The shift to a work-from-home (WFH) model, thought to be merely a stopgap measure back in the spring of 2020, is starting to look more and more permanent, requiring many businesses to make long-term decisions on how best to equip home workers with the tools and hardware needed to do their jobs. Some of those decisions were easy – the procedures for ordering and provisioning additional laptops, for instance, didn’t necessarily change. But what about printing and scanning needs? A workgroup copier will probably not fit in people’s home offices, kitchens, or walk-in closets (yes, home workers with kids attending virtual school, we see you).

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “everything is digital – no one needs to print” – well, no. Many jobs still require printing, and those digital documents are not, in many cases, born digital and require scanning into the system. Many remote workers will still require MFPs – just not the ledger-sized behemoths that sit in the common areas of an office. Organizations seeking to outfit home workers need smaller devices. Printer manufacturers, cognizant of this shift, have also turned toward a broader range of more agile letter/legal-sized devices, many of which are well-suited for home-office use. This means a broader range of buying options.

Consumers looking for a home-office desktop device are most likely to go the retail route. A family shopping for a printer for shared work and school use, for instance, will probably go to Amazon or hit Best Buy. To the chagrin of many a managed print services (MPS) provider, that has often been the case for offices as well – sales reps going into offices to do assessments find offices full of unmanaged desktop devices purchased from retailers. In an ideal world, those devices were removed and replaced with managed workgroup devices to improve security, reduce IT headaches and get proactive with toner replacement. Now organizations need desktop devices again – so do they head back out to Best Buy or outfit home workers as they would office workers? What’s the difference?

Retail purchase

Retail seems like the simplest purchasing approach – you mask up and walk into a store, or just jump online. And indeed, for a one-off personal use purchase, it can be the best option. However, once we’re talking about an organization outfitting multiple workers, it gets a bit more complicated. A bulk purchase of devices that are the same model and use the same consumables will allow some streamlining when it comes to supplies and service, but this assumes all users have the same needs. Purchasing a color device for 10 users when only two have job functions that require color printing will increase costs unnecessarily. Retail purchasers may end up with a mishmash of brands and device types, which can be an inventory nightmare or place extra burden on the worker.

It’s also important to keep in mind the total cost of ownership (TCO) when making any printer purchase. The price tag on the device is only one piece of the puzzle; the cost of ink or toner and any service and maintenance costs also come into play. A low up-front price is often offset by astronomical consumables costs or the need for frequent maintenance.

And let’s not forget security. Printers on home networks present the same security threats as those on corporate networks, meaning users can’t just plug and play.  WFH is not a “get out of jail free card” from an organization’s need to protect itself and its data — security policies still need managing.

While retail is a viable option for outfitting home workers, it requires a lot of due diligence by whoever is purchasing and managing the fleet.

Dealer purchase

There was a time when a copier dealership wouldn’t necessarily have been the first stop for a desktop print device, but even before the pandemic, manufacturers had expanded their ranges of smaller devices to meet the needs of a broad array of users, including home office workers. Designed with features that help organizations manage print costs and meet security and compliance requirements, these compact MFPs work well to fit into a home office. For companies with dealer relationships and contracts already in place, it almost certainly makes sense to start with that dealer for home-office needs as well. And for businesses that felt they were too small to use a dealer in the past, the home office has become the great equalizer.

If your business is already working with a dealership for its office printers and copiers, you’re probably familiar with the typical pricing models, which may be a CPC (cost per copy, or cost per click) or a managed print services agreement. In general, a dealership packages print devices under agreements that include a certain number of pages, or clicks, and may include supplies, maintenance and services. These services can include device usage monitoring, proactive service call dispatch, automated supplies replenishment, and endpoint security.

Another benefit for those looking to go the dealer route is that many dealerships have begun including home office printers in their corporate agreements or offering new pricing packages designed for the WFH model. This is advantageous in that it allows a corporate administrator to monitor those home devices just as they did in the office and ensure optimized use. It also allows the implementation of security features, which is important as home workers have become a target for cyberattacks.

There is no single right answer for where to purchase state-of-the-art multifunction printers, and regardless of which purchase option your business goes with, there are a lot of great options when it comes to outfitting home workers with smaller print devices. As we move toward digitization and yet continue to need print, look to print hardware manufacturers to keep up with current needs and offer solutions for all types of offices.