What devices do you need for a flexible office?

Adopting new modes of working means finding the right hardware for the task at hand

While coronavirus has brought flexible working and all its benefits and drawbacks into the limelight, it’s not a new idea. The 2019 IWG Global Workplace Survey provided evidence of the benefits of flexible working, which range from greater talent retention to greater agility. The survey reported that 68% of businesses had a flexible workspace policy and 85% of respondents said flexible working patterns had increasing productivity in their company.  

During lockdown, numerous studies have found that a majority of homeworkers are happy to stay flexible rather than return to the standard 9-5. With an estimated savings of about £2.1 billion a week across the UK due to reduced travel and meal expenses, more free time, and the ability to create your own routine, it’s clear why more people than ever would like to have some sort of flexible working arrangement. 

And now, with varying safety protocols for returning to the office, such as maintaining social distance and implementing staggered work hours and in-person days, it’s clear that agile working will be the most viable business model going forward. 

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But no big change is without its challenges, and technology is a major challenge for remote working. CIOs, CTOs, and IT departments must approach technology from a more activity-based angle, choosing what tech will work best for each business, department, and individual role. 

Fortunately, with an almost limitless range of options, IT decision-makers can select the devices that will deliver maximum flexibility for their employees, from convertible laptops to traditional desktop packages to ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policies. 

This guide runs through what different platforms and devices can offer to help you decide what best fits the specific needs of your organisation. 

Laptops

A woman using a laptop with the Zoom logo on the display

In the flexible office, the laptop becomes the go-to computer. They're affordable, reliable, powerful and robust, with a variety of screen sizes giving you options for different types of workers and their differing requirements. As their size increases, ease of portability goes down, but they compensate for that by offering increased usability and performance.

Laptops are an increasingly popular choice for organisations whose employees are working from home right now or usually spend a lot of their time on the move. While they might not seem like the best option for teams who need to run demanding native applications, the latest in enterprise laptops can generally handle pretty impressive workloads. They also have the connectivity to work with external screens and peripherals, so shouldn't be counted out - even for the most advanced power users.

Convertibles

A Microsoft Surface Pro in black on a white background

2-in-1 devices and pro-level tablets with detachable keyboards suit a wide variety of users, giving you a great balance of extreme portability, long battery life, the choice of traditional or touch and pen-driven interfaces, and enough power to be seriously productive. 

As the world gets back into gear, they are a great affordable option for the travelling executive, and for any organisations with agile working practices. As organisations reimagine their working spaces and schedules for social distancing, their portability might be particularly useful.

While smaller screens and form factors can limit applications, many still have either built-in connectivity or docking options to support peripherals and a bigger screen.

Desktops and workstations

Even in the flexible office, the desktop isn't dead. Software development, design, video, CAD, scientific and financial applications still thrive on the most powerful multi-core processors, GPUs and bigger screens, though mobile workstations are growing cheaper and more capable with every generation.

With roaming profiles in Windows, there's also no reason why some hotdesks or work environments shouldn't be kitted out with desktop PCs, so that when the task demands a bigger screen or better performance, there's hardware to support that. Plus, with a new breed of high-performance but compact computers, power no longer means finding space for a large machine.

Mobile devices

The shine might have worn off standalone tablets, but for certain tasks and certain roles, for example in sales, support, or logistics, they're still a very portable and practical choice. Smartphones are even more crucial in the modern era, becoming a hub for communications that complements a laptop, convertible or PC.

For some businesses, this will mean corporate-owned and issued devices, while others will adopt a secure policy for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). It is worth remembering that these devices will still need supporting infrastructure, including charging points, fast wireless networking and access to secure, business-ready cloud-based services and apps.

The technology mix that enables businesses to remain agile and use all the latest digital tools will have some element of BYOD. Although there are security concerns to be aware of, having a BYOD strategy which enables employees to make full use of personal devices can be both a good way of saving budget, and allowing innovation through devices staff are comfortable on.

Printers and MFPs

Huge fleets of laser printers and rooms full of copiers have no place in the office of tomorrow. It's all about efficiency and consolidation, handling your workloads on fewer devices using less energy and less space.

Multi-function printers make much more sense, covering printing, copying and scanning capabilities within the one device and providing the on-ramp and off-ramp for more effective digital workflows.

For larger monthly workloads, glossy marketing or client-facing materials, laser remains the technology of choice. However, ink-based technologies can give you printers that are smaller, less obtrusive and cheaper to run.

Whatever you opt for, keep an eye on security, reliability, and total cost of ownership; the cheap office laser you buy now could prove expensive in the long term if it means downtime or a serious security breach.

Offer a mix

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The reality for many businesses is that individuals and teams will have a wide range of requirements, and there is unlikely to be one-size-fits-all solution. A truly flexible office will balance the hardware requirements of staff with portability to give those who can work out of the office the option to do so.

But flexibility doesn't have to mean setting up your entire office to work remotely - at least not at first. A range of devices can be offered - for example desktops with roaming profiles to allow hot desking, alongside a supply of laptops which can be used where necessary for remote or out-of-office work.

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