MetaFAQs are answers to frequently asked questions about technology users. They are drawn from the MetaFacts TUP/Technology User Profile datasets, the latest research developed through surveys. TUP/Technology User Profile 2020 is in its 38th continuous year.
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Are you reading this from home? That makes you one of the 391 million of online adults working remotely we found in our TUP/Technology User Profile survey across 6 countries. If you are like the average employee around the world, you are also reading this on your own PC, tablet, or smartphone, and not one provided by your employer.
Home PCs are the new work PCs
Insights professionals in the tech industry already know from personal experience about working remotely. It was not too long ago that many researchers would be balancing notebooks on their knees in darkened focus group viewing rooms while reaching for another M&M or two. (Not that there’s anything wrong with M&M’s). However, most of the world’s employees do not have experience as remote workers, nor are they set up properly.
Working from home and working remotely have already been part of a long-term trend towards digital transformation. From the multi-decades-long move from desktop to mobile PCs, to the decade of rapid smartphone penetration and home Wi-Fi, consumers have more access than ever before. Terms like digital nomads and road warriors have lent a sense of panache to a lifestyle that has a certain effectiveness, if not comfort. However, in many cases, technology products and services have been pushing to generate demand rather than meet it. Many occupations, from factory work and food preparation to restaurant service, are best done in a fixed location away from home. Without question, digital transformation has been sped up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those fortunate enough to have jobs that can be done in whole or part from home have continued employment and income where others may not. As reported in an earlier TUPdate, working from home is for the socioeconomically privileged.
The rise in working from home
Employees that had not been exclusively working from home are now doing so. From our TUP/Technology User Profile 2020 wave (fielded in August 2020), we found that over half of employed online adults in the US and UK work exclusively from home. In Germany, Japan, and China, this rate is nearer to one-third or one-fourth. In India, 87% of online respondents who are still employed full-time or part-time work exclusively from home.
Working from home governmental mandates and choices by employers and employees have affected employers of all size and types, although unequally.
From February 2020 and before, remote working has been a feature of smaller US and German employers before the lockdowns. Even in Germany, the UK and China, while rates are relatively low, the rates among smaller employers are higher than among larger employers.
After February 2020, working from home is new to employees among employers of all sizes. However, working from home is especially new for employees of large employers. That is the case among all the countries we surveyed and for those employers with 500 to 999, or 1,000 or more employees.
Enlightened employers are few, yet growing
A small number of nimble, enlightened, or forward-thinking employers have risen to the COVID-19 challenge and are providing PCs and other technology to their employees working at home. The number is small, ten percent or less across multiple countries. Employees using an employer-provided work PC that they use at home and not in the workplace number 10% in the US, 9% in the UK, and 8% in India. These are the top countries among those surveyed.
Employees have borne the brunt of supporting their ability to work from home, with roughly half of employed adults working exclusively from home using their home PCs for any of a long list of work-related activities.
While the year 2020 has certainly been singular in the worldwide response to COVID-19, this support by employees has been a long-term trend. What has changed is the intensity of work using home PCs, which has become the hub for many employees.
Home PCs being used for work-related activities
Currently employed online adults have been resourceful using their home PCs for getting work done. Communication is key, with home PCs being used for everyday work email to web-based chats and meetings. Furthermore, employees are using their home PCs to tap into cloud services for storing files and collaborating on documents.
Whether or not having meetings follow employees home is more productive or less so is still open to confirmation. Employees working from home reported major productivity benefits including in their top five: less time commuting, money savings on gas and work clothes, and more flexibility. Also in their top five were human issues: being able to spend more time with family and pets, and being able to minimize the impact of COVID-19, whether by not getting infected themselves or not risking spreading it to others.
The current situation is unlikely to persist as it is very long for many reasons, many of which are beyond the scope of the TUP/Technology User Profile survey. It is economically unsustainable to have so many employees not employed, underemployed, or doing work that is not part of their main occupation. Many occupations and industries simply do not lend themselves to remote work, such as manufacturing and service jobs. As fun as VR headsets can be, current technology can only support so much. While the current situation may spur stepped up innovation, and that is certainly happening in some sectors, it seems unlikely that changes will come rapidly enough for more than only a few sectors.
Beyond that, employers, many of whom are already fiscally challenged, may be hard-pressed to come to the table with even basic personal computers, printers, and internet connections. Employers certainly have not shown precedent. Historically, most employees have paid for their own technology to do work outside of the workplace, from their personal home PCs, home printers, and smartphones purchased personally. That is especially true for U.S. employees. In TUPdates to come, we will be analyzing more of the TUP results with a focus on those working from home. We will be looking more deeply into the technology they are using for work and play, what they are planning to buy, the brands they are using, and profiling who they are. We will be especially drilling down in the TUP datasets to look more closely at parents, industries, the self-employed, and students.
