Christine Dunne

Rethinking the Mix of Print Devices Post-COVID

Will Firms Move to Personal Printers or Just Be More Careful?

Jul 6, 2020 12:22:28 PM


As many employees begin returning to the office, a key question for our industry is: How will print behavior change? Related to this question is whether the mix of print devices will shift based on the current guidelines and research related to slowing the spread of COVID-19.


The Center for Disease Control has issued a set of guidelines for US office-based workplaces—including creating a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan—ensuring the building is ready for occupancy, identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work, and developing hazard controls to reduce the transmission among workers.


Source: Screenshot of CDC web page


As part of the hazard control guidelines, employers are advised to keep workers at least six feet from one another when possible—including while working and using other parts of the facility (e.g., meeting rooms, break rooms, parking lots, and entrances and exit areas).


At the same time, they’re encouraged to replace “high-touch” communal items like coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives like pre-packaged single-servicing items. Other suggestions include:


  • Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces (and performing enhanced cleaning and disinfections after anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the workplace)—including workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, printers/copiers, drinking fountains, and doorknobs
  • Providing employees with disposable wipes and other cleaning materials so they can properly wipe down frequently touched surfaces before each use
  • Staggering shifts, start times, and break times to reduce the density of employees in common areas


Currently, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person to person. That said, the Center for Disease Control states “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”


More research does need to be conducted to fully understand how the virus spreads, including the role of surfaces with virus particles. While multiple studies have shown that the virus can live on surfaces for hours or even days, a recently conducted study at the University of Bonn in Germany suggests contaminated surfaces might only have a minor role in transmitting COVID-19 in households.


Given some of the guidelines as well as research, many offices may develop policies for shared printers and MFPs that could include signage asking workers to stay six feet apart around the devices, floor tape for employees to stand behind while waiting to use the device, as well as device handling and cleaning policies (e.g., daily disinfecting, wiping the touchscreen before each use, wearing gloves to touch the device). Furthermore, workplaces could use touchless technologies (such as mobile apps) to release print jobs and perform other tasks at the device.


Another option for offices is moving away from shared printer/MFP use to the use of personal printers (e.g., printers on individual desks, in individual offices). This would reverse the move by many workplaces away from small desktop printers to large centralized MFPs that can offer benefits around cost per page, reliability, speed, image quality, and data security.


That said, in recent years, we had seen a shift away from larger A3 machines to A4 products—both for centralized and personal use (including business inkjet products). This is reflected in the evolution of revenue for independent office equipment dealers and resellers.


Source: 2017 Office Channel Survey and 2019 Office Channel Survey


This move has been driven by A4 products integrating A3-level features, “green” benefits of A4 technology, and managed print services agreements that can cover A4 print technology—providing cost and device uptime benefits.


Now, it appears that certain A4-centric manufacturers are looking to accelerate a move to A4 technology through highlighting their benefits for preventing the spread of COVID-19. In a letter to partners, Kyocera Document Solutions America President and CEO Óscar Sánchez discussed this opportunity for Kyocera. One excerpt reads:


“The physical layout of the offices we return to will have changed. There will be a focus to limit the sharing of office equipment such as MFPs and printers. Therefore, after many years of centralized printing and a reduction in the number of desktop devices, it is likely that we see a reversal of this trend: companies will revert back to decentralized printing and individual desktop A4 MFPs and printers.”


Brother is communicating a similar message. It is circulating a brochure recommending a device-to-employee ratio of 4:1 compared to the current 30:1 ratio. It reads:


“With office print volumes declining and workers more mobile than ever, 30 or more workers sharing a centralized copier and printer may not be the best office configuration to support social distancing efforts. A much more manageable employee to device ratio could help ease employee concerns.”


The brochure goes on to say Brother recommends a balanced deployment approach (which Brother has spoken about for some time), which means placing the appropriate number and type of devices within close proximity to the people who actually use them—reducing employee interactions.


While Kyocera and Brother do bring up good points, it’s also true that centralized print technology—whether A3 or A4—can provide many benefits around running costs and feature set. Plus, as mentioned above, workplaces can implement social distancing, regular cleaning, and touchless technology to limit the chance of spreading and catching COVID-19 at a shared device.


Organizations will need to weigh the positives and negatives of having and using shared print technology over time, particularly as research about the spread of the virus evolves, and personal printers incorporate even more powerful features and capabilities.