Home office technology will need to evolve in the new work normal

ZDNet caught up with Dell Technologies CTO John Roese to talk about the technology infrastructure that homes will need to make remote and physical work more seamless.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

The new normal for work will be more remote, spur a home office innovation wave, make edge computing more mainstream and require more automation, immersive experiences and robotics.

Those are just some of the takeaways from my conversation with Dell Technologies CTO John Roese. The conversation revolves around what we've learned so far from the great work-from-home experiment and where we're going next.

Here are the key takeaways and the video has more.

Culture and home environment matters. Not surprisingly, Dell didn't have a hard time moving more than 100,000 people to work from home arrangements. After all, Dell sells Wyse thin clients, laptops and virtual desktop platforms. Roese said:

When you move everyone, then you start to discover some of the things you didn't think about. We clearly understood that people would work from home. So we had the proper equipment, the proper VPN access, the proper network capacity, VDI, all of those things. But we started to realize that maybe we didn't have the right environment at home. Maybe we didn't have the right culture in the sense of people were getting overwhelmed by what we call Zoom fatigue and other new normal scenarios.

The intersection between physical and virtual workspaces need to evolve. Roese said:

This idea that part of what we do will be virtual and part of what we will do will be physical, but more importantly, those two worlds are going to intersect. We're going to run into each other. And so some examples of that are, for instance, in our client business, we've already seen this. We have material scientists; we have mechanical engineers. We have people that actually have to work on a physical device in a lab somewhere. They can't do that work from home exclusively. So initially we set up programs to allow scheduling of lab space and sanitation of the lab environment and to get through that. But as we look forward, what we're going to see is the environments are either going to become more automated with robotics so that the person can actually do mechanical work from somewhere else or more importantly, maybe one person is in the lab, but other people now have better visual representations, better immersive technologies so they can be part of that experience.

Whether it's education or healthcare or any other industry, virtual and physical experiences will evolve and meld together.

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The definition of working from home will change. Roese said:

Our assumptions about what it meant to work from home were wrong collectively. We had this idea that work from home was about work/life balance. You were working or you were doing home stuff. That was what worked from home had to deal with. And what we almost immediately discovered was it wasn't that simple. In fact, there were at least four different contexts that people had to live in or experience sitting at their desk at home at any given time over the course of the day.

Roese's contexts include:

  1. An immersive work experience such as a Zoom call or interacting with people.
  2. A non-immersive work experience where you have different deliverables.
  3. A personal IT experience such as answering email and paying bills.
  4. An entertainment experience.

"The funny thing is all that had to happen in the same space. And so we discovered that, the monitors weren't configured properly, it was hard to context switch between them. We didn't have enough bandwidth. In some cases, the devices people had in their house weren't powerful enough to do all of these tasks," said Roese.

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Technology will have to know our contexts. The home technology experience will have to adapt to our various modes and have the capacity to manage the compute requirements. "There is a very large innovation cycle coming to really make the world at home adaptable to all of these contexts as we look forward," said Roese.

Edge computing will come to the home. As remote work evolves more to include augmented and virtual reality as well as video conferencing and data intensive applications IT infrastructure at home will change. Roese said that edge computing devices may be deployed in homes by enterprises to beef up home infrastructure.

"Early, when we were talking about edge, it was all about smart factories and smart cities and smart hospitals, but there's another class of edge compute that's really interesting in this new world," said Roese. "And that is to augment the compute capacity of the devices that attach to that edge." 

Also: Where's the 'edge' in edge computing? Why it matters, and how we use it

5G, AR, VR and applications that need horsepower would use these edge compute devices. Edge computing in the home could provide more real-time experiences, compute capacity and improve experiences.These edge devices at home would also offer scale on demand.

"You're still going to need pretty hefty compute, but you don't need infinite compute because the infinite compute begins once you reach the edge. And right now it isn't there. It's once you get to the other end of the internet is where you get infinite compute and that's too far away," said Roese.

Think of these edge computing devices for the home as more of a booster shot for compute and a virtual server.

Digital transformation laggards will invest heavily now. Roese said digital transformation separated enterprises that fared well during COVID-19 and those that struggled. When the initial financial crisis improves, enterprises will see digital transformation as a business continuity necessity. He said:

There is going to be an expectation that if you're doing a digital transformation, we now know what we need to be, and there's going to be an impatience to get there quickly. And so I think a lot of them will move with a lot more earnest, they will direct more resources towards it, but the expectation will be, get me working properly. Show me an innovation cycle in this digital transformation world in a year, not five years. 

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)


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