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  • Jeff Barkun

Yes, everyone should have at least 3 monitors

Have you ever felt the need to put a bunch of pieces of paper next to each other? You might have been cross-referencing two documents that relate to the same task you are working on and found that it is much easier to see them side by side, and were able to complete the task faster and more easily with this visual layout. What is that task? Well it could literally be anything. You could be trying to figure out why a tenant's account does not balance, and are looking at the history of transactions next to the various transaction backup documents to quickly find the one that is causing the imbalance. You might be doing a graphic design update for a flyer, and want to read the comments of your leasing representative while looking at the design file so you can more easily find the changes they want and update them. You might be working on a renovation project and want to look at the plans of an apartment while comparing them to a report that your engineer sent you. While you are doing this, you might also need to look for another document. Chances are, you have done this on paper, and depending on how big your desk is, you may have even opted to go to the conference room for more space so you can spread out, and look at more things at the same time. When it comes to discussing how many screens you have, the same concept applies. Now that we have and are continuing to transition from paper based files and content to digital files and content, that space that we placed a few papers on to compare and interact with simultaneously is being done on a screen as that same information is no longer on paper. Despite this seemingly obvious case for purchasing more screens, there continues to be resistance to it. Given that people have been laying out papers next to each other for, well probably hundreds of years, why has this not universally translated into everyone have a workstation with five or six screens. To begin, there is an obvious cost difference. The cost of a a piece of paper is fairly negligible whereas a typical monitor will run you around $200. In addition to that, to connect many monitors, you will probably need a higher end computer and maybe a docking station or possibly both. Despite this, in the grand scheme of significant business costs, this will ultimately be relatively negligible. Let's do a simple analysis. Let's say you buys someone a high quality business laptop for about $1,500. Let's add in a high end docking station for $500 including the cables, and two external monitors for a couple hundred each which takes us to around $2,400. We also want to add in some wireless peripherals like a keyboard, mouse, headset and some ergonomic accessories so let's just round that up to $3,000. Seems like a hefty price-tag right? Well not really. Before we go on, we need to establish a benchmark for what a single monitor setup would cost. Let's go with $2,000 which is just the cost of the business laptop and peripherals we decided to buy. Let's go ahead and put a four year usable life on all of that equipment. At the same time, let's say the labour cost of the employee using this equipment is $40,000 per year, probably on the low end in terms of salaries for knowledge workers. In 2017, Fujitsu published a study that had been conducted in 2009, around the last recession as it happens, in regards to the impact on productivity from additional monitors. The results are not really surprising. It found that adding a second monitor increased productivity by 25.5%, and adding a third monitor pushed that number of to 35.5%. We could probably continue on with a 4th and 5th monitors and see some incremental productivity gains. If we applied these numbers to the salary cost of $40,000 per year for four years, we gain $40,800 of output over four years, for the purchase of one additional monitor and $56,800 of additional output for a three monitor setup on a per employee basis. Thus, buying a single additional monitor effectively pays the salary of each employee for one year over a four year span, or gives an ROI in this simple model of 20,300%. Going to a three monitor setup delivers an ROI of 5,580%. While it seems odd that the three monitor setup delivers a lower ROI, this is logical given the lower incremental increase in productivity from one additional monitor to two additional monitors, and the higher incremental cost to go from one extra monitor to two. These numbers could vary heavily depending on the labour time cost of the person working, and how much the base computer cost is so I would rather focus on some other numbers. If we gain thirty five percent productivity for every person who uses three monitors instead of one, giving every person on a team of three people two extra monitors increases productivity the equivalent of about 100% in aggregate. That means that it is like hiring an extra person for that team. Since we give the equipment a four year usable life, it is like hiring an extra employee for four years on that team for the cost of six monitors, and three docking stations, which based on our costing is about $3,000. This is about a 5200% ROI on this equipment purchase based on a relatively low salary level, a return that will only grow for more senior and expensive staff. These numbers are obviously quite big so let's be careful how we look at them as there are obviously many other factors that will affect this such as how fast devices run, how fast software loads, how comfortable users are with the hardware and software and how fast your internet connection is to load everything so we should not take these numbers as financial guarantee that we will see a massive return overnight. However, I stand by the expected impact that increasing screen space will deliver and would be happy to take you through it if you would like a more detailed explanation.


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