There has been much discussion in the media for months now about remote working and contactless commerce. These are practices that were swiftly implemented once it became apparent how contagious the virus really was. Will they last beyond COVID-19? I think they will for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is public health. In addition, in a recent McKinsey survey, 80% of the people surveyed reported they enjoy working from home, and more than half of those reported they are more productive than they were in the office. In addition, as early as April, 62% of Americans were already working from home at least part of the time.

In the daily operation of printing companies the following positions/people could work remotely most of the time:

  • Print buyers
  • Print sales reps
  • Accounting
  • Human resources
  • Estimating
  • Purchasing
  • Customer service
  • Non-manufacturing executives

All of these functions could experience improvements in productivity and effectiveness. They gain the time back that has been used commuting to and from work. There are fewer “casual interruptions.” It works well for mothers, especially single ones, with children. In addition, you could probably attract people from a broader geography if the commute is largely gone. For the bottom six of the eight jobs listed, the impacts are generally positive.

The top two jobs, print buyers and print sales reps, could experience a few negative impacts that will alter the process. This is especially true if client organizations continue to enforce the safety practice of contactless commerce. In addition, there might be an insistence to deliver anything and everything using a “virus-free” method. (Hint: Look into how FedEx and Amazon are already packing and delivering merchandise to homes and businesses in ways that thwart the spread of viruses and germs.)

We have learned that, with proper technology in place, remote working is feasible and productive. Not everyone is behaviorally suited for it and some sort of behavioral assessment needs to be done before a permanent assignment is made. There are differences in work discipline and effective communication for the remote worker vs. the office environment. There are also important differences in supervising remote workers vs. workers in the office environment. You really need to know that the right behavioral traits are present in people assigned to work at home. The same thing applies to managers who must now manage remote workers. Do a good assessment to avoid failures down the road.

Combining remote workers with non-contact policies is a game changer for many long-term, legacy sales people. Remote print buyers under non-contact policies will not want you to personally deliver proofs, samples, or quotes to their homes. Having them delivered in a way that eliminates the potential presence of viruses and germs will be more costly and consume more time in a process already under pressure to reduce time to market. This will be a challenge.

For everyone in the list above, but especially for print buyers and print sales reps, a heavy reliance on video-conference calls will develop. This is important. It is necessary to foster and maintain trust in the relationships with your customers. It is one thing to hear someone tell you something and quite another to calibrate what is being said with the eye contact and body language you see as they say it.

It’s a given that the following will be part of the “next normal.”

  1. There will be more workplace regulations regarding social distancing, masks, and personal hygiene. These will impact your workflows and the physical layout of your shop, especially in the office areas. You will need to evaluate the additional overhead costs you can take on or decide you need to move permanently to remote working on some basis. And, remember, it’s not only about cost, but also the health and safety of your employees.
  2. As I’m sure Jenn Matt would agree, this will force you and your employees to understand how to optimize the functionality of your software. I’m talking about both MIS and workflow software. If you’re not happy with your software when everybody is in the building you will not be happy with people working remotely.
  3. If you have concerns about the motivation, productivity, and quality of work of employees you’re considering as remote workers, it is a wise investment to assess them for the behavioral competencies needed for successful remote working.

There is a lot to think about as we prepare for our customers to ratchet their print buying back up again. Many of us, for health and safety reasons, will be forced to move in this direction. If you are interested in exploring this further, I encourage you to leave a comment here online. You are also welcome to contact me personally at [email protected]. We have the tools and expertise to help you figure who is well suited for remote working and who is not.