Meeting IT’s Latest Challenge: Health and Safety Guidelines for Office Printing

The emergence of the global COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on almost every aspect of our daily life. As the virus started to spread with no regard for national borders, it created a once-in-a-lifetime global healthcare crisis, forcing governments to take unprecedented action to protect their healthcare services and save lives. The introduction of strict containment measures to reduce the spread and “flatten the curve” was born. The “stay at home” lockdown and social distancing measures at the heart of this containment strategy changed the way we live and work almost overnight. While a change in working practices was already underway in the business world, partially due to the new demographic groups that entered the workforce, the emergence of COVID-19 and the resulting response have accelerated the change process.

people passing documents in an office with safety measures in place

Following the announcement of lockdown policies by governments around the world, many organizations found themselves having to come to terms with the fact that their employees would not be able to commute to their offices. Born out of necessity, enabling flexible working/working from home suddenly became the only option for non-critical business and public sector organizations.

While there is a lot of talk about organizations adopting new, long-term working-from-home strategies, the office environment provides many benefits. It will still play a vital role in an organization’s business operations.

Shifts in working environments

Survey results from multiple research firms suggest that it is unlikely that the entire workforce will remain working at home permanently. According to a survey by Gartner involving over 300 senior financial leaders, the majority (69%) plan to move just 5% to 20% of their previously onsite workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19. Additionally, many business leaders have expressed an interest in getting their workers back to the office. In a survey conducted by McKinsey in June, 100 executives across the U.S. in a wide range of industry sectors expected 80% of their workforce, on average, to be back in their office workplaces by September, and 88% by December 2020.

As the home office takes on a greater role in the working environment, organizations will need to ensure robust and wide-ranging work-from-home policies are in place to supplement existing office workflow processes. Maintaining network security and compliance requirements as employees work remotely is a particular challenge.

Trying to maintain near-normal working conditions in this COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for all functions in the working environment. However, it is clear that a burden of change has fallen heavily on IT departments, which were already burdened with the demands of improving business efficiency and reducing costs while defending their business infrastructure against ever-growing cyberattacks. In addition to and overlaying these requirements, IT managers need to ensure their data management systems and policies meet the evolving demands of regional and industry-specific regulatory compliance.

With the changes to working practices and the introduction of government health requirements focusing on social distancing and risk management, creating and managing a secure workplace is no easy matter. This means solution providers have an opportunity to consult using COVID-secure guidance to help get local businesses back to working again, from both home offices and the corporate workplace.

Working and printing from home offices

Organizations are relying more than ever on technology to enable work to happen seamlessly. There has been a huge increase in demand for virtual solutions that help teams continue to collaborate, communicate, and operate as usual. As teams move their meetings to video conferencing, their workspaces to project management boards and their processes to digital workflows, many are seeing the huge benefit in efficiency, convenience and transparency that this technology brings.

In the new post-COVID-19 working environment with a more significant number of employees working remotely, there is a greater need for flexibility. IT managers must now put in place solutions that allow remote staff better access to people and data, and the means to carry out their day to day activities. Ensuring safety and security has always been at the heart of IT strategies; however, it has now taken on a new emphasis, and with it, a new set of challenges.

One application that can be overlooked and create issues for organizations is printing. While much has been made about document digitization, we are still far from a paperless environment. While it is clear that paper volumes have decreased significantly in the current climate, there remains a need to print — in particular for healthcare, education and financial services sectors.  The challenge for IT departments is to find a way for their employees, both remote and office-based, to have access to safe, secure and cost-effective print capabilities.

If organizations are to allow printing to take place in the home office, they need to consider whether to provide “authorized” hardware for staff or allow them to use their personal printing devices, weighing cost, support requirements, convenience, security control and compliance factors.  If remote workers can print documents including intellectual property, HR or customer information at home, IT managers need the ability to monitor this activity for data security purposes. Deploying correct and non-intrusive control measures helps ensure (in the case of a data breach) effective compliance reporting can take place.

If printing in home offices is not permitted and printing is preferred/required by staff, alternative printing capabilities are available to print safely and securely back to the managed office environment. Either way, solution providers will be more successful offering printing solutions that are effortless for employees to use, provide consistent auditing controls and do not add significant burdens to support staff.

COVID secure office printing

In-office working processes now need to ensure COVID-secure requirements based on guidance from the government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Organizations are required to develop a COVID-secure health and safety plan to allow workers and clients to return to offices.

New administrative controls are needed to change the way people work in office buildings. Standards requirements include promoting handwashing for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching faces, wearing masks, and working six feet apart. Protocols for cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces are also required, especially for frequently touched areas, such as door handles, desks, workstations, keyboards, phones, and printers and copiers, the most shared IT devices in offices.

With differing “cleaning” regimens specified by different technology providers, ensuring effective cleaning and hygiene procedures is challenging for organizations, especially when operating a multivendor print fleet. The ideal solution to reduce potential cross-contamination for printing devices is to make printing a touchless activity. Preventing a stack of print jobs from different employees from accumulating in the output tray enables employees to touch only their own printed documents securely.

There are multiple ways to enable a touchless, or a less-touch, printing protocol in the office. These are all opportunities for solution providers to consult with organizations and provide the best solution that meets their specific COVID-secure requirements. One easy way to provide a touchless solution is providing personal printing devices in the office. Personal printing devices are making a comeback during the pandemic and provide a new opportunity for solution providers.

A more practical business solution is taking advantage of pull printing solutions with touchless printing features. Not only do pull printing solutions provide COVID-secure ways to print, they also promote social distancing, allowing employees to print to the device they prefer. It also provides multiple options for remote workers when they come to the office, allowing them to print wherever they need to work and to print from their personal mobile devices, as the workspace may constantly change throughout the next year.

Success through simplicity

Whether workers continue to work from home or return to the office, solution providers will be more successful by recommending simple and intuitive ways of working through the pandemic in tune with their customers’ needs. The pandemic has made the workplace complex enough – solution providers should research ways to avoid adding and managing extra layers of complexity to office printing processes for customers. They should also reach out and challenge print solution providers to offer simple, secure and safe document solutions to get their companies back to successfully selling.

Eric Crump is strategic alliances director for FollowMe at Ringdale and board member of the MPSA