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Crossroads of change

Matthew B

The copier has always been a vital part of office life. Beside it being an essential business tool, it was often around the printer that there was some form of expletive-laced discussion about its failure to print or scan a document.

And then we all went home, and our OKIs, HPs, and Konica Minoltas fell silent, their blinking lights from a forgotten print job the only illumination in the darkened office. It’s hard to get a picture of actual office attendance nowadays, but anecdotally, it seems that many businesses are still following a hybrid model, with staff only at the office on certain days, for a meeting, for example. The roads are also quieter, parking lots emptier.

In many ways, we’re still coming to terms with this great shift to home work, and some have found it easier to adapt than others. As I write this towards the end of May, I read a Guardian story about an employee at a tech firm in Taipei who says there’s still a strong culture of mistrust among her bosses. At the time, Taiwan was heading into another strict lockdown, forcing, as the article said, businesses to confront its entrenched culture of ‘presenteeism’.

As one person was quoted as saying, Taiwan’s work culture is incapable of trusting its employees. The picture seems to be a little different here, and it appears that many corporates in South Africa are finding that staff are more productive.
 
I spoke to Marc Pillay, the CEO of Konica Minolta in South Africa, who told me that his wife, who works in HR at a major bank, has not set foot in the office since the first lockdown last year. One measure of this shift is that there's a lot less printing going on. In the media industry, and particularly in newspapers and magazines, printers used to be humming the whole day as editors, layout and graphics people, as well as sub-editors, lined up to collect pages of copy from the machines.

The belief was that you could only proof a page ‘on paper’, and that somehow it was easier to spot discrepancies and mistakes. This, in fact, has turned out not to be true, and it’s just as easy to spot a typo on screen as it is when printed. That was just the way it had always been done. But still, as you’ll read in a couple of articles in this issue, printing is not dead; in fact, it’s making something of a comeback. What Konica Minolta has realised, and doubtless the other vendors, is that there’s now an opportunity to manage the digital workflow in a company.

You’ll also read about how the world of events and conferences has changed, and how it’s much easier, though perhaps not as satisfying, to attend conferences online. It’s certainly easier for the speakers, but perhaps not as lucrative. And I do wonder about the global hospitality industry. Meanwhile, we use less petrol and spend less time getting to, and preparing for, the office. I think we’re more efficient. But it’s not all good news.

Many people have lost their jobs, and those who remain are probably working harder. We know the world has changed, but we’re only just getting to grips with what it means.

Matthew Burbidge Editor matthew@itweb.co.za

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