What role will printing play in the post COVID-19 workplace?

COVID-19 has plunged many businesses into a paralysis. The majority are now focused on weathering or surviving the crisis to emerge intact when the new normal arrives. Some of the changes invoked may be permanent; it is likely that many companies will continue to support and encourage flexible working arrangements. Indeed, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25% of workers will be expected to continue to work from home. Aside from the obvious sustainability benefits of fewer people commuting, this will leave some offices lightly populated and could prompt many companies to reduce office space. So, what role will the office multifunction printer (MFP) play in this new world, where remote working is further accelerating a shift to digital technologies?  

The post-crisis workplace

Ultimately, humans are social animals, not accustomed to being socially distanced, even when working remotely. Although remote working can boost productivity, distractions and isolation can prove to be a downside. Personal interactions can be key to maintaining an innovative company culture. Consequently, the post-pandemic workplace will be a blended model of office and remote working environments. It will be characterised by a new wave of touchless technology, such as automatic doors, hands-free light switches, voice-activated elevators and temperature controls.

How office print industry players adapt to this new normal will prove critical in terms of their resilience. Quocirca’s COVID-19 business impact research reveals that over 75% of print industry executives expect the crisis to cause significant ongoing market disruption. Print volumes are already severely down due to most offices being shut, with 70% of print industry respondents reporting a significant decline in print volumes among their customers.

With many remote workers not using or having access to home office printers, it is likely that their preference for digital collaboration will continue when they return to the office. Indeed, nearly 80% of print industry executives see the crisis as an opportunity to innovate and introduce new products and services.

Meanwhile, the pandemic may spell the end of open-plan offices, which could lead to a shift to more distributed print environments away from centralised print deployments. This could create new requirements from businesses to rationalise their print infrastructure. Equally, as digital transformation efforts are ramped-up, there are pockets of opportunity for those suppliers that can pivot to new cloud and digital workflow service offerings.

Trends to capitalise on include the following:

  1. Provisioning of secure home printing solutions. New Quocirca end-user research reveals that around 30% of UK employees who were printing regularly in the office, and are now working from home, do not have access to a home printer. Even those that do are unlikely to have a device that adheres to the tight security standards that would be expected in a corporate environment. The threat, of course, is that those that do return to office working will have become accustomed to not using printers. Quocirca’s research reveals that almost 80% of those working from home are printing less and working more digitally.  MPS contracts should allow for the provision of home printers for those that need them, as well as tracking usage for accounting and security purposes. Indeed, Quocirca’s recent COVID-19 study showed that 86% of industry executives stated that their customers had concerns around the security of home printers.
  2. Delivering cloud-enabled digital workflow services. Post COVID-19, businesses will need to further rethink how they deliver value to customers through digital processes. The digitisation of paper-based processes is likely to accelerate further, opening up continued opportunities to better leverage smart MFPs for document capture and the initiation of automated workflows. This is only the first step, and MPS providers who can add further value to business process automation projects will be ahead of the game. Overall, 89% of print industry respondents expect to see a growth in the need for cloud-based workflow services, with 75% expecting an increase in demand for the digitisation of paper-based processes.
  3. Supporting cloud print infrastructure transformation. Cloud print services are emerging as an effective way to implement a cost-effective, scalable and sustainable print infrastructure. By managing networked printers and MFPs in the cloud, businesses can reduce capital expenditure and operating costs through scalable cloud services. Cloud scalability has demonstrated its worth during the pandemic and could create opportunities for MPS suppliers to encourage clients to accelerate their shift to a cloud-based print infrastructure. 71% of print industry executives stated that they expected demand for cloud-based print management to expand. Quocirca expects to see continued growth in cloud-based MPS which can include management and control of decentralised printer environments, including employee-owned, home-based printers.
  4. Expanding Device-as-a-Service offerings. The opportunity for providing office-in-a-box bundles to homeworkers (e.g. laptop, printer etc). This device-as-a-service model, already offered by vendors such as HP, could provide traditional print channel partners with new business models targeted at homeworkers. 59% of respondents expect to see a growth in demand for such services. This could include security services, particularly as remote collaborative working opens up many more vectors for attack.
  5. Developing touchless technology propositions. The pandemic is forcing more companies to embrace touchless technology to mitigate future virus transmission risk. This could create opportunities for broader implementation of touchless biometrics such as pull printing through smart-card authentication. Using biometrics such as facial or voice recognition could be the next step. One example is Xerox, which offers voice control for its AltaLink MFP products through Gabi technology integration.
  6. Enhancing integrated collaboration services for office and home workers. The COVID-19 crisis has created new opportunities for companies offering collaboration platforms. As remote working increases, vendors, including Microsoft, Google, Slack, Zoom, Cisco and LogMeIn, are making chat, videoconferencing and other collaboration services free as demand for remote working booms. Post COVID-19, more businesses will need to support collaboration across both office and homeworkers creating an opportunity for MPS providers to extend their offerings in this space. Indeed, 92% of print industry executives expect to see a growth in demand for collaboration and communication services post COVID-19.
  7. Maintaining sustainability messaging. Amid the devastating human impacts of the pandemic, the drop in negative environmental impact, caused by reduced human activity, has also been noted. As businesses design a new work environment, they are likely to include sustainability factors in infrastructure decision-making, in a bid to achieve a beneficial outcome from the changes that have effectively been forced upon them. Vendors and channel partners need to ensure they can support customers to become greener and more flexible.

Conclusion

To respond to all these areas of opportunity, office print suppliers will need to be prepared to pivot their business and partner with peers that can help fill gaps in their portfolio. Technology and service partnerships were already becoming the cornerstone of an effective response to accelerating digital transformation and will only become more imperative as the shape of the new business normal becomes apparent. No one knows how long the current crisis will continue, or the extent of its global impact.

Certainly, a new era will be heralded when it comes to working patterns, with the increased need for flexible working that bridges the gap between home and traditional office workspaces. The office will be reinvented, and print vendors will need to scramble to remain relevant in the post-COVID-19 workplace. Those who retool their business for tomorrow will avoid extinction and even thrive after the pandemic is over.

Quocirca is inviting print industry executives to share their valued opinion in our second COVID-19 Snapshot survey.

Get results of the first survey here.

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