Coronavirus Empties In-plants, Decimates Print Work
What a week. No in-plant has been spared from the effects of the novel coronavirus. Universities have closed, companies are making employees work from home, spring events have been canceled – nothing is normal right now.
As the world shuts down, in-plant managers are doing their best to continue serving their organizations, even as the need for printed materials plummets. Course materials, programs for events, business cards: no one needs them right now. Who’s going to look at a poster when everyone’s at home?
I’ve tried to keep in touch with managers as they scramble to adapt to this crazy new world. From what I’m hearing, many managers at smaller operations are now running the shops themselves. Others have split staff into two shifts to keep people apart. Some now have a compressed schedule of a few hours a day and a couple days a week. Others are working from home and only going in when necessary. Some are offering curbside pickup of orders so customers don’t have to come into the shop. And some in-plants have been shut down completely along with their entire campus.
Many are using this downtime to make long-delayed shop improvements and do more organizing. Some are training staff while production is slow. Those in the midst of Web-to-print implementations suddenly have all the time they need to coordinate this.
As to whether the in-plant is considered “essential,” that varies by organization. But one thing seems universal: all in-plants I’ve heard from are focusing on doing all they can to support their organizations during this crisis. Some are trekking into their shops despite campus shutdowns to pick up mail and get it delivered to a key departments (sometimes delivering to their homes).
As Richard Beto from the University of Texas at Austin put it: “Now is the time to shine if you are given the opportunity.”
The majority of managers I’ve heard from are at universities, most of which have gone to e-learning, leaving campuses empty. The long-term fear is that the current lack of need for printed educational support materials will continue beyond this pandemic. Indeed there are many printed pieces that customers are learning to do without right now. Will they return to ordering them once this is over?
As I scramble to complete the April issue of the magazine from my home “office,” where I’ve been secluded all week, it’s been difficult to stay in touch with managers to find out how the coronavirus is impacting them. At the moment, the best I can offer are the following replies to a question I posed on Facebook, asking managers about their status. As I get more settled in this new office environment (and get used to the tiny laptop I’m forced to do all this work on) I will bring you more in-depth reports from the in-plant community, including video interviews with managers.
Randall Bramlett, Columbus State University
We are working with a skeleton crew. The management team is working from home. Campus is a ghost town with classes shut down for two weeks, and then going to online classes for the remainder of the semester. There is a very real probability that graduation in May will be cancelled. We have had only a couple of calls and work orders come in. We expect for the two week period to be extended, and campus may very well face complete shutdown
Chelle Palmer, Richland (WA) School District
Our school district is closed but all of the administrators and support services are going to be working through the shutdown. In the print shop I had some planned work I was saving for spring break. Moving things around, getting the shop painted the floors done, ordering new work tables, working on updating WebCRD website. We seem to be keeping busy. Teachers have one more week that they can get in the buildings and pick up items they will need, so they are sending in copy jobs that they will somehow get to students. If we completely run out of work they will offer my staff work in other areas.
Dave Weber, Highline College
Since I can't really telecommute, I have convinced our VP that I should be considered essential staff and be allowed to work in the shop. I will be working alone through the break. I am not concerned about going to campus. I am basically just traveling between my home and the shop and then back home again. I have my entrance doors locked for security purposes. I have signs posted on the doors telling visitors (there are only a few) to call my cell number for entry.
All event printing has been canceled, so mostly I’m printing marketing materials. We haven't seen a business card order for two weeks, and I don't expect anybody will need any for a while.
Just got a phone call from the warehouse manager. They need me to print signage regarding next week’s closure of receiving, so the truck drivers will have a visual before the back up their rigs to the loading dock.
We just received an email this morning from college HR that the campus is closing to all staff the week of Mar 23-27 for deep cleaning by the custodial staff. I’m going to see if I can continue to be here and offer to deep clean the shop myself, following their guidelines. I hate the idea of sitting at home for a week, not able to be at the shop, my second home. If they say no to my offer, I’m going to then ask if I can join the custodial team next week and help them clean campus.
