Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, March 20, 2020
As a long-time information worker, remote worker, and road warrior, I’ve learned to be flexible, resourceful, and use technology to my advantage. Whether I’ve been crunching numbers or presenting results from a café in Paris, my office, home, or somewhere in between, I’ve carried an evolving assortment of tech devices so I can stay connected and work.
However, there are many people who haven’t had this experience, and may not be prepared or supported.
This TUPdate investigates several groups of consumers and workers who will soon be encountering changes in their use of technology devices and services. With the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shifts taking place now, many are not technologically ready for a work-at-home or stay-at-home experience.
Although a home PC isn’t a requirement to get online, it’s still the most widely used and most-useful device for many activities.
Among one key group – information workers – one of the most tech-savvy and tech-reliant groups, a work PC is the cornerstone of their work activity. (For this analysis, “Information Workers” are defined as employees who used an employer-provided PC). Even though most also have smartphones, home PCs, and tablets, there are only a few work activities done more often on any other type of device. Smartphones, despite the many apps developed for them and their constant presence, only surpass work PCs for making phone and video calls. Tablets, which are increasingly becoming PC-like (and not only because of Apple’s marketing), aren’t being used similarly to PCs for work activities.
Information workers are only one of several groups to stand out as not having home PCs and being the most able to benefit from them. For this analysis, I’ve used TUP/Technology User Profile to look at three groups:
Information workers – workers who have a work PC
Adult students – attending a college, university, or other learning institution full-time or part-time
Elders – age 55 or older
Information workers as a group are the least ready to be working remotely. While some employers provide work notebooks that could potentially be used at home, most don’t. Forty percent of US information workers and 58% of German information workers are self-supported, having no work notebook but having a home PC. Even higher, 54% of US information workers and 65% of German information workers are unsupported information workers, having no work notebook.
While it’s possible that some employers will simply have employees bring their work desktops home for the duration of their time working at home, I expect that not to be widespread.
A smaller share of students than information workers have no home PC. Among American students, this share (29%) is larger than among students in Germany. Although some assignments and online classes and may be conducted using a smartphone or tablet, I expect many will require the larger screens or horsepower of a PC. Tablets aren’t an immediate answer at hand: only 26% of students without home PCs use a tablet.
Elders are another group likely to remain at home. Although there are regional differences about the age level of persons mandated to remain at home, those requirements are changing quickly. For this analysis, I set the bar low for typical definitions of being an elder or senior – at 55 or older.
Within elders, I also investigated a particularly vulnerable group – elders living alone. This group is one of the most connected groups of all these groups, at least with respect to the penetration of home PCs. Only 5% of American elders and 2% of German elders don’t have a home PC.
The conditions for COVID-19 pandemic are uncertain. I expect most employers to support their information workers with additional technology, even though historically that’s only been the case for the minority of employers.
For self-supporting information workers that already have a home PC, this employer support is most likely to come in the form of expanded software licensing to support employees that need special software to get their job done, and remote access software to allow employees to reach their office-located desktops, servers, or networks. In many cases, especially among larger employers or technically sophisticated employers, new support will include the requisite VPN and security software to help protect the employer’s confidential information. For those self-supporting information workers with home PCs that are too old or underpowered to support the employee’s needs, some employers may order and provide work PCs for their employee’s homes. Other employers may rely on the employees to personally obtain a home PC so the employee can continue to work.
For unsupported information workers that don’t have a home PC, I expect most employers to provide a work PC or to encourage or to reimburse their employees for a home PC. As for self-supporting information workers, additional software, connectivity, and likely printing capabilities will be needed as well.
This is a quickly changing time, and it’s currently unknown how long the stay-at-home/work-from-home provisions will remain in place. However, over the last two decades, technology users have shown a strong amount of habit energy and inertial. What they do with technology changes slowly, even while there are rapid shifts in the devices and services they use – and where they use them!
Inertia simultaneously saves and disrupts technological transformation. Scanners and printers with integrated scanners have been at the heart of the paper to digital change. So much that was paper is now electronic. The “paperless office” has been a hyped cliché for decades, and yet is truer with each passing year. Although electronic signatures have been legal for over 20 years in most countries, and digital copies are increasingly acceptable in many cases, the migration from paper to electronic lumbers along gradually. Consumers and businesses alike continue to need to convert hardcopy documents and images into electronic form.
TUPdates feature analysis of current or essential technology topics. The research results showcase the TUP/Technology User Profile study, MetaFacts’ survey of a representative sample of online adults profiling the full market’s use of technology products and services. The current wave of TUP is TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, which is TUP’s 38th annual. TUPdates may also include results from previous waves of TUP.
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