How do you define the ‘print industry?’ To borrow a lyric from The Sound of Music, how do you catch a cloud and pin it down? So vast is its context and so far-reaching is its impact, exploring the future of work in relation to the print industry has its challenges. The long-term effects on the way we work being caused by the pandemic are already showing signs that they’re sticking around – many corporate giants such as Facebook, Google, and American Express are extending home working policies into 2021, with Twitter pretty much telling employees they can work from home ‘forever’ if they so choose. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company experienced ‘2 years of digital transformation in 2 months‘. Can lasting change be that simple for businesses in print?
COVID-19 is a trend accelerator in a lot of areas. The shift towards flexible working, digital transformation, the adoption of technology that aids ‘smart’ practices and Industry 4.0. These trends were growing steadily pre-pandemic, but weren’t enough to completely topple decades of legacy infrastructure and the ingrained routines of the twentieth century working world. But then along came COVID, and businesses are being pushed into the future of work rather than choosing to jump.
For those in the print industry who have an office-based role that can be carried out from home, it’s a little easier to adapt…for now. Long-term, what will our cities look like if public transport, buildings and retail and hospitality spaces don’t revolve around commuters and the idea of travelling to work each day? How will company cultures shift and adapt as we remold working hours, job roles, and employment practices? How will our home lives change as we find ourselves with a need to divide work and home? Working from the dining table instead of your office desk is a short-term solution to what is sure to be a series of long-term challenges and changes.
To carry out the ‘printing’ aspect of the print industry, and every other production process that goes into creating a print product, the future is a little different. Again, COVID is accelerating existing trends, and it’s certainly driving Industry 4.0 practices – PSPs with a strong automation and interconnectivity framework and robust digital workflow solutions are most likely better positioned to weather the pandemic storm than those who have been slower to adopt.
In January I identified a tech trend for print to watch, Industry 5.0, and have since spoken on the topic in relation to COVID-19. Industry 5.0 is about the rehumanisation of automation and a more harmonious relationship between humans and machines. If the pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink and reboot, it’s worth making sure your automation and smart practices are purposeful and necessary and are able to free up the amazing human beings you employ to put their creativity and ingenuity to better use. It’s about asking, why are we doing things this way? It’s a question current circumstances are forcing us to reckon with.
The ‘why’ at the moment is of course a global pandemic hanging over our heads, but it is an opportunity to ask that question for the long term. Why are we still clinging on to the traditional ‘working week’? Why are we afraid of flexibility? Why are we still tying up so much revenue in leasing costs? Why is our workflow set up in this particular way?
What can we do right now to embrace change? What does the future of our business look like? What does the future of our workforce look like? What does the future of our industry look like? If we can ask the right questions, we’re on our way to finding the answers.
Karis Copp is a UK-based writer, journalist, and communications expert. With a background as an editor and public relations specialist in the print industry, she now works on a freelance basis covering events, writing on industry news and trends, and working with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.