Fred Reese, Montgomery Country, Ohio
Print shop staff were told they get this week and next off. I am mostly working from home and outsourcing any orders. Many of the county agencies have reduced staff but because of the nature of their service to the public they cannot close (Courts, Child support, Children Services, Sheriff, Job and Family, etc.). Also, so those agencies can continue to function our Mail Services staff are essential employees and are working but we have cut some unessential services. This will allow us to require less staff during this time.
Lora Connaughton, University of North Texas
UNT print/mail is currently open though slow. All my staff that can are working remotely including myself. Running shop with having rotating days off but keeping operations available. To add to, issues our building is undergoing extensive renovations while it is occupied.
Liz Ann Bowden, University of Illinois
We are still open as usual. Digital printing is pretty much at a screeching halt. But, we did have major tech work planned on our equipment this week. Mailing prep has been slammed with production and has as many borrowed hands that they can get. The main issue aside from how can people who physically produce things work from home has been modified mail pickup times. It was too many specific requests so we sent a message to the campus community with our modified schedule. I'm also at the point of making homemade hand sanitizer because we can't get anymore. With eight of our staff having jobs that increase their risk of exposure, I'm trying to do everything I can to keep them safe.
Nate Riggins, EMC Insurance
We’re still open here at EMC Insurance. We’re talking about having our prepress team work from home and then putting in a rotating shift within the printshop. Maybe one week on and one week off with paid leave. We are working around schedules that involve the need to stay home with kids that are normally in school.
Gayle Robinson, Tanner Health System
We’re open and running lots of emergency cling signs, posters, etc. for COVID19. I run the shop for a small healthcare system in Georgia, so we are busy with emergencies concerning the virus but our regular work is down since events and classes are being canceled through at least the end of April. We are a two person shop, so we are keeping our distance from each other and sanitizing constantly
Paul Bethel, BCBS Louisiana
Don’t know how anybody in printing can work from home. While most of our 2500 employees are working from home, printing is still fully staffed and running like normal. Work has not slowed down yet, but I imagine after too long it will.
Tammy Meeks Elliott, The University of the South
We’re open as usual. Spring break has been extended a week, then students will be online to finish the semester. Very few jobs are coming in since a number of events were canceled. We are using this time for training and to catch up on projects we had to put on the back burner. To keep our customers and staff safe, we are asking people not to enter our building. Completed jobs are being placed on our porch once the customer has called saying they are on their way. It has worked great with no complaints.
Lynda Casey, Pitzer College
Like a lot of colleges and universities we have shut down with just a few employees on campus. Duplicating is under the umbrella of Information Technologies and at this time our office is open with alternating days for my associate and I until April 6th. Starting April 6th we will be working from home helping assist our faculty teaching from home. We are being paid through the summer due to summer school classes.
Bill Kasper, University of California, Santa Cruz
All five of my employees between the two units are working onsite, still producing our readers and preparing for a push to get them online (though still paid, even though we're not running them through the printers, we're cleaning and assembling them). The other project we're working on is mailing the accepted admissions packets, which we started before this all got real. In fact, Admissions is having us put together an extra 10,000 mailings they were going to do another way, given the staffing issues on campus.
Copier Program staff are supporting our MFDs and customers that remain on our campus after our chancellor gave the order for essential staff only the other day. To grow my staff during the next five months of slowdown (remote operations and remote instruction) I'll be tasking them with things that need to be dealt with: online training, website updates, setting up for deployment of new technologies, etc.
We're focusing on social distancing (everyone's desks are 6' apart or more), cleaning (hands, keyboards, door handles, production devices and MFDs), and illness awareness (family ill or first sign of illness, stay home). Fortunately, the president of the UC issued an executive order yesterday granting everyone 128 hours of additional leave with pay. That's not enough to get through the next (estimated) 5 months; three of my employees have fewer than 2 weeks total paid leave accrued, so that's at most a month or five weeks for them. So we are making sure they're essential, keeping all operations open and keeping them working on projects to the betterment of our units.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.