The information referred to in this TUPdate is based on the results gathered in TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, its 38th annual wave, and based on surveys in to the US, UK, Germany, Japan, China, and India.
Current subscribers to TUP/Technology User Profile will be receiving a full report on working from home and remote work as part of TUP and its Work/Life Balance section. Also, clients with inquiry privileges may request more detailed analysis into their own choice of market segments, technology products and services.
Progress toward work-life separation, until sudden integration
I will admit to having recently used more than one cliché about these being “unprecedented times” or even that we’re headed towards a “new normal”.
When it comes to work-life balance, what was “normal” is all-too “precedented”. For years, PCs have enabled American employees to bring work home. Enabling is not always a positive characteristic, depending on one’s perspective. No sooner had employees scaled down their work at home, minimizing their commingled work and personal activities, then along came COVID-19.
Employees using Home PCs for work – a recent history
For decades, employees have slowly separating their personal and work lives. Step by step, application by application, employees had been using their home PCs for fewer and fewer work-related tasks. In the MetaFacts 2015 wave of TUP/Technology User Profile, we found that one in three US employees regularly used their home PCs for work email, one in five to search for work-related financial or other information, and one in six to manage work appointments or share files. By our 2019 wave, we found that home PC usage levels for these work activities had dropped to around two-thirds of these levels.
Now that six in ten US employees are working from home, and with almost half (49%) using a home-owned PC, their home PC is getting a lot of work-related use.
In addition to the work activities employees had been avoiding on their home PC, the home or work PC employees are using at home to work is being utilized for an even wider range of activities than before. Well beyond checking work emails, employee communications have broadened well beyond emails to include video calls, group video meetings, and group chats.
Also, more than ever before, there is currently deeper collaboration through shared cloud storage systems and platforms.
The work-life balance challenge made more visible
With so many working from home, the work-life balance challenge is more visible. Six out of ten US employees are working from home and not going to a workplace, a rate we found remained effectively stable in each of our May 7th (61%), April 15th (59%) and earlier April 8th (61%) and MetaFacts Pulse survey waves that included this question.
Interestingly, how employees use their work-from-home PC is different from how they recently used their employer-provided work PC. Employees are spending less time in face-to-time meetings and using their PCs as a focal communicating point to get things done.
Less than a year ago, in our MetaFacts TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 wave, we found employees used their work PCs to do similar activities as we found in our May 7th MetaFacts Pulse survey, although to a greater extent. Employees are using their work-at-home PCs more intensively than they had been using their work PCs. For every type of work-related or personal activities, a higher share of employees is doing the activity than before.
The active life of the work-at-home PC
Among employees working from home in May, 84% are using a PC, whether owned by their employer (35%) or themselves (49%). Their work-related activities are strongly intermixed with their personal activities, except for personal activities with a work PC. Many employers that provide PCs, especially larger employers, lock down the capabilities of the work PC to restrict its use to certain work apps or activities. Also, employees have learned to separate their personal communication activities onto other platforms, especially to use their smartphones.
American workers choose different video platforms for video calls than meetings, and for personal versus work-related matters
US employees have continued to have work meetings – essentially moving from face-to-face meetings to video platforms. With widespread stay-at-home orders in place, video platforms for calls as well as for group meetings have grown in use among employees as well as the general online public, and for personal as well as work-related matters.
However, there is no one single dominant platform for all subjects and numbers of participants. The closest thing to a dominant platform is Zoom, with Skype in the wings. Zoom and Skype are in the top-ranked platforms for both personal and work matters, as well as for calls and multi-person meetings.
Consumer-focused WhatsApp is top-ranked for personal use and among the main platforms being used for work video conferences, likely a surprise to many company’s IT/IS managers.
Corporate-oriented Microsoft Teams and WebEx are ranked within work-related calls and conferences.
Fewer video conferencing platforms for work than for personal
There appear to be more standards in place for work-related videoconferences. While the mean number of platforms in use is close to 3 for personal calls and conferences, as well as for work-related video calls, the mean is closer to 2 platforms for work video conferencing platforms.
Today’s long tail for work video conferencing platforms
The largest number of American workers (37%) use only one video conferencing platform for work-related issues. The rest (63%) are juggling many. This reflects the current state of confusion following the rapid move to working at home. Employers are likely to reduce the number of platforms used, at least within their companies. Standardization helps employees to be more efficient, and can also help employers to strike more favorable pricing with platform providers. However, many outward-facing employees have the same challenge as consumers – finding a common platform when communicating with others who have their own different standards.
