The New Normal: Lenovo study offers insights into worker productivity

To the surprise of few, working from home is taking a toll on employees. But technology is seen as more of a mixed bag.

stress / headache / frustration / problem / fatigue
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Disclosure:  Lenovo is a client of the author.

One of the reasons vendors do surveys is to get a sense of what is going on in the minds of buyers and users of their products.  Given the recent changes the market has recently undergone, it should be no surprise that users and buyers are in vastly different places than they were at the beginning of the year. 

Lenovo’s recent study looks at how work styles and tools are rapidly evolving and explores the advantages – and challenges ­– tech is providing. It highlights the recent impact of increased work from home and what most frustrates users. 

The study involved 20,262 online respondents between May 8-14 across 10 markets – U.S., Brazil, Mexico, U.K., France, Germany, Italy, China, India and Japan.  With a diverse sample set surveyed after most pandemic shutdowns had been implemented, it should provide a relatively accurate view of the world as it currently exists from the perspective of tech users. 

Though it’s primarily designed to help Lenovo build better future products, the results are interesting. 

What the survey shows

We spend a lot of time making sure our offices are ergonomically correct, but homes haven’t undergone the same changes.  People, at least those who didn’t have home offices, are working out of dens, kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, garages, and basements.  And I doubt many that do have home offices have had them reviewed by an ergonomics expert.

Health takes a hit

Globally, 32% of respondents cited back pains, 28% noted worsening posture, 27% saw an increase in neck pains, 18% pointed to wrist and hand pain and 22% reported more headaches (likely from lighting and screen proximity). That’s not all. Homes don’t have the same filtration as offices, and 21% of respondents reported dry, burning or itchy eyes (maybe because they are spending a lot more indoor time with pets, too).  Finally, stress is taking a toll, with 21% reporting difficulty sleeping (and outright insomnia), and 19% reporting an increase in fatigue. 

Technology is responding, but…

It is interesting to note that technology appears to be adapting to COVID-19 as 56% reported that their tools had become more intuitive and user friendly. 

People are also realizing their skills are out of date, with a whopping 65% reporting they need to improve tech skills and 40% afraid they couldn’t keep up with the ongoing changes.  Reports about  company response were mostly favorable, though 44% said their firm did not have the resources they need to do their jobs, suggesting a clear drag on revenues.  As you might expect with a push toward more automation and robotics, 39% fear they’ll be replaced by technology. Many of these people are likely already looking for new jobs and would be well-served by aggressive retraining and management communication that lets them know their actual risk. 

Tech shortfalls and work-from-home issues

The next segment focused on tech concerns, and 32% said that their No. 1 concern is that they’re more vulnerable to data breaches and hacking.  (Given that working from home effectively makes everyone more vulnerable, this statistic suggests that most are not aware of their increased risks, so it’s likely the majority is not taking adequate precautions.  Video conferencing has always been connected to poor advancement and relevance, but only 23% of employees see that is a problem. 

As you would expect, 23% indicated that they’re having trouble maintaining a work/life balance and staying focused.  With so many kids at home, I’m surprised this number isn’t higher. As you would expect, a substantial contingent, 22%, is having issues with the rate of change, and 20% blame technology for their distractions. There is a lack of trust as well; 18% think their boss is spying on them (and they are probably right). 

Despite those complaints, only 16% said technology itself is distracting, and a whopping 84% indicated it’s actually helping them better focus and be more productive.

When asked about what technology they use, respondents cited smartphones (68%), laptop PCs (64%), and desktop PCs (62%) pretty equally. While 42% use dedicated conferencing technology (I know from prior work that this helps them remain more productive), the use of virtual assistants remains small. But at 17%, these assistants remain a significant part of the toolset respondents rely on. 

Barriers to adoption and product satisfaction

Barriers to tech adoption are widespread: 25% say training on technology is a problem, 23% say their company has been too slow to adopt new things, and 22% feel their firm isn’t budgeting for needed technology changes. In addition, 21% think management is out of touch with employee needs and 20% see their company in financial distress and unable to afford what’s needed. Fully 19% (employees) and 17% (managers) actively resisting technology changes. 

On the other hand, employees seem to like the technology they’ve been given: 74% are happy with their desktop computers, 79% are happy with their laptops, 71% are happy with their tablets, and 80% like their smartphones. They even like their video conferencing tools, with 69% indicating they’re happy with what’s been provided.

The biggest pain points for laptops may sound familiar: battery life (cited by 33%) and processing power (25%). For desktops, the most significant issues were processing power and device age (because companies tend to replace desktops less often than laptops).  Smartphone issues involved battery life (37%), data storage (22%), connectivity (21%), performance (21%), screen size (17%) and security (17%).  (Overall, 45% of respondents were extremely or very concerned about security – particularly when it comes to personal data.)

Sadly, a whopping 79% feel they’ve had to become their own IT person, and 62% feel they need to have separate devices for personal and work-related activities.  (This likely contributes to their need to do their own IT work.)  When when the pandemic is over, 52% feel they will continue to work more from home. 

Looking to the future

Looking ahead, 74% see virtual reality (and 83% point to 5G) as having a material impact on their work over the next few years.  They also see augmented reality on the horizon.

Finally, when asked what tech companies could do to help employees and executives out, 34% want  products that are easier to use; 33% need more training on the tools they use; another 33% want better access to technology; 32% want cheaper alternatives; 31% sought more frequent software updates; and  30% want more tech longevity. Around a quarter of the respondents want faster customer service, help with data analysis, better engagement with their decision-makers, more personalized offerings, and want vendors with stronger buyback, trade-in and refurbishment programs. 

Wrapping up

The good news from this survey is that most employees are coping pretty well with the new normal.  The bad news is that a significant number remain unhappy with the tools they’ve been given, unhappy with management, are becoming less healthy, and find the situation and tools are adversely affecting their job satisfaction, loyalty, and job performance. 

These results suggest there is a significant unmet market opportunity for a focused customizable (by employee) service.  This service would comprehensively equip and assure that workers’ home environments better match the tools and training they receive with their unique job and personal requirements. 

I would expect a significant vendor to launch such a service before year-end, and since Lenovo did the survey, I wouldn’t be surprised if the service came from them.

Let’s see if I’m right.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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