A guide to the future of work
See what the future of work looks like and why it's likely a hybrid workplace.
Read time: 6 minutes
The future of work has changed.
In the fall of 2019, thinking and planning for the future of work was a strategic exercise. Today, defining and executing practices for the “future of work” is a matter of survival for every business and organization.
The urgency is so great that it’s become a hot topic for the world’s top consulting firms. McKinsey and Deloitte have researched, explored, and discussed the topic. Gartner has produced reports on a commonly embraced “future” work environment: the hybrid workplace.
There is a simple reality for businesses today. We need to be flexible. We also need to reexamine the processes by which we communicate, collaborate, and share information. And, of course, information and data security are a topmost priority.
The best processes, technologies, and services will vary from organization to organization, depending on what work model they chose.
This guide aims to:
Answer questions about those different work styles and office environments.
Share ideas, tips, and best practices identified by industry-leaders.
Help you along the process, whether you are just getting started or trying to navigate the challenges of a constantly changing world.
Throughout this article, you’ll also find links to related content should you want to explore any given topic in greater detail. Let’s get started…
What does the future of work look like?
Gartner states: “As organizations worldwide attempt to return to offices, employees demand continued flexibility in their ways of working.” 
In a word, the future of work can be defined by that word – flexibility.
Flexibility in the workplace creates what is being called a hybrid work model. Sometimes employees are in the office, sometimes they are not. Some employees need to work in the office more while others may be working from the home office more often.
There are advantages to this work model. For example, you have a larger talent pool to find employees when you can literally hire anyone from anywhere in the world.
But this comes with challenges too.
Challenges of a hybrid work model
The implications of the hybrid work model for organizations creates challenges in several areas.
Security. This may be the most pressing element as employees working in offsite locations are outside the bounds of traditional network security. Security is no longer simply focused on the network; the focus is now about securing information and data on both networks and endpoints.
Managing IT infrastructure and services. Many IT teams were stretched thin when employees were primarily located in offices. A disparate workforce can strain even the most talented IT teams.
Workflows. When employees involved in a workflow are working in different locations, moving paper becomes impractical. Digital workflows can increase the speed of communication but handling, approving, storing, and securing digital documents is a big business liability if done following the same processes used for paper-based information. For example, documents or information moved by email creates copies on multiple endpoints – a huge data security risk, while inboxes become unwieldly for an individual to manage.
Mail communication. How do you get mail to employees who aren’t in the office?
Collaboration. Employees, partners, and vendors need ways to share ideas, work on documents, and solve problems. Video meetings can work when you only need to talk and/or present, but when your team needs to do more involved collaborative efforts – like working in the same document simultaneously, you may need alternatives.
Employee engagement. Employees have fewer opportunities for informal interactions and conversations, which plays an important role in team building and even problem-solving. We discuss this topic in-depth in our on demand webinar, “Teamwork in the New World of Work.”
Workspace organization and management. New health and safety concerns change how we need to organize office workspaces, requiring more advanced planning and management.
These seven challenges are only examples of those facing organizations today. You may find yourself facing challenges specific and unique to your business as a result of today’s demand for flexibility.
To develop the best work model for your organization and address these challenges and more, you may find it best to first define which work model best fits what you need to do business.
4 types of “future” work environments, defined
In a report completed earlier this year, Gartner defined four types of trending work environments: 
Office, or on-site.
Hybrid, where employees work in the office and remotely, to varying degrees.
Remote, where employees work in remote locations either by necessity or choice and office gatherings are rare.
Borderless, a situation where employees may reside in other countries.
We discuss these work environments in greater detail our article, “How to build a flexible work policy to stay competitive and drive productivity.”
Regardless of which is best for you, the future is a digital workplace
The idea of the digital workplace has been around for a long while. Descriptions, however, vary, often depending on the perspective of the organization defining it. For example:
A workflow or teamwork management tool might describe the digital workplace as the platform where work gets done.
You might see it defined as a digital replacement for the physical workplace.
Business consultants may describe it by the benefits it delivers.
We define the digital workplace as bringing “people together by leveraging technology to empower integrated, secured communications, employee productivity, and competitive advantage to create seamless employee and customer experiences, enhance business agility, and drive business forward.
”In practice, the digital workplace reduces – or replaces – paper-based processes with digital documents and communication and makes it possible to work anywhere.
And that, today, is exactly the type of environments organizations of every kind are finding it necessary to embrace to some degree.
Read more about the digital workplace in “A guide to the digital workplace.”
You can also explore the four pillars on which the digital workplace rests here.
Reimagining your workspace
What does your workplace look like today?
It probably looks very different from how it did at the beginning of 2020. And here’s perhaps the most relevant question –
What will your workplace look like tomorrow?
If you’re reading this article, it means you may be looking for ideas. Be assured, you are not alone. Our workplace services consultants work with businesses of many different sizes in a variety of industries to help them design and implement solutions to address their specific needs.
The simple reality is that we need to reimagine our workspace. We can begin by asking questions, such as:
Do I need the same amount of office space for employees as before?
How will employees securely share and transmit business information?
What must we do to ensure a quality customer experience with a distributed workforce?
These may be high level questions, but that’s the best place to get started as you begin to reimagine what your workplace will look like.
You might find it looks a lot like the workday outlined in this video.
Tips on how to build a hybrid workplace
A lot of factors will determine exactly what your hybrid workplace looks like. Yet, while the details will differ, the process will the same. You need to:
Define key business activities.
Prioritize and evaluate processes.
Choose the “tools” that enable your team to deliver for your customers.
These four steps are very general. Here’s a closer look at each with tips on what to do.
Needs include those of customers and your employees. Both are vitally important to consider. Your customers are your reason for being in business, but your employees keep you going. The business itself have needs that should be considered. You may also want or need to consider the needs of your vendors and partners.Tips:
Ask customers about their top challenges and then listen.
Get employee feedback about their challenges and what they would want or even need in a work environment.
Take customer and employee feedback and then ask questions to isolate the needs of the business. Take these answers, look at how those needs match with current business operations, specifically relating to assets and real estate and evaluate how those would need to change to accommodate the newly identified needs.
Define key business activities
In this step, you want to define the activities that make your business “go.”
Make a list of business activities.
Determine importance of each.
Highlight which are most impacted by a change to a new hybrid work model.
What you define in this step will be important in the next.
Prioritize and evaluate processes
Every activity has a process behind it. As you look at your key business activities, you want to identify the ones that are most important and most affected by the change to how and where we work. These will be your top priorities to address.
Creating seamless processes – or at least streamlining processes – is vital to both productivity and data security, each impacting your customers.
This may be the hardest step. You may discover that you need to completely reimagine how you work, at least in some areas of your business.
Choose the tools that enable you to deliver for your customers
Your hybrid workplace needs to deliver for your customers and keep your employees engaged and productive, while still offering them the flexibility they need to keep pace in their own lives.
Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to you. This includes the technologies you need to make your hybrid work model efficient and effective.
Many companies like Ricoh that provide business technology, especially in the form of workflow automation, document management, and digital services can help.
If we can be of any help, our digital services teams are happy to listen to your challenges and needs.
Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner's research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally, and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.
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- 1. Gartner®, Quick Answer: 5 Things Digital Workplace Leaders Must Do to Support the Hybrid Workplace, Manjunath Bhat, 22 June 2021.
- 2. Gartner®, CIOs Need to Embrace Radical Flexibility to Drive the Post COVID-19 Work Experience, Suzanne Adnams, 16 March 2021.