Numerous commentators have discussed how COVID-19 is changing the modern office. The adoption of collaborative work tools and ability to conveniently connect through virtual meetings made the shift to working from home seamless for many. This shift which was expected to take a decade or more occurred literally overnight in some cases.
Within Ottawa and other cities with a high concentration of public servants and IT workers this great shift has been even greater. This reality has contributed to Ottawa performing relatively well from a public health perspective keeping COVID numbers lower than many communities whose workforces must commute and perform their work at their employers.
As we begin 2021 and the promise of vaccines and hopefully the cresting of the second wave- the return to work is getting close for many. But we will not be returning to the way it was pre-COVID-19.
HR experts are envisioning a phased in approach to the return to work. We can expect about 20% office occupancy at the outset. At some point in 2021 HR experts expect the percentage to grow to about 50% and in time settle around 70% indefinitely as workers pick and choose when they go to the office.
We will also see the increased use of satellite offices to cut down commuter distances. Office floor plans will be greatly changed. For the foreseeable future the offices will not have places to congregate like board rooms and workers will be dispersed into small teams.
The printing function will also follow this reality. The shift to big printers that served up to a hundred people will be reversed bringing back fleets of smaller printers linked to smaller teams.
In my line of work, supporting the thousands of devises that make up the Government of Canada’s printer fleets- we have seen how COVID-19 lock downs have dramatically disrupted how workers are printing their documents.
The reality is that people still print and need paper- and we have seen a major uptake in civil servants buying personal printers from our Amazon store – that thankfully we had up and running at the time of the pandemic.
Many employers provided block grants of a few hundred dollars to enable their employees to set up or upgrade their home offices. Some bought ergonomic chairs or better computer screens and thousands bought printers.
While an Amazon store does provide speed and flexibility, it is not ideal from a governance perspective to be buying millions of dollars of office equipment at retail prices. There are also operational and security requirements and even environmental objectives that require us to really think seriously about how we supply the employee who is working from home.
Deloitte’s annual Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Predictions report estimates that 2020 home sales for printers will have grown by 15% and that “when we turn the page on the pandemic, the ‘flip side’ will be a world where home printers matter more than they used to.”
Government will need to rethink its print systems and the risks associated with printing from home as employees demand flexibility. Printers are the most hacked devices on a network and so an organization’s cyber and IT security framework needs to extend to these devices wherever the public servant may reside.
As we contemplate the back to work scenarios, we should be considering how fast air borne viruses spread in the workplace and consider solutions that have helped in healthcare settings. Print manufacturers have innovations co-developed with healthcare professionals that include industry’s first sterilizable printers or secure touchless printing enabling the user to walk up to the printer, have it sense the job required and print it for easy pick up.
These are merely examples of the fast and flexible solutions that small businesses have wrapped around the printers they sell and service – and their importance should continue to be recognized.
We need a procurement model that adapts to this new world order and a model that maintains a meaningful role for SMEs too.
Alec Milne is President of Printers Plus which supports printing services to over 50 Canadian government departments, agencies and crown corporations.