Where Are We With Print in a Hybrid Workforce?

I will admit it, I love to print. Maybe because I worked in imaging supplies for many years and knew how cost-effective printing could be, but more because I enjoy the tactical feel of pen and paper as I work. For many years I had my own color laser printer right next to me in my home office setup, which was incredibly handy in order to demonstrate the quality of our products on the printed page when I was going to visit clients. But I also preferred to print and edit written documents on paper and then fix the document on my screen. I also hate to admit it, but I think my preference for printing documents is also a bit generational. Without admitting my age, let’s just say my first home PC growing up was a Commodore 64.

Dart And Arrow With Reality Check Word On Sticky Note

For most people, 2020 and the effects of COVID in the present-day workplace were vast. So, I wanted to do a quick reality check on what I am seeing, not only supporting a global print network, but also in my own travels as a printer geek. Upon doing that, I’ve also got some recommendations and ideas for MPS providers to get in front of customers and remain trusted advisors during this time of transition.

The office is closed

Billable clicks came to a screeching halt last spring when a majority of businesses closed the office due to the global pandemic. During this time, we rallied together at the MPSA and formed a COVID task force to help share information and support the industry. Dealers told us print volumes were down anywhere from 40%-70%. As some businesses partially reopened or adjusted to more home-based workers, some print volumes returned at a slower rate.

But for many home-based workers, the ability to print documents ceased. I am one of those people who now works for an organization that highly restricts USB/local printing — I literally cannot print at work. This was a shock to my system, but at the same time forced me to adapt how I work and process information. At first, I am sure I was more inefficient in certain tasks, but as time went on I adapted, as have many others, to a completely digital workflow. Will I print documents again when I return to the office? Probably … but not at the rate I previously did.

For other organizations, workers were allowed to print and retrieve documents on a limited capacity from their office. The feedback I am getting from these employees is that they only print essential documents that are staying at the office to match an outdated paper workflow. I see this often in government agencies that will probably not change anytime soon, but for other types of businesses, return to the office should also drive a review of these practices going forward.

If you do not already know your clients’ plans for reopening or restaffing, you really need to get on this. As an MPS provider, you should be at the table to help your client formulate a strategy for office reopening that encompasses print.

Accessing data remotely

The demands on IT infrastructure by displaced workers was placed into hyperdrive by COVID. This required organizations to make sure employees had full access to data and documents from anywhere their authorized device was located.

If organizations had not adopted a cloud-based strategy pre-COVID, they are definitely improving and implementing data and cloud-based solutions now. This is a key area where managed IT providers should be able to help SMBs that may not have the resources to do this in house.

In addition, the demand for collaboration tools should not wane. CNET reports more than 80% of workers do not want to return to an office full time. So even for workers who had previously shared a workspace with their teams, they may find the need to collaborate online with some workers who moved during COVID to reduce housing expenses or be closer to families, chose a hybrid work arrangement, or discovered increased productivity in a home-based office.

What isn’t in big demand in any of these situations are printed documents. As more organizations have enhanced their IT support for work from home, will the demand for print return? I predict only on a limited basis.

MPS providers banking on any type of predictable uptick in clicks need to really reduce their forecasts and further diversify income sources into the IT and professional services space.

Temporary solutions don’t always stick

Mid-year 2020 saw an uptick in niche segments — for example, smaller color ink and laser devices in the hospitality industry. One-time disposable menus were a trend that has not always been updated to the QR code and digital menu. I was at Walt Disney World recently and requested a printed menu a few times when I found the formatting of the digital menus to be problematic, and in one instance they could not accommodate me.

We also saw office technology providers embrace new product lines for sanitizing or providing office barriers, temperature scans, face masks and more. While the demand for certain product categories will shift (e.g., face masks) the need for a sanitized workspace should not. The key to knowing your clients’ ongoing needs is collaborating and communicating on their return to office protocols.

As managed print providers, you must know what concerns exist around print for your clients. Do they want to install more equipment to mitigate employees gathering, reduce touchpoints on shared equipment, and more? I have also seen a hodgepodge of file sharing outside company-sponsored solutions. I recommend managed IT providers look to consolidate and provide a secure solution into the future.

Security never sleeps

For those organizations that deployed home-based printers in an emergency situation, now is the time to refine and review who in your organization should really have the ability to print documents outside a secure setting. This is particularly important in the tech, financial and healthcare industries.

These home-based printers are also creating a challenge for asset logistics teams who will need to monitor and track locations and financials if these are allowed to remain after a “return to work” has been completed. For many MPS providers, the rebirth of locally connected machines has been frustrating but necessary. These assets cannot be ignored going forward without a sustainable support model.

This is also a time for MPS providers to consult on new corporate print policies that address the security of home-based printing for fully remote or hybrid workers into the future. Now is the time to be the expert consultant you need to be for businesses struggling with this often-overlooked aspect of IT asset management.

What is the office you are returning to?

While many workers have been displaced for more than a year, organizations need to review and reduce costs associated with the office and commercial space they choose to support going forward. As organizations reduce the number of offices and square feet in their leases, and look toward more hybrid working arrangements, they will also look to reduce the printer footprint in the remaining office space.
This creates an opportunity for MPS providers to help organizations right-size their fleets while helping implement a strategy for the surplus equipment. This is also a time to step away from the same old refresh timelines, because the equipment that has been sitting in closed or partially closed offices has not had the wear and tear that would demand immediate refresh, outside of true end-of-life policy concerns.

Some organizations are also taking office closures as a time to refresh or retire equipment without workers present to see these changes. If new equipment is being installed, providers need to address training with workers when they return to office as well. As offices reorganize or change floorplans, mapping of assets for internal facilities or IT management is a value-added service I recommend MPS providers embrace.

Change is constant

The biggest lesson of the last year has been to embrace change and learn to adapt to the upheaval in our business and work lives caused by the pandemic. I do not want to brush over the challenges to our industry and to our personal lives that we have had to survive during this time, but rather look ahead and share ideas on how we can keep moving forward.

Change is not easy, but the pace at which we have had to change has been amplified for us all. This reality check of where we are at the process is something I hope you find helpful as you evolve your MPS practice to meet the changing print landscape.

Sarah Henderson serves on the Board of the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA) and has more than 15 years of experience in managed print.