From the Editor: Dark Times Ahead
Winter is coming, and from the sound of things we have some long, dark days ahead of us. As COVID-19 cases surge around the country, I’ve been hearing increasingly more stories of in-plants affected by infections.
Duke University’s copy center was entirely shut down after everyone on staff tested positive for COVID-19. Colorado’s state printing operation closed for two days as a precaution after several staff tested positive. Several managers are in quarantine at home after being exposed to sick people at work or in their personal lives. And all these operations have been following strict social distancing, masking, and sanitizing procedures.
Everywhere, in-plant staff are fed up with wearing masks and staying distanced. Tensions flare on occasion. Chin masking sometimes seems more common than effective masking, and people are reluctant to reprimand coworkers about it. In one in-plant, the manager’s boss refused to wear a mask, even to conference room meetings. Scolding seems unwise.
After a summer of lower infections, everyone has dropped their guard; now that cases are climbing quickly, sickness is making its way into in-plants. Several managers have told me of staff members testing positive. In one in-plant it was a delivery driver who traveled all over campus before showing symptoms. At another shop, the 26-year-old son of a staff member was in the hospital with COVID-19. A few managers mentioned coworkers who have died of the coronavirus.
Managers are feeling frustrated. They can rigorously enforce social distancing and masks in the shop, but they have no idea how lax their employees are being on their own time. I have family members whose employees have gone to weddings and parties, then come to work feeling slightly ill because they didn’t want to have to take a sick day. (Even the corporate policy requiring them to report symptoms each morning was thwarted; they just lied.)
It seems incredible that some people still aren’t taking a deadly pandemic seriously, but just as people run stop signs or text and drive when they know they shouldn’t, there will always be those who think more about not getting caught than they do about the potential harm they could cause others.
As for the pandemic’s business impact on in-plants, it has been bad. Though printing COVID-19-related signage has been a boon for many, and even propelled the Houston Independent School District’s in-plant to record revenue numbers, wide-format work has not been enough to keep most in-plants in the black. In a recent Zoom call I had with managers from universities all over the country, they estimated revenues were down from 40% to a “devastating” 90%. Much of their printing is usually done for student events, which have all been cancelled. Student traffic in their campus copy centers is almost nonexistent. Recruitment materials in some cases are being sent out in digital form. One manager that installed a six-color offset press just last year worries his shop may have to exit the offset business.
Many have been inspired by the pandemic to add services and do things differently. Some examples: adding home delivery of proofs and finished jobs for remote staff; printing onto acrylic to make awards; installing a digital envelope printer to get into this business; exploring becoming a promotional products distributor. Cedarville University’s plan to install electronic package lockers and mailboxes next year was accelerated due to the pandemic and they will now be in place by Christmas. And while volumes may be down, the University of Oklahoma is optimistic enough about the future that it installed a second Kodak NexFinity digital press.
The next few months are going to be tough for all of us. Keep your staff engaged and seek their input on new initiatives like these that will help your in-plant stay relevant. Stress how important their participation in safety precautions is to their jobs and the survival of the in-plant. We will get through this, and I look forward to the time when I can see many of you again at a conference or trade show. Until then, stay safe and healthy, and let’s all pray for a better 2021.
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.