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HP is betting that hybrid work is here to stay

·Senior Reporter
·5 min read
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HP (HPQ) announced it would buy office headset-maker Poly (POLY) for $3.3 billion last week. It’s a big-ticket deal for a company that’s on the lookout for its next chapter.

In recent memory, dealmaking has been inextricably tied to the old guard tech giant and its prospects but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything changed. In 2020, Xerox (XRX) withdrew its offer to buy HP after a months-long, TV-worthy drama that involved threats of a hostile takeover, a poison pill plan, and activist investor Carl Icahn.

HP has since pursued its own deals, some of which have been bets on hybrid work. In July 2021, HP bought remote computing software provider Teradici. In the release at the time, HP touted hybrid working-related projections by Fortune Business Insights, which estimated that the remote desktop software segment will grow at a “17% compound annual growth rate through 2028.”

So the Poly deal wasn't a surprise, but what is perhaps more noteworthy is the extent of HP’s faith in the permanence of hybrid work. The company believes that hybrid work has staying power because the pandemic has irrevocably shifted the roles our homes and offices play in our lives, said Alex Cho, president of Personal Systems at HP.

“We used to leave our houses to work, learn, go to the movies, or get care,” Cho told Yahoo Finance in an email. “Today, those things are being done more from home through digital experiences... As a result, people will work more from home, and we are seeing both people and companies investing in those spaces. More people will also onboard with new employers without ever stepping foot ‘on campus.’”

That’s not to say HP believes offices will go away — what will change is how those offices are used. The era of the all-day, everyday office is over, according to Cho.

“Companies are investing to transform office spaces into centers of culture, community, and collaboration — making them places we go to for a specific purpose rather than where we spend most working hours,” he said.

While HP's hybrid-work bet could pay off, there's a debate surrounding return-to-office within the tech industry. Recently, Apple employees have reportedly protested over the company’s return-to-work plan, while Google and Microsoft have started easing employees back to their offices, according to CNBC.

A conference attendee walks by the HP logo. REUTERS/Jim Young.
A conference attendee walks by the HP logo. REUTERS/Jim Young.

Peripherals-type of acquisitions

There are, in a sense, two HPs — HPQ and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), a byproduct of the company's 2015 split of its business. The former retained the famed PC and printer business while the latter took on the enterprise computing, storage, and networking hardware businesses.

Now, for HPQ, the pandemic set off a wave of personal computer purchases, reversing a decade of declines in the segment, but that boon isn’t enough to ensure the company’s future. “I’ve been vocal about the fact this company needs something else other than PC unit growth to drive the next wave of overall growth in the business,” Jefferies analyst Kyle McNealy told Yahoo Finance.

HP accordingly has been exploring other avenues of growth, many of which have also translated to deals. In February 2021, the company acquired gaming accessories-maker HyperX from Kingston Technology. Like Poly, the deal emphasizes peripherals and auxiliary products that add to a computer’s capabilities. A printer, for example, is a peripheral, as is a gaming headset or, in Poly’s case, conference-room cameras.

“[HyperX] was another peripherals-type of acquisition ... and Poly sits in a similar category because it’s also peripherals, just different types focused on collaboration,” said McNealy. “Due to supply constraints, the opportunity in the end will come from increasing market share or expanding into new markets… They’re making acquisitions like this because they’re trying to accelerate their expansion opportunities.”

McNealy said HP stock is ultimately a Hold right now. The company is pursuing the right objectives and the Poly acquisition aligns well with their strategy of accelerating their expansion opportunities. Other old guard Big Tech names, like IBM (IBM), have also set themselves up for a resurgence.

“You’ve got to be careful in terms of the right time to invest and get bullish on IBM and HP Enterprise, but I think now’s the time with the wave of post-pandemic digitization, particularly as interest rates are going up,” he said. “Those rising interest rates are going to be a headwind for growth companies, and they’re definitely supportive of investors shifting back into value names.”

‘Execution is key’ amid fierce competition

Any deal for HP is ultimately a start rather than a conclusion. It’s all about what happens next, some experts say. HP’s Poly acquisition looks to be a “modest positive,” but more importantly “execution is key,” wrote Cowen analyst Krish Sankar in a March 29 note.

Additionally, HP will likely have serious competition when it comes to snagging the best hybrid-, work-related tech deals, according to Union Square Advisors managing director Will Andereck, who anticipates that hybrid-work technologies will continue to be the subject of a roll-up as this year goes on.

Other recent mega-deals in the space include Ericsson’s blockbuster $6.2 billion acquisition of Vonage, Workday’s acquisition of Peakon, and, most recently, Stryker’s buyout of Vocera which closed in February.

“We expect consolidation to continue as incumbent solution providers seek to add best-of-breed capabilities in order to meet the evolving needs of their employees, their end customers,” he said. “This disruption is causing massive waves through a broad range of digital markets [including unified communications, human capital management, and e-commerce].”

Allie Garfinkle is a senior tech reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.

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