The sort of social awkwardness displayed in the TV series The Office hasn’t changed much since the UK original was first shown back in 2001. But the background environment has: the role of the printer is no longer the same.

In that series, as in most offices of the time, the printer played a particular role, being essential to getting work completed as well as acting as a meeting point for staff. Forget ‘watercooler moments’ – printer moments were more likely to be the reality.

The printer market back then was focused on adding features to products, an approach that served it well for many years, despite all the talk of the paperless office. “But today, digitisation is fundamentally changing the way that we work,” Joanne Pilkington, senior customer insight analyst at office equipment company Brother, told the MRS B2B conference (London, June 2019).

It’s certainly the case that the number of pages printed is declining, although not necessarily by as much as one might expect – 2.8% by 2022 is the figure she quoted – but there are other factors at work as well, including flexible working and the cost pressures imposed by office space. “Office space is becoming more efficient,” she noted, “so businesses are looking at the space that’s available to them.”

The changing office