By Graham Lowes, marketing director, OKI Printing Solutions

Today, in all parts of the world, legislative, social, environmental and commercial pressures are combining to encourage employers to introduce flexible working practices, allowing staff to operate effectively in locations away from the main workplace. This move towards greater employment mobility seems unstoppable. New EU regulations promoting more family-friendly working practices are in tune with a younger workforce reflecting a more flexible attitude towards the work/life balance.

According to analyst IDC, Western Europe’s mobile workforce stood at 96.5 million in 2008, roughly half of its total workforce. The mobile worker population will experience healthy growth of 6% compound annual growth rate to 129.5 million mobile workers for 2013.

For businesses, this move to remote working brings a broad range of benefits including increased productivity. Research has found that employees working remotely, away from the distractions of the office environment, can achieve significant enhancements in productivity. Remote working also results in reduced office and property costs and reduced environmental impact – by decreasing the number of employees needing to commute in to the office.

Also, a flexible environment in which staff can work from anywhere and with any colleague or third-party customer or partner will also have a significant positive impact on business continuity, by minimising the disruption caused by external events including ice and snow, transport strikes and disasters such as the fall-out from the recent volcanic ash cloud.

To optimise the benefits of having their employees working from home, employers need to be able to provide their workforce with tools that allow the workplace environment to be replicated away from the office. Staff across all parts of the business should be able to access tools which enable them to replicate each aspect of their main workplace environment.

At the moment, this is often far from the case. A recent survey by authentication firm GrIDsure found that nearly half of UK business professionals work remotely but nearly a third rely on their own computers and 18.5% of those do not have any form of network login.

However, replicating the office environment is not just about secure remote access to corporate data. Equally important is the ability to generate and output high quality collateral and other materials.

Driven by the growing quality of the available solutions, the move towards in-house printing has been gathering pace. A recent cebr research study found that smarter printing could save businesses across the EMEA region $25 billion annually. Today, in line with the increasing popularity of mobile working, we are witnessing a corresponding rise in the volume of business printing at home or in remote locations while on the move.

Business decision-makers should be aware that colour and mono print solutions incorporating LED technology can offer superior performance advantages over traditional laser-based alternatives, providing a cost-effective print capability at home or in small office locations.

Put simply, by making it possible to print finely and correctly, LED can ensure consistent output, giving staff working away from the office the freedom to output compelling marketing and sales collateral or high-quality business materials and to support secure printing also, thus going further towards closing the gap between the home and office environment.

At the same time, LED technology also avoids the highly complex moving parts of a laser-based system, ensuring a higher level of reliability and reduced incidence of malfunction. This is especially important in a home or small remote office environment where there is no back-up printer device and so maximum uptime is critical. And with a business’s mobile workforce increasingly key to its overall success, this ability to ensure business continuity is critical to driving productivity and enhanced competitive edge.

Environment and Culture

Of course, one of the key benefits of remote working is that it helps to protect the environment. Key 'green' benefits include the reduction in unnecessary travel, helping in turn to reduce an organisation's carbon emissions (particularly important in the UK in light of the Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme) by enabling it to cut heating, cooling and energy consumption, and the associated reduction in the use of office space, equipment and power.

Employees are starting to view remote working as more than just a pipe dream. Staff are beginning to see it as a viable option – if not now, at least in the future, and they like what they see. In fact, according to recent research by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, which asked UK professionals about how they view their future working lives, some 47% of those surveyed rated flexible working arrangements as the most important benefit.

One of the most important perceived benefits is the opportunity to achieve a better work life balance and see more of the family both by cutting down on travel time and by spending more time in the home environment.

Driven by the compelling narrative of the business case and with the benefits for employer and employee equally clear, the momentum behind remote working appears increasingly strong. If this momentum is to be maintained, it is vital that the right technology is in place to enable the workplace environment to be closely replicated in the home; to ensure the right security is in place and to make certain that high-quality materials can be easily and securely accessed and output. The deployment of high performance LED printers can be key in helping to meet these goals.