Salary Survey Extra: Desktop and laptop computing in the workplace

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Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Do certified IT professionals still use desktop computers in the workplace?Once upon a time in America, the bakery chain Sara Lee secured a footnote in the annals of advertising history with the slogan, “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.” It used to be the case that you could say something sort of similar about the modern IT workplace: Everybody doesn’t use every tool, but nobody doesn’t use a PC.

Over the final decade of the 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st, it certainly seemed that every IT employee had a desk, and every desk had a computer: tower/box, plus monitor, plus keyboard, mouse, and various other peripherals. “Desktop” is still a word that we use to broadly categorize the functions of one’s IT workstation, whatever its precise configuration.

In 2020, however, not everyone has a workstation, and not every workstation has a setup that would be familiar to a late ’90s office worker. So called “desktop” computers have become increasingly rare, with laptops and docking stations replacing towers and boxes. (Full disclosure: These words are originating from a docked laptop connected to a dual-monitor display with wireless keyboard and mouse.)

Smartphones and tablets have gradually gotten both more powerful and more cross-functional with traditional desktop and laptop computers. Are we on the brink of another evolution that will push laptops toward the fringe, and maybe push desktops out of the workplace technology picture entirely?

It’s hard to create a picture without being able to peek into a broad cross-section of IT workplaces. Thanks to the Salary Survey, however, we have an opportunity each year to do just that. So we asked certified IT professionals to what extent, broadly speaking, they are still tied to a more or less conventional desktop and/or laptop computing setup. Here’s what we learned:

Q: How many hours per day do you use a desktop or laptop computer to do your current job?

I never use a desktop or laptop computer. — 0.5 percent
An hour or so per day — 1.1 percent
A couple of hours per day — 1.3 percent
3 to 4 hours per day — 3.3 percent
5 to 6 hours per day — 10.9 percent
7 to 8 hours per day — 33.1 percent
More than 8 hours per day — 22.9 percent
Everything I do requires a desktop or laptop computer. — 26.9 percent

First off, there is a tiny fraction of survey respondents who don’t use a desktop or laptop computer for anything. If that’s the future of workplace computing, however, then we may not actually get there for a while. Even when we raise the usage meter all the way to “only” 5 or 6 hours per day,  we’ve barely captured 17 percent of the total survey population.

A solid one-third of all survey respondents use a laptop or desktop computer to get IT done for 7 or 8 hours every day. And out of the remaining roughly half of all survey respondents, 23 percent use a desktop or laptop computer more than 8 hours per day, and 27 percent use a desktop or laptop computer for every work-related thing they do.

Tablets and smartphones clearly have a role in the IT workplace ecosystem. We’ll have more data about that next week. But the desktops and laptops aren’t on the way out. Or maybe desktop computers are becoming scarcer by the day and laptops are doing the real heavy lifting. Do you see a lot of traditional boxes and towers when you look around your office?

Looks like we may have discovered a way to refine this question for next year’s survey.

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CertMag Staff

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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