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There is no doubt that COVID-19 had a major impact on almost every conceivable aspect of modern life. This includes how we as citizens of the world communicate with each other, how we purchase goods and services, how we are educated, and how we work. Some of the changes have been on the horizon, but COVID accelerated their arrival by five or ten years, some of the changes were only temporary and some will last for potentially generations. One difference, in particular, is how the pandemic impacted the use of business and personal printers.

Workplace Evolutions

One of the more dramatic evolutions that may continue to be with us for the foreseeable future is how companies and individuals manage to balance work at the office and work from home scenarios. In office environments, one of the great benefits of a shared workspace is the ability to share resources.

Depending on their role, an employee may have a desk, computer, monitor, phone, stapler, etc. provided to them by the company at a personal workspace such as a cubicle, office, or desk. The large benefit for both employees and the business comes in when there are other resources that can be shared. For example, a team can brew a gallon pot of coffee to keep everyone energized and focused on the work at hand. Another example is a centralized printer where multiple people can print what they need to, stand up from their desk and walk a few feet to pick up their documents. This scenario is opposed to each individual person having a printer on their desk. The benefits of certain economies of scale become quickly apparent when certain resources can be shared among people.

This economy of scale went out the window when people were sequestered to their home “offices” i.e. kitchen tables, bedrooms, and garages. Suddenly, people did not have the resources they had become accustomed to having within 20 feet of themselves; they only had what was already in their homes, what could be shipped to them, or what they could purchase for themselves.

Use of Technology in the Home

In the mid-1900s, people drove or took the train into the office because that is where the tools were to get the job done. All the files, typewriters, secretaries, and people they needed to collaborate with would all be in one central place.

Technology has allowed many to work remotely. This, of course, is not the case for all businesses, such as dry cleaners who will always need a physical space, but there are a lot of things that can be done remotely.

The lucky ones were able to take their laptop home and pick up work from there without missing a beat. Others had to rely on different technology to stay connected such as a tablet or smartphone from home.

For companies whose work requires a great deal of collaboration, monitoring and integration it makes more sense to have people come back together and share resources like it used to be. For others, video calls and other connective technologies have made the requirement to pull people physically together less necessary. They get to benefit from the efficiency of the saved expense of travel, the hassle of lost luggage, and the black hole of commute time. Many people discovered the beneficial impact of an extra 60 or 90 minutes of commute time being replaced with time where they are available to work.

Anecdotally, working from home means people don’t “leave it at the office.” They are emailing at all hours simply because rather than working from home they are living, cooking, and even vacationing in their office (be it the kitchen table, sofa, or spare room). Another major change is seen in the way multiple individuals from different companies and organizations are working in proximity to others and using shared resources. For example, one spouse can work for one company, the other spouse can work for another company and the children can be attending different schools. Regardless of what company they are employed by, or the larger organization they are part of, these people are using the same space and resources. That also means that they’re using the same printer, which must meet everyone’s needs.

Printing Trends

Over the past year, printing in the office naturally dropped precipitously because there was little going on there. Conversely, there was and is a much higher volume of materials being printed in the home. The “family” printer that wasn’t considered much before, is now a central resource. Following are some trends that have arisen:

  • There is much more demand on the home printer – rather than an occasional use device, it’s now being used by all members of the household, be it for work, home, or homework.
  • The quality of print and ease of printing has become more important than ever before.
  • Apps such as the Mopria Print Service App are helping to enable printing directly from a smartphone, tablet, PC, etc., and enhance the printing experience.
  • More basic print jobs are happening, i.e. the printer at the office would likely do more, such as collating, stapling, and printing sizes other than standard letter size. This isn’t possible on home printers.
  • If more sophisticated printing is required, then an online service or quick printing service is required. Remote shipping services can print items remotely and mail them to a destination, be it back to the author or directly to a client.
  • “Domestic” printers and “light production” printers will see increased sales. “Workgroup” printers will see reduced demand, due to the smaller number of people working from offices.
  • Disposable, on-demand printing is increasing. While this may sound like a step back in terms of ecology, it is not overall. For instance, a restaurant owner can print single-use menus that can change from day-to-day or week to week. This saves on waste because instead of printing thousands of copies of a menu (or a company’s product brochure) that can quickly become obsolete, they can print where and when they need them on demand, which saves on warehousing and shipping, energy, and pollution.

Here to Stay

Of all the trends that will impact printing from both home and office is that remote work, or at least the option for remote work, is here to stay. PWC conducted a Remote Work Survey that showed more than half of employees want to work remotely three days a week or more. That means the printer will continue to be one of the most important shared technology resources at the home.

Mike Scrutton, Director of Print Technology and Strategy, Adobe

Author Mike Scrutton, Director of Print Technology and Strategy, Adobe

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