No device upgrade for most UK workers during pandemic

Research finds that most workers are still using equipment issued before lockdowns, raising fears of a productivity gap as staff work from home

Since March 2020, a number of IT issues have been regarded as potentially serious impediments to the ongoing productivity of businesses, and as companies gear up for the new word of hybrid, research from Microsoft warns that two-thirds of employees with a work-related, company-owned laptop or tablet have been using the same device since the pandemic began.

The research from Microsoft SurfaceDevice decisions, the future is hybrid: considerations for IT leaders in the changing workplace – was conducted with YouGov, drawing on the views of thousands of UK employees and more than 1,000 IT decision-makers (ITDMs).

The study revealed that even though 73% of ITDMs now have the budget they need to support hybrid workers in 2022, it raised fundamental concerns that the lack of device refreshes is hitting productivity.

Most employees have “made do” with the same device while working remotely. Staff want upgrades that better suit their individual needs as remote working arrangements that started as temporary measures have become the norm. Microsoft found that companies’ IT teams, which initially bought devices to help staff work from home during the pandemic but then shelved routine upgrades, now feel the same way.

More than one-third (35%) of employees who received new devices since the onset of Covid-19 have reported a resulting increase in their productivity.

Assessing what a new device could mean, the study said the top five most important features of a new device, aligned across both ITDMs and employees, were: reliability (58% of employees, 67% of ITDMs); responsiveness when working (56%, 55%); battery life (45%, 50%); screen size (43%, 40%); and boot-up speed (36%, 32%).

ITDMs were also keen to provide their workforces with the accessories needed to support productivity during hybrid working. Just under one-third of ITDMs believed accessories such as an external mouse (10%), spare charger (10%) or docking station (10%) were important to employees engaged in hybrid work. Microsoft said this suggested that jobs no longer require just a single device and employers must think about everything that an employee needs to perform, ranging from a wireless keyboard and digital pen to headphones, earbuds and webcams.

But if that was what employers need to think about, the survey also found that employees felt they are not being listened to. Half of them (51%) thought devices were provided based on job role alone – with individual requirements not considered as standard. Only 31% felt their individual needs and accessibility requirements were taken into consideration, a figure that dropped to just 17% for front-line workers.

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There also appeared to be some confusion among employees about the decision-making process, with nearly three in 10 (29%) admitting being unsure how devices are allocated. Microsoft said the data suggested that if IT leaders make a point of surveying staff and soliciting their feedback on device requirements, they will discover significant common ground between what employees say they need and what IT wants to deliver.

Microsoft also suggested that involving employees in the process will help ensure their requirements are met, as well as potentially improve productivity and positivity towards the company. Indeed, almost three in 10 employees with a work-related, company-owned device (29%) said that receiving a new device would make them feel more positive about their work and employer, and 16% said working on a newer device would increase their motivation.

Some 61% of employees also agreed that having the right device for their role helped them maintain a healthy work-life balance by supporting productivity. The message from employees is that they expect to be given efficient devices, not something that just about gets the job done, or even slows them down.

“Few could have predicted the sudden global shift to remote working, and the workplace will keep changing in unexpected ways as technology evolves and organisations everywhere experiment with hybrid models,” said Howard Lewis, Surface Business Group lead at Microsoft UK. “The insights from this research highlight changing employee expectations about devices, as well as disconnects between IT teams and the staff they support.

“We hope this report will illuminate the path toward a future-proof workplace by highlighting the most important considerations for ITDMs as they weigh up device investment decisions.”

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