Co-working spaces are popping up all over the place, with many freelancers, remote workers and smaller companies loving the idea. According to CoworkingResources, the number of coworking spaces worldwide is projected to soon cross 20,000 and reach 25,968 by 2022, an increase of 42 percent from 2019.
I don’t mean to suggest that every company should close their office and move into a co-working space, However, there are definitely lessons to be learned as companies face a generational shift in their workforce and a technological shift around digital transformation and available skill set generally all summarized as “the future of work.”
Between those trends, we have reached a stage where we don’t really need an office as a place to supply machines like copiers, phones, meeting rooms or file cabinets. Much of the functionality of an office is fully encompassed in our laptops, smartphones and tablets. Files are digital, group meetings can easily be held with a webcam and an online conferencing service, even cheap printers can make copies and office phones are just an app. Add to that the flexibility employees have to work anywhere they want. This could include time at a customer site to more efficiently complete a project, or being able to live in a location they desire.
While commuting is time-consuming and expensive, there’s also a lot to be said for an office. Personal interaction is often far more efficient than remote interaction, and information tends to flow more freely during chance encounters around the building. There is also the major benefit of sharing resources, such as printers, meeting rooms etc.
It simply makes sense to rethink our offices so they can be enticing, encouraging and collaborative places to work. Many corporate “cubicle farms” leave a lot to be desired in that area.
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages co-working spaces provide to companies and their employees
- Reduced cost and increased flexibility
- No infrastructure management
- A dedicated place to work
- Networking opportunities
- A sense of belonging and community
- Desirable and accessible locations
When companies restructure their offices to take advantage of the more intangible benefits of a co-working space, they also have an opportunity to rethink their infrastructure.
Many employees today work on laptops, tablets or smartphones and they are generally set up to work from anywhere. They don’t really need to be on an “internal” network when they come to the office. They just require a solid WiFi network to connect to the Internet as if they were working from home or the local coffee shop. Keeping other infrastructure, like printers, on a separate internal network greatly simplifies network management and security.
In this scenario, the WiFi doesn’t provide access to internal resources. There’s no complex and expensive user management needed and malware from a user’s computer has no way to access the internal network and damage the core of the IT operations. Internal network infrastructure can also be greatly simplified, as it only serves to connect a few types of devices like printers, badge readers on doors, thermostats and other building systems.
Between web applications, virtual desktops, remote applications, virtual data rooms and various file storage and access solutions it is easy to connect users to the internal files, applications and resources they need to be successful members of the team.
The one exception is for printers.
In a typical setup, printers are directly installed on a computer and the documents they need to print are sent to them through a local network connection. Managing each printer and printer driver on each computer is a tedious, time consuming task. And since printers process unencrypted company data that likely contains sensitive information, it is not advisable to run printers and end-user devices, such as smartphones and tablets, on the same network.
Cloud printing services have stepped up to fill this void. They can typically provide the connection between the user’s computer and the printer, set access policies (who gets to use which printer) as well as policies that for example enforce the use of duplex printing or black and white printing, can enforce quotas, provide guest printing and manage billing. Some of them can even process the print job with the printer driver to eliminate the need for a computer or server with the native driver on the internal network.
On the user end of cloud printing services, there is no noticeable difference to a typical print job. With a few simple clicks of “File -> Print”, the document is sent to the printer, all without installation and configuration of a driver.
Users of smartphones, tablets and Chromebooks are integrated through easy-to-use applications that will send the documents to the cloud printing service. Those who need spontaneous access to their printer from any device can upload a document via a website. A simple username and password or single sign on credentials are all a user needs to access their printers.
On the IT or infrastructure side, connectivity to a cloud printing service can also be simple. Through a computer with the necessary printer drivers, an existing print server or a small, stateless hub that is secured with an admin account’s user name and password, the organization’s printers are published to the cloud printing service. Integrations with directory services like SAML help to import existing user groups. An easy to use website is used to connect users to the correct printers, set up policies, billing and other management functions.
For those in the printing business these “future of work” conversations are an excellent opportunity to offer innovative solutions around trendy topics that make it easy to engage with a wide range of decision-makers, especially those typically not very interested in printing. Cloud printing services, alongside “future of work” conversations, put you in an excellent position to offer cutting edge, profitable solutions that your customers are looking for.
is president and CEO of ThinPrint, a leading provider of print management software and services for businesses.