Office Equipment Trends Receive COVID Boost

Office Market

Gáspár Tőrös

As vaccination rates pick up and pro-booster sentiment grows, offices are experiencing much more traffic than those haunted open spaces and hallways during the shutdowns of the early-COVID days. Office-attendance habits have been remolded by the pandemic and office equipment needs are also changing as a result.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced people into working from home (WFH) scenarios nearly two years ago, there was great uncertainty as to what the longer-term implications might be. Fear of efficiency taking a dent was very present. Nevertheless, people adjusted to the new technological literacy demands so well that it appears office work may never return fully to its pre-pandemic state.

Hybrid models, which are not tied to a full-time office presence but instead design the work experience around the employee, have become an emerging trend among white-collar workers, according to the first-ever Hybrid Work Index (HWI) compiled in 2021 by Cisco, the U.S.-based tech giant.

Millions of aggregated, anonymized customer data points globally recorded in the index suggest that office workers expect greater flexibility and accessibility. In the meantime, businesses must grapple with the increased technological demands. Office work is adjusting to a new normal. Cisco’s HWI findings strike a chord with Epson Hungary’s experience.

“By now, the printer and copier market has learned to live with the pandemic. On the consumer side, this translates to adapting to longer transportation times and supply disruptions,” Gáspár Tőrös, sales manager for business products at the Epson Europe B.V. Hungarian Branch Office, tells the Budapest Business Journal.

Digitalization, a trend that was gaining in significance even before the pandemic’s abrupt wake-up call to slow adopters, sped up almost overnight. The office equipment market, however, took something of a detour.

“On the seller side, we had to accept that demand for paper-based documents has decreased due to corporate offices operating with smaller [or no] staff due to accelerated digitalization,” Tőrös says. “Yet, the months when the majority of our high-performing equipment leased by institutions and corporations operated at often less than 50% of the usual capacity were simply devastating,” the Epson professional adds.

Home Office Kit

However, people forced out of the traditional office environment started to recognize that they were short on the technology they would need to increase their efficiency if they were to make a success of working from the comfort of their homes. While at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees could blame technological hiccups on the unexpected shift and lack of digital infrastructure (or skills); that excuse does not hold anymore. How people buy tech devices for WFH reveals growing consciousness and a positive learning curve.

“Luckily, the shock as mentioned earlier was alleviated by the fact that the majority of employees typically started purchasing new, cost-effective equipment for their home offices, which significantly buoyed demand. Since the first rush [of sales], this effect has naturally slowed but to a certain extent is still present,” Tőrös says.

At-home users of office equipment became better informed. Essentially, they started choosing equipment that could operate more efficiently over items with a lower price tag.

While the boost that digitalization and technology received during the pandemic supported some economies and industries more notably than others, recent global supply chain disruptions are hindering the economic landscape and a significant cause for concern.

“This might be the most significant, long-term effect of the pandemic,” Tőrös says. Although China is at the center of worldwide attention, production and export issues are not exclusive to the economic giant. Output and freight forwarding are disrupted and stuttered almost everywhere.

“We continue to see basic problems with the procurement of parts and raw materials as well as international logistics, and, unfortunately, it is not clear when we will be out of the woods,” according to Tőrös.

Office trends are evolving. Cisco found that 64% of the employees surveyed for its index would consider leaving their jobs if they did not have the freedom to work in a hybrid format. In this context, office equipment and resources usage is being reshaped, too. But how does it affect a primary printer maker?

“It is almost certain that the number of printed pages will remain at a lower level in the long run, yet it is hard to evaluate now whether it is due to the decreased office staffing or the often forced digitalization,” Tőrös says.

Reconsider and Rationalize

While expectations suggest that paper-based documents will always be an integral part of doing business, according to Epson, essentially, the market is facing consolidation. Processes are being reconsidered and rationalized.

“Fortunately, this brings an old endeavor of Epson to the forefront: examining the effect of office work on the environment. Users are starting to pay close attention to the energy consumption and harmful emissions of high-performance equipment, with a special emphasis on hazardous waste. This is a very positive signal,” Tőrös says.

The Epson professional’s mind is on where the trends are nowadays. Businesses realize that acknowledging environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues is no longer a matter of good PR so much as a commercial must. Both clients and employees are increasingly expectant of greater corporate ESG awareness.

And while multiuse printers may be generating less output, they are being put to greater data input: the digitization of hard copy.

“It is a general trend that multifunctional office equipment is increasingly being used for scanning purposes to digitize paper-based documents that arrive through postal mail,” Tőrös says. Modern docketing and case management systems already work with these files.

“However, certain administrative processes will certainly remain in purely digital platforms. The banking and insurance sectors are probably the most advanced in this area, but we see major efforts in government administration as well,” Tőrös concludes.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 28, 2022.

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