Jerry Mead, Managing Director at Mead&Co, discusses the future of workplace printing in the digital era.
Over the last two decades, we’ve become more digitally inclined than ever before. Technology is now embedded in our lives, and the demand for constant innovation has resulted in regular newer, better products being brought to market, from both a B2B and consumer perspective. Disruption is all around us. You only have to look at the drop in purchases of the fax machine from the late ’90s to now, to realise that when a new, more convenient, secure and cost-effective option comes along, ‘outdated’ technology is quickly replaced.
And while there was a point in our lives when we thought we could not live without a landline, a desktop computer or a portable MP3 player, technology has evolved and put all of these things to near extinction. Indeed, there has been a multitude of tech that has made its way into history museums, although some have stood the test of time and continue to remain a business-critical solution.
This past year has been one of the most challenging in recent times, with much of the entire globe becoming completely remote and reliant on totally different technologies. Before, businesses were used to working from desktop computers or fixed screens with a dedicated mouse and keyboard, and a landline phone. Now, workers have become accustomed to the flexibility of laptops and mobile devices. And while the majority of people have been cited to miss the culture and comradery of being in the office the most, the loss of some of the tech equipment we previously used every day has left a big hole in our working lives as well.
Taking the printer for granted
Over a quarter of people have said they do not have the necessary hardware at home to be able to work productively since being forced to work from home. We may have once taken it for granted, but many are now experiencing the impracticalities of not having a printed document to hold in our hands for convenient uses such as proofing, annotating, displaying or even as a visual reminder of the jobs that need our attention. Amongst all the talk of tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack making collaboration easier, there’s really nothing that can beat working together on a physical document.
Before the pandemic, it’s more than likely employees took the large whirring printing machines for granted and didn’t think twice about their ability to print. Some were even attempting to reduce their levels of printing in efforts to become more environmentally efficient, while other offices were trying to become ‘paper free’.
But the truth of the matter is that printing isn’t outdated or redundant tech, even in a digitally transforming world, and should remain at the top of IT budgets. Printing has not been disrupted, it has just got smarter and more purposeful. So, what exactly does the future role of the workplace printer look like?
For a start, there are a number of mission-critical uses where printing is a necessity or digital documents are unacceptable. Whether it’s the company’s own rules and regulations or for legal requirements, paper still rules for certain processes. This can range from legal agreements, reporting and testing, to financial and HR record keeping. Humans have been recording important information on paper for over two thousand years, it cannot be hacked or corrupted as data files can. It’s unlikely paper will be replaced any time soon by technology.
Elsewhere, printing is still required in a number of ‘physical world’ business-critical uses, such as keeping people safe and informed with updated signage, and for operational tasks such as label and barcode printing for stock and record-keeping purposes. In the future workplace, safety and security will also be of increasing concern, and the printing of passes and signing of documents will be crucial for controlling access and adhering to workplace health and safety guidelines.
Preparing for the future
As lockdown restrictions lift and we return to our workplaces, the printer of the very near future will have a number of demands placed on it, all centred around the simplicity of use. First is the desire to be more economical with printing, which translates to less wastage. Making it simple to print documents in different sizes, formats and on different media will help ensure workers get it right the first time.
Elsewhere, with modern technology, it is becoming increasingly possible for businesses to print items that they may previously have gone externally for. But just because it’s technically possible, doesn’t mean that someone will be able to, which is why having the right solutions and software to remove this burden will be important.
And finally, with tighter restrictions governing and impacting our places of business, organisations will need the right hardware and software solutions to ensure their workplaces can print the right items that they need such as labels and passes. Rather than signalling the end of the printer, the pandemic has only served to increase our need for them. By ensuring workplaces have the right printing solutions as workers around the world return to their offices, they will continue to be business-critical for many years to come.