Supply chain pinching also hits offices as employers struggle to procure light, ink and paper

Light bulbs that burned out while employees worked remotely are pictured in an office in the Anthropology Department at UC Riverside on November 4, 2021. Sara Becker / Document via REUTERS

Employers accustomed to dealing with COVID-19 issues while trying to get workers back to their offices said they faced an unforeseen challenge: keeping the lights on.

Global supply chain disruptions caused by plant closures in Asia, congestion at U.S. ports, and a nationwide labor shortage have resulted in shortages of microchips and manufacturing materials. widely publicized construction.

Today, these issues are causing shortages of everyday office supplies, from printer ink and toner to paper to light bulbs.

For example, when anthropology professor Sara Becker returned to her desk at the University of California at Riverside in early November, she noticed that several light bulbs had burned out in the eight months she had worked remotely.

An assistant on her department contacted facilities for replacements, and Becker was asked what percentage of light bulbs in her office were off.

“I am an anthropologist, not a mathematician! Becker joked on Twitter. Becker said in an email interview that instead of counting the light bulbs, she sent photos of her dark office to the facilities department, which college spokesperson John Warren says is lacking in supplies. lighting and lamps.

For offices and workers, these supply issues – which can translate into headaches at work – only add to the obstacles businesses face in getting people back to the office.

Earlier variants of the coronavirus, such as Delta, have already forced companies to push back the dates they hoped most employees would start returning to their offices. It is possible that the Omicron variant, first detected in the United States on Wednesday, will further delay openings.

Now, simply securing general lighting supplies takes up to 13 weeks longer than normal, said Cheryl Carron, whose duties include leading facilities management for global commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle.

“It’s a tall order as we take a look at how we bring people back to work,” Carron said in an interview. “This is a really critical need and one that we take for granted. “

Companies around the world have sounded the alarm bells over supply issues, which have driven up prices for raw materials, from chemicals to steel. Concern dominated the final season of earnings, as mentions of the problem by business leaders jumped 412%.

U.S. Customs data showed that imports of glass light bulbs for use in incandescent lamps fell 25% between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of this year, during which time the problems of the supply chain have struck for the first time.

Imports have since rebounded but are still below pre-pandemic levels. The United States gets most of its incandescent light bulbs from Taiwan.

In addition to the light bulbs, a source at one of the major retail banks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said spare parts for heating and air conditioning units in its branch network were scarce.

In a recent earnings call, the CEO of ODP Corp. Gerry Smith, whose company owns the Office Depot and OfficeMax supermarket chains, said the company anticipates a shortage of printer ink and toner until early next year.

And a Midwestern law firm asked staff in an email last month to reduce printing because they run out of paper, according to a copy of the email seen by Reuters. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Peter Lorenz, director of office facilities and operations at the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, said they had also experienced paper shortages and delays in obtaining light bulbs at the firm’s office in New York, a 360,000 square foot space that before the pandemic was occupied by about 500 employees.

Supplies have increased since mid-October, Lorenz said, as employees began to return to a hybrid work model, in which they split time between that workplace and remote work.

“I think a lot of suppliers have sort of banded together in order to have a pretty good inventory of what we need,” he said in a phone interview.

If there’s a silver lining to this puzzle, said Carron of Jones Lang LaSalle, it’s in the lessons building managers have learned from the shortages triggered by last year’s pandemic.

“They have toilet paper,” she joked.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts Marshall and Maria Caspani, with additional reporting by Herb Lash; editing by Megan Davies and Jonathan Oatis)

– Reuters

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