Mean proportion of time spent on devices for work, from the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey.
Image: Gartner

It happened during a pandemic. One in five workers said they became masters of their personal tech universes, according to a Gartner survey released during its Digital Workplace Summit Monday. The survey found 18% of full-time employees consider themselves to be digital technology experts since COVID-19 began, while over half consider themselves proficient.

Gartner said the relationship of workers to tech was altered due to remote work and a lack of in-person IT support, plus an increased reliance on digital collaboration tools (hello, Zoom, Teams, Slack, Meet). Whit Andrews, distinguished research vice president at Gartner, noted “workers seized the moment” as he presented the findings at the summit.

During 2020, workers reported an 11% increase in the proportion of their work time spent on laptops, smartphones or tablets and an 8% decrease in time spent on desktops. Gen Z and millennials spent 30% of their time using tablets or smartphones to do work while older generations were more likely to use desktops and laptops, Gartner found.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids’ education is a mammoth task. Here’s how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The survey was conducted in November and December 2020 among 10,080 full-time employees at organizations with 100 or more employees in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific, to better understand workers’ technological and workplace experiences and sentiments, Gartner said.

The mastery of technology for personal and professional purposes was one of Andrews’ seven takeaways in his presentation:

  1. Workers’ sense of technology mastery has accelerated compared with previous years.
  2. Permitted autonomy leaps ahead.
  3. Portable devices boom for digital workers.
  4. IT as problem-solver leaps forward thanks to a broad choice of contact means.
  5. Virtual meetings proved their mettle, and workers increased their preference for them (but enough’s enough).
  6. Productivity rose for many, fell for others, and some of the good effects could endure.
  7. Workers intend to enforce the flexibility in time and workplace that 2020 gave them.

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Employees are relying on more personal technology for work, with over half of respondents reporting that they used applications or web services that they personally obtained (most employer-sanctioned) for collaborating with other workers. The same proportion (55%) are using personally owned devices for their work at least some of the time, Gartner said.

Part of the reason for this, Andrews said in a press release, was “to make up for their employers’ technology shortcomings.”

“In 2021, organizations can embrace this trend by expanding the choice of devices and software programs that workers can use with little or no friction,” Andrews said.

When it came to technical issues, workers opted to look first on the internet for answers and if they still had trouble then contact IT phone support, Gartner said.

Bump in productivity

Among the employees whose work-from-home time increased since January 2020, 36% reported an increase in productivity, while 35% reported no change, Gartner said. Flexible work hours were the most cited factor enabling greater productivity, selected by 43% of respondents.

Such flexibility will be key for hiring managers, according to Andrews. “In fact, 69% of workers in our survey said they were more likely to consider a new role that allows them to work from a location of their choice, and 64% were more likely to consider a role that allows for flexible hours.”

For those whose productivity declined, a quarter of respondents, connectivity issues and technology changes were among the top reasons cited.

“Digital proficiency becomes even more essential for productivity when working remotely,” Andrews said. “CIOs should extend worker-to-worker lateral mentoring and training to ensure that no employees are left behind as technology mastery becomes the expectation.”