The home PC has been a central part of the American technology user’s world for years, and while remaining so for many, the home PC is slowly losing its primacy among some market segments.
Home PCs have been challenged by the emerging use of smartphones and tablets, and not only among younger Americans. Older Americans have also rapidly adopted smartphones and are starting to discover how to use them well. Home PC makers, software developers, and service providers have worked hard to keep the home PC as a central device, or at least one that is included.
The home PC is not down and out – not by a long shot. The humble PC is in use by most online Americans. In 2020, 75% of online adults in the US actively use a home PC. From 2015 to 2019, this level was effectively flat at 80%.
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.
By Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, May 5, 2020
Ageism is widespread in the tech industry. Many younger computer experts had a good laugh when a recent call went out for COBOL programmers. That was, until these relative newbies realized how many citizens would be left waiting for financial support after the recent surge in demand for unemployment checks. Computer experts were even more chagrined then they heard about the hiring bonuses being offered and realized they did not have relevant skills.
As seniors “invaded” Facebook over the last decade, raising the average age bar to its present heights, (age 45 in the US and Germany), younger adults expanded their social networking to additional sites and apps that let them still keep some distance.
Meanwhile, parents and grandparents alike still crave connection, and increasingly find it online. Consequently, we’re seeing rapid adoption Zoom and FaceTime, as well as broader adoption of home delivery services.
Seniors are more tech-savvy than they may want to reveal. 95% have used a personal computer (PC or Mac). Their average (mean) experience is 27 years, with 75% or seniors having first started using one 22 or more years ago, half 30 or more years ago, and 25% starting 37 or more years ago. Over half of seniors 60+ have been using one type of personal computer or another for 30 years.
Seniors grew up with computers. A senior today would likely have been a working adult as PCs grew into widespread use. A 60-year old today would have been 24 when Apple released its first Macintosh and 21 when IBM released its first PC.
Two out of three employees suddenly working from home are not well-supported by their employers, at least not with their technology.
Among the largest US employers, 18.6 million employees working at home are doing so without a work PC. This is almost half (47%) of all US work-at-home employees without a work PC. Pre-pandemic, firms with 1,000 or more employees provided 20.6 million of their employees with at least one work desktop or notebook PC. This measure is based on our TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 wave with 3,935 employed respondents. As of April 15, 2015, 30.3 million online American employees are still working for these large companies with 1,000 or more employees. Of these, 11.7 million employees are working from home with a work PC.
Most employees are effectively subsidizing their employers by using their own personal home PCs, tablets, or working at home without any computing device.
Large companies aren’t the only ones not supporting employees’ technology needs. Midsize companies have 13.6 million employees working at home without a work PC. Midsize companies (50 to 999 employees), have fewer employees in total (32.9 million nationwide) than large companies, of which 21.6 million were working from home as of April 15th, 2020.
Small companies, while smaller in total number, have the highest share of work-at-home employees without a work PC. Their 7.4 million work-at-home employees without a work PC are more than twice as many as their 3.1 million working at home with an employer-provided PC.
While employees are still employed and working at home, it’s important that they have the resources they need to get their work done. Employees who already had an employer-provided PC ostensibly need one while they’re working from home.
Larger firms are more likely to have IT/IS departments and computing infrastructure and support built around the physical workplace. Most smaller companies need the same capabilities and if they’re not in-house resources, then they rely on multitude of consultants and VARs/VADs. While remote workers are not a new phenomenon for employers of any size, hardly any were ready for the recent rapid shift due to the pandemic.
Long before the pandemic, employers have long relied on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where employees pay for many of their own devices – from PCs to smartphones. I expect the sudden work-at-home shift to inspire some employers to better provide for their employees. Besides building goodwill, this will benefit employers by having a more consistent set of configurations to manage which will, in turn, help employees to be more productive and will reduce employer’s support needs. However, based on experience, I expect inertia to continue – with most employers relying on employees to foot the bill for their at-home work technology and its support.
About this TUPdate
MetaFacts conducted independent research to gather the results used in this TUPdate. The projections of total US employees by employer size are based on TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 conducted among 8,060 respondents, of which 3,935 were employed full-time or part-time. Also, this TUPdate included results from the April 15th, 2020 wave of the MetaFacts Work From Home Study, the third weekly wave of a special study focused on the quickly changing situation. This wave included responses from 396 employees working at home.
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 Work At Home Study may request the supporting information and can make additional inquiries. For more information about MetaFacts and subscribing to TUP or the MetaFacts Work At Home Study, please contact MetaFacts.
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. 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.
About this TUPdate
The analysis in this TUPdate is based on results drawn from the TUP/Technology User Profile 2019 edition which is TUP’s 37th 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.
All content on TechnologyUser.com and MetaFacts.com have the Creative Commons CC BY-SA license, unless stated elsewhere. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit MetaFacts and license their new creations under the identical terms.