The idyllic image of the home—a warm, cozy retreat from the workaday world, a place to return to our families and toss thoughts of business out of our heads—is on the verge of dissolving in this age of technological connectedness. Conversely, also nearly gone are the frenzied, suit-and-tie, rigidly eight-hour workdays, in favor of a relaxed work atmosphere in which employees dress in shorts and tee-shirts, turn their offices into homes away from home, and—increasingly—leave early to finish out the day at the home office. Or perhaps a growing percentage of your workforce is completely homebound. As technology continues to infiltrate the nooks and crannies of our lives, work and home are becoming interchangeable.
In our 2006 Annual Industry Survey, we asked you a few new questions about how you deal with the home—from supporting home-based users to enjoying your own computer technology in your leisure time. Let's take a quick look at our findings and see how the IT landscape is inevitably shifting—in two ways—toward the home.
Your Support of Home-Based Employees
The workplace is increasingly nebulous. More and more employees are working odd hours, enjoying flexible schedules, and taking work home with them. Your job as an IT administrator, as a result, has become challenging in a variety of ways. According to our survey, a full 60 percent of respondents support computer technologies that home-based users need for work; more than 90 percent of you support equipment for at least one home-based employee, and 28 percent of you support more than 20. Figure 1 shows the spectrum of your home-based computer support.
What portion of your IT budget do you spend in support of home users? Only 27 percent devote the full budget to onsite employees, whereas a full 69 percent of respondents spend as much as a quarter of the budget on home-based workers. The business landscape has certainly changed since only a decade ago, expanding to encompass home offices along with the expansion of the tech industry itself, especially in home technology—a metaphor that brings another question to mind.
How does your company purchase tech equipment for its fleet of home users? Most survey respondents—42 percent—purchase equipment centrally, in multiple instances, from one source. A smaller percentage—34 percent—purchase centrally when employees send in requests to IT. And whereas 13 percent let employees buy whatever they need, then later reimburse them, about 10 percent insist that home-based workers pay for their own equipment. "If you want it, get it yourself," said one respondent. This changing landscape marks a sea change for tech vendors, who have an entirely new perspective to consider. How will hardware, security, and storage vendors, for example, change their marketing message to accommodate the home-based worker? Or is a new message yet necessary? Considering our survey findings, and the potentially enormous amounts of money involved, we're inclined to say "yes."
Your Use of Tech at Home
All this talk of home computing led us to wonder how you spend your own time at home, after hours. You spend the vast majority of your working life tinkering with technology, so it's only natural that you gravitate toward the home computer at night. It's your nature. For a look at how much free time you devote to home-based computer technology, see Figure 2, which shows that more than half of you spend a great deal of your leisure at the computer. The image of the computer professional scooted up to his or her monitor—eyes glowing with reflected light as he types away—might now be equally applicable to the tech enthusiast at home.
Let's make this more interesting. How much of your home computing is devoted to entertainment? About 25 percent of you mostly concentrate on work: checking email, researching problems on IT forums and blogs, and tinkering with work-related technologies. More of you—33 percent—devote a quarter of your home-computing time to digital photography, digital video, and music while also catching up with work, and 42 percent of you spend more than half of your home-computing time enjoying all kinds of digital media (e.g., music, movies, games, photos) flowing through a probably expertly configured home network.
And how might you describe the home network of an IT pro? A full 55 percent of you boast a wireless network consisting of various desktops, laptops, and media devices (e.g., Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 PC, Xbox 360) and share resources such as the Internet, email, digital media, schedules, and documents. You guys have corporate networks in your homes! A more modest 24 percent have wired networks consisting of a few desktops and laptops, sharing the Internet and a few other computer resources. (A small percentage of you have wired/ wireless setups.) A meager 6 percent have only recently installed your home networks and are just getting started, and 11 percent have no home network—a defiant few who probably refuse to let any aspect of your day job intrude on your valuable leisure time.
Marveling over the types of networks you've installed in your home, we dug a little-deeper. An enterprising respondent claimed to have set up a "gigabit LAN with three servers, one PC, and four wireless laptops, running Microsoft Exchange Server, central antivirus and spam control, and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), as well as AIT tape backup." Another respondent claimed to have installed "two DSL lines, a Cisco Systems lab, two wireless subnets, a Compaq \[HP\] ProLiant cluster, a fibre-channel SAN, twelve Linux/BSD machines, four Windows boxes, and no TV." Might we suggest you two get out for some fresh air?
Outside, you might enjoy one of the many mobile devices you probably have in your home arsenal. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of you own a cell phone, 86 percent wander around with a wireless laptop, 50 percent use a PDA of some sort, and 49 percent fiddle around with a portable music player or gaming system. Only 7 percent own a tablet PC—a possible indicator of a technology that just isn't quite catching on in the home.
A New Vista
Work will continue to invade the home, as employees increasingly take advantage of Web-based email and networked business resources. The home is losing a bit of its mystique and becoming more of a branch office, but there's no turning back now. The allure of technology during leisure time is too great. As time moves on, we suspect that growing numbers of you will be reaching out to homes to support employees who demand flexible schedules, and you'll be devoting more and more of your business budgets to equipping those users.
We've recognized the growing interest of the Windows IT community in home-based technology, and you'll find Windows IT Pro's sister site, Connected Home Media (http://www.connectedhomemag.com), a great source for more home-tech information. The tech home is bursting with excitement and energy, and rather than pine for the days of warm-fireplace nostalgia, we urge you to embrace digital technology and explore the ways it can enrich your life and better serve the IT needs of the home-based users you support.