Recover by Adapting to Lasting Pandemic Changes

  • Howie Fenton
  • |
  • April 07, 2021

As we continue to plan for the recovery from the pandemic, we have to recognize that while some changes will disappear (masks and social distancing) others are likely to remain, such as staff working from home. This was discussed recently by both Andy Paparozzi the Chief Economist for the PRINTING United Alliance and in-plant managers in an In-plant Impressions webinar entitled "Workflow Automation's Role in Post-COVID Recovery." 

Paparozzi presented a recent webinar and explained the current state of the sign and graphics production industry, based on the results from a survey covering the first quarter of 2021. The forecast by my former NAPL colleague was very positive and Andy explained that it is because the economy itself is showing signs of robust improvement in 2021. He explain that leading economists are projecting the fastest growth the economy will have seen since 1984. And, he said, “if one thing hasn’t changed about our industry, it’s our dependence on the economy.”

However, he also said that not everyone will benefit or fully recover from this severe downturn and he listed some actions or what he called “must-do’s” that will help companies prepare to emerge stronger. One of his suggested must-do's involved acknowledging some of the permanent changes to the working environment. Quoting from an article entitled “Adapt Your Business to the New Reality" on the Harvard Business Review website, Paparazzi divides change created by the pandemic into four quadrants: displacement, boost, innovation and catalyst. (see graphic).

Source: PRINTING United Alliance, State of the Industry Graphic Production

In the figure, the information in black type is from the article and type in magenta was added. In the boost quadrant working from home is noted as “an existing trend temporally accelerated by the crisis”.

In my opinion, while some in-plants allow staff to work from home, I do not believe it has been wide-spread. I would argue that for in-plants it was an Innovation because most in-plants were not previously allowing staff to work from home unless it was a crisis such as snowstorm or another unusual situation. This is important because the trends on the right are permanent and structural which translates to new, important and disruptive. I believe that finding ways for staff to work at home will become a permanent trend.

In-Plant Managers Think Outside the Box

Finding ways to support customers working remotely was also discussed in the In-plant Impressions (IPI) webinar sponsored by Rochester Software Associates (RSA) entitled "Workflow Automation's Role in Post-COVID Recovery." This webinar was moderated by Bob Neubauer, the editor and content director of IPI, and included two in-plant managers, Mike Lincoln the Colorado State Printer, and Dave Bryson, print shop manager for Hillsboro School District in Hillsboro, Oregon. Both managers talked about a variety or RSA tools they use and an innovative way to use a book building module (an optional module of RSA's WebCRD Web to Print software) to allow people to work from home or self-serve assembling documents into one file to save the shop from performing the task.

Mike Lincoln described the motivation for the State of Colorado: “Our governor has decided that 40% of the folks that are working from home today will stay working from home. So, they have found that there's obviously no overheads when you don't have folks in the office. And so, there's opportunity to save dollars and everybody knows what's going to happen with the state economies, it's going to be a tough road for a while.”

Lincoln talked about the evolution of the idea. “We're using a book building module, which is the component that really is used to build books through the digital storefront. But we're modifying the way we're using that. We're using it to allow our remote admins to create correspondence. In the past, they've got a variety of ways they communicate with their constituents, mail being one of them. And in the past, being in the office, a lot of times, they would print two or three sets of one group of correspondence and then some other inserts they would do. And they would collect these things manually, insert them in envelopes and then send over to us to apply postage and mail them out. Well, now that they're working from home, the state doesn't allow folks to print from home, so they needed a way to get work to us so we can print it for them, get it inserted for them and get it mailed for them."

Dave Bryson agreed and said: “We're using WebCRD, we're using QDirect and WebCRD Dynamics. We're also using that same module, the book module that Mike's using. We recently just renamed the module from book assembly to PDF merge. We were getting a lot of people ordering two separate items. And then in the notes saying, ‘Can you please put these together and staple?’

We've had the book assembly module for quite some time and renamed it so that they would see it and realize that they could just merge their files together and then upload. And it's helped out quite a bit."

Lincoln also stated, “This was a cost savings measure to keep some of these folks working from home, maybe a little bit of a windfall for an in-plant organization because we've got to be able to serve those print and mail needs for folks who used to do it themselves. Now they really need us to do it for them or help them get it done.”


By recognizing that some of the changes from the pandemic will disappear and others will remain you will be better positioned to recover and take advantage of the permanent changes. Working from home or working remotely is just one of the changes that will remain. Innovative in-plants will find ways to take advantage of these changes and convert them from threats to opportunities.

Learn More About Adapting Your Workflow to Recover

RSA and our valued production print partners can help you assess the pandemic changes and discuss ways you can adapt your shop's workflow and processes to recover from permanent changes.   


About the Author

Howie Fenton

Howie Fenton is an independent consultant and trusted advisor to in-plant printers. He recommends equipment, best practices and workflow automation tools to streamline operations. To learn more about measuring performance, benchmarking to leaders, and improving your value e-mail

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