A hybrid workflow involves embracing a hardware and software infrastructure that enables employees to completely and sustainably perform the full spectrum of their duties, regardless of their physical location.
- IT teams have found themselves increasingly stressed under the increased expectations that come with maintaining and improving a hybrid IT infrastructure.
- Hybrid work must operate on zero trust principles, meaning that neither employers nor employees should ever assume that their practices are safe at face value.
By Colin McMahon
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a trend that was decades in the making. Since the inception of the mainstream internet, the hybrid workplace has been inching toward reality—and now we’re here. There have been countless articles on hybrid working and what it will mean for the office landscape, so let’s set a quick foundation. A hybrid workforce involves embracing a hardware and software infrastructure that enables employees to completely and sustainably perform the full spectrum of their duties, regardless of their physical location.
Many may feel they are ready for this new phase. After all, what is needed for remote working apart from a stable internet connection? Unfortunately, this attitude has already exposed many companies to the hazards of entering hybrid workflows without proper preparation or consideration. Working from home or from a shared space is not the same as working in a dedicated office, so it shouldn’t be treated as such.
IT: The Infrastructure for Hybrid
Many businesses—particularly smaller ones—will need to up their IT investment when moving toward a hybrid workflow. IT has been growing in importance with each push toward digitization, but hybrid still requires a significant increase in IT resources. Think of it in these terms: In a traditional office, complete with on-premises servers, there would be one least one person running IT support for employees. This person could walk around the office as needed to address concerns directly while also monitoring internal processes within the company. This process might be challenging in a closed system, but it would theoretically be doable.
This approach is not possible in a hybrid setting. Software and hardware are no longer centralized, yet business productivity must be maintained. As a result, IT teams have found themselves increasingly stressed under the increased expectations that come with maintaining and improving a hybrid IT infrastructure. Communication systems, data processing, account management, data storage—all of these core functions and more are run directly through the IT department or at least enlist its support.
As understaffed IT groups find themselves struggling to keep up with a surge in demand, entire companies may find themselves at an increasing risk of data breaches or other malicious actions. Security and IT concerns are increasingly one in the same in a hybrid work model.
Security: Hybrid is “Zero Trust”
Data has never been fully secure. Even in traditional offices, malicious parties could attempt break-ins, network hacks, fake direct mail, and other breaches. Even so, the situation was easier to monitor. Hybrid security concerns actually started with the ubiquity of smartphones, as employees began carrying network access points in their pockets. Now it has expanded, covering numerous devices across many locations—including smartphones, printers, traditional PCs, wearables, and everything IoT.
As a result, hybrid work must operate on zero trust principles, meaning that neither employers nor employees should assume that their practices are safe at face value. This is a big change for many people, but it cannot be ignored. Data gathered in a 2021 HP report showed that global cyberattack volume increased by a whopping 238% just between February and April 2020 alone. This was all because opportunistic criminals understood that businesses were unprepared for hybrid and remote workflows and taking advantage of the situation.
Moving forward, business owners should come to love the term “secure by design.” This involves a software and hardware system that has been built from the ground up with today’s security challenges front and center. Companies like HP are taking a leadership role on this, with its Wolf Security solutions and HP Roam products.
Print’s Place in a Hybrid World
Some might be wondering how print fits into a hybrid workforce. According to data that Keypoint Intelligence gathered in 2020, many workers’ printing behaviors didn’t change very much during the pandemic. Of the nearly 300 office workers that were newly working at home as a result of the pandemic, 34% reported that their work-related printing had increased. Another 39% reported that it had stayed the same, and only 27% said that it had decreased.
Nevertheless, this data cannot be applied to the hybrid workforce of the future; It was obtained as businesses were scrambling to respond to COVID-19 and before hybrid work had become the norm for many people. We still don’t know how hybrid work behaviors might evolve as we continue to navigate—and hopefully emerge from—the pandemic. What we do know is that while print will probably never completely disappear from the workforce of the future, its prominence may diminish in an increasingly digital work environment.
The Bottom Line
For print companies, the diversification of products and services will remain a strong option for securing future profitability—at least on the external side. Internally, it is equally or even more important for leaders and managers to fully understand the benefits and the challenges of hybrid work.
Before making any significant investments, it is important to understand that a strong IT infrastructure is essential to a hybrid workforce. If this infrastructure does not have the resources to devote to security, embracing a hybrid workplace could be a very costly mistake. A successful hybrid workforce requires more IT involvement, zero trust, and a continued print presence.
Colin McMahon is a Senior Editorial Analyst at Keypoint Intelligence. He supports most of Keypoint’s Production services with podcasts, blogs and other types of deliverables. A graduate of Concordia University, Mr. McMahon is a published author, avid researcher, and enjoys working with the latest in imaging hardware.