With many organizations having a significant proportion of employees working remotely – and as things look, this will be a long-term reality – the old model of how companies support a “mobile” workforce is no longer normally holding well.
I have already mentioned some of the issues related to having a home based employee in previous articles in this series. Some companies are giving employees permission to upgrade their home office to something better for long-term living. And we’ve gone over the network security and architecture challenges that come into play as well.
But as we approach a year of full or part-time home work with no end in sight, the old model for so-called “mobile worker” support on the hardware front is starting to show some serious gaps. .
Only a select few employees are given corporate laptops for mobile work. Over the past decade, as employees have been reduced to specific physical locations, many organizations have issued multiple mobile devices or adopted a similar device-your-own policy for smartphones and laptops. But the difference between “mobile” workers and full- or part-time home workers is significant—and the kind of work we all do from home doesn’t fit well into the computer-and-mobile model of hardware lifecycle management.
Companies have tried many things to reduce the cost of running employee centers over the years—including moving entire classes of employees to Windows Terminal clients or other virtual desktops. Other types of work have required long movement and have been measured by the company’s laptops that are offered and managed. Both of these techniques may have eased some of the pain of maintaining lock-in functionality, but both have drawbacks for work-from-firm operations.
A laptop was built for the first move. And now, many of us are not particularly mobile. While laptops are adequate for office work in many cases, they are not in and of themselves suited to work that involves significant data entry such as keyboard typing or data analysis work that requires long hours. of watching. pixels on the screen. We have already gone over some ergonomic issues of laptops, but to summarize briefly: as a rule, the compromises made for navigation make them burdensome for prolonged use.
Ergonomics can be solved to some extent by an external keyboard and monitor—and any company that has people working intermittently at home should provide for those, either through a home office permit or through direct provision.
But laptops are not well suited for extended home work for other reasons:
- They’re not great at heat management—especially when you’re running them all day with the screens closed while attached to external keyboards and monitors. Expect more early laptop failures as the pandemic progresses, from a 24/7 heat death connection.
- They are more expensive to supply and deploy than most desktop computers, especially when monitors are a factor in both.
- Hardware support for laptops is more expensive or outsourced entirely to the manufacturer, or both.
Another common complaint about laptops is their lack of expansion—not enough USB ports and, increasingly, no physical Ethernet support, for example. But for most people working from home, these aren’t really issues—as long as there’s a way to plug in a port for a keyboard, monitor, and peripherals and the Wi-Fi network isn’t disturbed by your kids. playing Fortnite and doing distance learning at the same time.
On the other end of the spectrum are the thinnest weeks. While having a thin client infrastructure installed may have helped to some extent with a distributed workforce—many organizations have relied on Remote Desktop Protocol to give employees access to applications and data, including different security measures — the performance of RDP sessions on even a decent home broadcast is less than optimal for performance. And while employees may be able to do this work with their own PCs or other computing devices, many of them are placed in the position of having to share those devices with their kids for school work.
One solution that I’ve seen some companies turn to is all-in-one laptops that are pre-configured for use with corporate remote access. All-in-ones may not be more powerful than laptop computers, but they are better designed for cooling and ergonomic considerations, and they can be (depending on the manufacturer and model) somewhat less expensive to support.
In the same vein, small desktops (like Intel NUC devices) may be a better solution for home workers than laptops from a cost-of-ownership perspective, especially for companies that adopt a cloud desktop model for remote worker or enable remote desktop services from their own network. They are easy to configure and do not take up too much workspace. Again, they’ll need more accessories as well—a webcam and microphone for collaboration, for example.
In the long run, it may be smarter for companies to give employees only hardware permission—and give them a pre-configured managed virtual machine to connect to company resources if necessary or need them to allow their computer to manage much in the same way companies now register employees’ personal smartphones.