Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, September 25, 2020
Working exclusively from home
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.
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