What devices do you need for a flexible office?

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

Flexible working is on the rise, with workers in their 20s and 30s ranking work-life balance and flexibility above salary and benefits when looking for a new job, according to a survey from FlexJobs. Companies that are able to offer flexibility will attract and retain talent better than those who stick rigidly to a 9-5 schedule.

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But flexible working offers its own challenges, especially when it comes to technology. Fortunately, there are now almost limitless options for businesses to consider, depending on the needs of individuals, teams and the organisation itself.

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In this new, more flexible office, the one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. Instead, CIOs, CTOs and IT departments need to think about how they support new working practices, or even think about technology from a more activity-based point of view.

But there are now more choices than ever on which devices to choose and how to use them in your office in a way that will offer maximum flexibility to employees. From convertible laptops, traditional desktop packages or support for 'Bring Your Own Device' policies, there will be a range of options that work for your business.

The key is to look at the strengths of different platforms and devices, and decide what will work best for different groups of workers or specific needs.

Laptops

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 size goes up, easy portability goes down, but they compensate for that by offering increased usability and having the kind of screen that can handle more complex tasks.

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Laptops are growing in popularity among businesses as many are now able to handle day-to-day workloads with ease. They can be picked up and brought into meetings, or taken away to allow employees to work from home or away from the office.

For some teams, laptops may not be the best option if they need to run demanding native applications. However, laptops 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

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. They're ideal for road warriors and travelling executives, but also great for hotdesking and agile working practices.

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.

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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.

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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 anywhere the option to do so if necessary.

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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