About this TUPdate
The information referred to in this special TUPdate is based on independent research conducted by MetaFacts: three waves of MetaFacts Pulse surveys and two waves of TUP/Technology User Profile.
The projections of total US employees are based on TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 conducted among 8,060 respondents and the TUP/Technology User Profile 2015 wave conducted among 2,896 employed respondents. Also, this TUPdate included results from the May 7th, April 15th, and April 8th, 2020 waves of the MetaFacts Pulse Employee survey.
Current TUP/Technology User Profile subscribers may request the supporting TUP information used for this analysis or for even deeper analysis. Subscribers to the MetaFacts Employees Pulse surveys may request the supporting information and can make additional inquiries. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP or the MetaFacts Pulse surveys, please contact MetaFacts.
People love their Smartphones and find more to do with them than PCs or Tablets. Around the world, there are few activities done with PCs as regularly as are done with Smartphones. Furthermore, there are no activities done more so on Tablets than on either Smartphones or PCs. Usage profiles vary somewhat by country. Online adults in the U.S. use their connected devices differently than users in many other countries.
These findings are based on the TUP/Technology User Profile 2018 study of 14,273 online adults in the US, UK, Germany, India, and China. Of the more-than 70 activities in the TUP survey tied to each device, we identified those with the widest range of regular use across devices – defined as the difference between the maximum and minimum usage level between Smartphone, PC, and Tablet users.
The versatility of smartphones is shown by how much more often they’re the device of choice for nearly every type of activity, from shopping to social networking and fun. The range of activity use is as high as 65% – in the case of making and receiving personal phone calls.
Smartphones are being used the most widely for device-unique activities. The four major activities for smartphones – personal phone calls, taking pictures, text messaging, and storing one’s contacts – are infrequently done on a PC or Tablet. Although the newest tablets have cameras that approach the quality of those on Smartphones, less than a quarter (22%) are being used to take pictures. Also, despite being able to run apps such as WhatsApp or WeChat on Tablets or PCs, phone calls are primarily on Smartphones, even while personal video calls have made inroads on non-phone devices.
PCs are mostly being used for email (personal or work), online shopping (bigger screens entice buyers), and online banking. Tablets are mostly being used for social networking and music listening.
There is a small amount of crossover of activity usage across devices. Two of the major activities for Smartphones are also leading ones on Tablets – adding photos to social media and commenting on other’s images or comments.
American adults use their devices somewhat differently than users in other countries. In addition to personal and work email, PCs are used more often than Smartphones or Tablets for shopping, banking, finances/accounting, and writing.
Tablets are being used more like PCs than Smartphones. The major activities for Tablets, although with smaller percentages than PCs, are also among the major activities for PCs. Also, in the US, UK, and Germany, Tablets are used more often than either PCs or Smartphones for reading a book and making small purchases in person, such as in a coffee shop.
Where PCs Dominate
Smartphones aren’t the only connected device users actively use. There are many activities used at a higher rate on PCs than on Smartphones are tablets. Sending and checking both personal and work email are high on the list across all of the countries surveyed except for India. Also, writing and managing text documents is a PC-preferred activity except in India. In Germany, writing documents is an especially PC-dominant activity. Also, activities relating to using a printer are strongest when using a PC.
Habits change slowly. Not only do people find effective ways to use connected devices to do what they want, they also show inertia when slowly moving those activities to a different device. Even those users who have multiple devices continue to use the types of devices they had previously for some time before fully embracing a type of device new to them.
Furthermore, there isn’t a single “silver bullet” device that’s preferred for all activities. For some activities, such as reading a book, shopping, or watching television, having a larger display helps. For other activities, such as receiving phone calls or texting, convenience and mobility are key.
We don’t expect the majority of users to concentrate all of their activities on a single device in the near future. Instead, the multi-device experience will continue. PCs may continue to lose their dominance for the many activities they still dominate. Dedicated PC users may just move more of their attention to tablets, especially those focused on passive activities such as social networking or television watching.
About this TUPdate
The analysis in this TUPdate is based on results drawn from multiple waves of TUP (Technology User Profile), including the 2018 edition which is TUP’s 36th continuous wave. This survey-based study details the use of technology products by a carefully-selected and weighted set of respondents drawn to represent online adults.
Current TUP subscribers may request the supporting TUP information used for this analysis or for even deeper analysis. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP, please contact MetaFacts.