home and print to/from anywhere, as these features are also essential for a truly agile ‘new way of working’.”
Neil Sawyer, Director of Channel & Partner Alliances, HP Inc.
“The shift to hybrid working has certainly been accelerated by the pandemic. Studies show that office workers around the world, particularly those in the UK, are reluctant to go back to the traditional office, with a recent YouGov Study finding 57 per cent of British workers want to continue working from home after the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important we understand that the experience of our teams and customers has fundamentally changed, and the increased desire for hybrid work is something all companies need to consider.
“We can expect a hybrid world of work to likely continue the freedom to be flexible as the most important factor – a blend between distributed workforce and collaboration spaces. The future office needs to be agile, and facilitated by high-spec and fluid technologies to empower collaboration and creativity. It’s becoming increasingly relevant for companies to prioritise managing print security, with data showing 74 per cent of home workers print either equal, or greater, volumes while working from home compared to working in the office. The Quocirca Home Printing Trends 2021study outlined key recommendations for businesses to consider, including the utilisation of tools such as cloud MPS to securely manage devices, and the importance of businesses having access to integrated analytics to manage and examine the usage across a distributed printer fleet, between home and office environments. The shift in the way we work means that businesses and customers should ensure they manage their print fleet in a way that supports the hybrid workplace.”
Dan Wogan, Product Manager, Market Development, Epson“Epson has been catering to the home, the home office and the office for decades and while we saw a noticeable spike in consumer printer sales during the lockdown, there is a resurging demand for workplace office equipment. However, in view of the agile working environment, businesses are keen to have more control of their costs and this is particularly true when it comes to printing.
“Print has always been a workplace attribute that employees have relied on therefore printers that enjoy low energy consumption, low intervention rates, and high ink yields are a great vehicle for minimising hassle and maintaining productivity as we migrate back to a more agile work environment. As many desktop printers are equally suited for the home office as they are the workplace and can also be operated as part of a managed print service, companies are able to control their costs and productivity to employees whether they’re at home or in the office.
“Recent research from Epson reveals that three out of four employees want more focus on environmental and social issues post-COVID. And despite the UK’s ‘world leading’ climate target of reducing carbon emissions 78 per cent by 2035, it is a change of mind-set rather than political credibility that will help drive the UK in implementing change. This starts with addressing sustainability into the decisions empowered by both businesses and consumers, and the good news is it’s not rocket science. CEOs are right to adapt their business model around what works best for their employees, but they’re better doing this while making it work for the environment as well.”