The remote work from home (WFH) professional needs an environment that supports productivity and collaboration with the same ease and equity they enjoy at the office. In addition, employers expect remote workers to “earn their commute,” working to the same level of productivity as if they were in the office.
For residential installers, WFH is ushering in a new era that is similar to when, 30 years ago, the home theater market began a profound evolution from two speakers to 5.1 surround sound, then 7.1 channels of audio, and, now, Dolby Atmos. Throughout this evolution, as home theater business grew, installers expanded their service offerings in surprising yet complementary ways to elevate the audio and video experience, such as selling home theater furniture.
Related: Transforming the Home Office
There are similar signposts that point to a need for greater support that goes beyond basic connectivity to incorporate professional audio, video, connectivity, lighting, and power solutions that installers are well positioned to offer and that will elevate the work-from-home experience. Going forward, WFH will undoubtedly change business models with new offerings in many areas:
The pandemic changed people’s behavior — and expectations. People are still choosing to spend a significant amount of time at home. With that, people are tethered to the internet more than ever before. In addition to working remotely, they’re shopping online, learning virtually, and streaming shows. In August, Nielsen reported that Americans are officially watching more content from service providers like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu than cable — a huge milestone in cord cutting. Because of this, infrastructure needs have changed. Homeowners demand not only high-speed internet, but also dependable, consistent connections throughout the home, whether it’s hard-wired or wireless. Residential installers can now be advisors in strengthening the home network to support the increasing demand on bandwidth with managed gigabit switches and premium Wi-Fi coverage to eliminate dead zones, not only within the home, but also throughout the property for those who enjoy taking their work outside.
Home Office Space
The shift away from going into the office daily, whether it’s hybrid or fully remote, has also necessitated dedicated workspace at home. That includes considerations such as proper ergonomics. While this isn’t an indicator that installers should sell desks anytime soon, it does open the conversations to equipment within the AV wheelhouse, such as monitors, cameras, docking stations, lighting (artificial and natural), and other connectivity and collaboration solutions. Flexible monitor mounts with height and tilt adjustments create a more comfortable and ergonomic workspace.
The power conversation is three-fold. First, there’s an increasing need for AC and DC power at the desk, such as monitor mounts incorporating USB charging capabilities or display port devices that support multiple monitors. Solutions like these eliminate unsightly, bulky wall warts and offer convenience for the multitude of devices and equipment needed on the desk.
Second, to ensure devices are receiving consistent power, homeowners may be looking at power management solutions. Because laptops/notebooks, computers, monitors, and mobile devices are all valuable to the work-from-home operation, power conditioning/surge suppression and power protection can be a great insurance policy for protecting and preventing any disruptions. The latest family of intelligent power solutions that protect, backup power, condition power, and offer offsite management — and once were considered nice to have — are proving more essential as the corporate office moves home.
Finally, overall home power is evolving. There has been a lot of discussion around generators, backup battery power, and solar power. Currently, California is pushing for all vehicles sold in the state to be electric by 2035. Unfortunately, the state experienced widespread power disruptions due to excessive heat this summer. With more homeowners buying EV, that’s putting a lot of strain on the power infrastructure, specifically in major markets. Emerging power systems such as whole house batteries, like the Tesla Powerwall, support those who need more dependability on the grid as well as those who want to move off the grid.
Lighting is a fast-growing market sector in residential AV, according to CEDIA’s 2022 Integrated Home Market Analysis. There are several levels of lighting needs today. At a basic level, people require reasonable lighting within the home to work. The top tier is human-centric lighting (HCL), which follows the body’s internal clock to provide lighting conditions that change throughout the day to promote well-being and focus. HCL solutions are a premium smart home feature that combines automated shades, tunable light fixtures, and lighting control to encourage alertness upon waking, focus for work, and mood lighting for relaxation and entertainment.
Of course, we can’t leave out video conferencing, which has paved the way for continuity between corporate and home offices. There is a greater focus on meeting equity — an environment where, no matter where participants are joining the call, everyone has the same experience. Everyone can be seen and heard clearly, and content is able to be shared easily.
Naturally, that opens the door to upgrades in cameras, audio, lighting, and monitors. Camera options range from those integrated into the laptop to third-party intelligent cameras that feature optical and infrared sensors, facial recognition technology, and more. Likewise, laptop audio can be greatly improved with compact, Bluetooth-enabled conference phones that feature acoustic echo cancellation and speech enhancement technology that intelligently removes background noise and ensures clear conversations. Prior to the pandemic, subpar lighting was tolerated. Now, there needs to be enough lighting on the face to be seen on the call, which can be accomplished in multiple ways, including utilizing HCL systems.
In addition, display formats are changing. The industry has evolved from 4:3 to 16:9. Now another format has hit the market — 21:9. This is notable because we are dependent upon video conferencing platforms like Teams, Meetup, Zoom, etc., to share content. People need sufficient screen space to share and visualize content from multiple applications and simultaneously see coworkers. There are major display manufacturers, including Samsung and LG, that have announced 21:9 monitors. Although this format is mostly utilized in a corporate setting, it’s not far-fetched for these monitors to be used at home to have a bigger work canvas and attain meeting equity.
How is all this an opportunity for installers? In some areas, like whole-home power and 21:9 monitors, we’re still early in the conversation, but just as 30 years ago installers would never have imagined selling highly immersive audio packages and definitely not home theater furniture, now it makes sense.
The opportunity was recognized at CEDIA Expo 2022, which had its second annual Work From Home Showcase in partnership with IMCCA. They set up a model home office on the show floor demonstrating lighting fixtures and lighting control, sound control solutions, multiple displays, control systems, collaboration software and hardware, and home office workstation furnishings. All these elements fit the rapport and relationship that installers have with their clients, and they all work together to elevate the experience in the home, whether for entertainment or for work.