The Great Big Monitor Mystery and the Multiple Monitor Mystery

Jimmy and Grandad go to AmericaThere is clear research that giving people more screen real-estate makes them more productive. This has been recently highlighted by the Wall Street Journal. Numerous studies have shown similar results before (here, here).

So where it the mystery?

I work for an organisation that supports hundreds of thousands of desktop and laptop devices for its customers. As far as I know not a single one of those customers is beating our door down to provide large or multiple monitors to their staff.

These studies show significant productivity gains with a potential return within weeks. The equation would appear to be quite simple – spend £150 and get back hundreds of hours each year.

I’ve talked to a few customers about the research and the response was lukewarm at best.

If someone said to me that I could work 10% fewer hours if I spent £150 I think I would be quite interested.

So why such a tepid response from customers?

There are a number of possible reasons but two of them stand out:

  • They don’t believe it.
  • They don’t care.

If you have been around IT for any period of time you will have been involved in a project that promised significant productivity gains but delivered little, or was perceived to deliver little. No one believes it anymore, the level of cynicism is just too high. I have some sympathy for this point of view.

I suspect that it’s difficult to measure the real productivity benefit of screen real-estate for most knowledge workers because it’s difficult to baseline their productivity in the first place. There are, however, all sorts of ways of getting some level of understand and the cost of running a pilot deployment, for instance, could be quite low. So why don’t they?

I suspect that lack of belief isn’t the primary reason for the lack of interest. I think that the primary reason is that they don’t care, and the reason they don’t care is that it’s not their problem. Most IT organisations that I speak to are focused on managing the cost of IT rather than the value of IT. Productivity is a value – an extra monitor is a cost. These IT organisations don’t get the credit for adding to the productivity of the organisation, they just get beaten-up for adding to the costs.

Perhaps we need to abolish IT organisations, and turn them into productivity organisations.

2 thoughts on “The Great Big Monitor Mystery and the Multiple Monitor Mystery”

  1. I’d like to invest in a metal ruler and go round hitting people using a laptop in a docking station with a monitor, but the lid on the laptop is closed!!!! Today I’m “on the road” and really miss my second monitor!
    I think if we took a different approach and simply plugged 2 monitors into key workers desks one night, left a note on how to use it and then go back in a week, would they give it back?


  2. “Perhaps we need to abolish IT organisations, and turn them into productivity organisations.”
    @Graham, but isn’t this at the crux of so many of the issues facing organisations these days? It goes back to the many conversations on the subject of to whom should the IT director report, CIO, CEO, elsewhere…?
    @Stu, not a chance! (But you knew that already!)
    So what we are saying is that the “key workers” you mention need to be the skeptics Graham is talking about.
    Though like a lot of things in IT these days around productivity improvements, it is becoming increasingly difficult to measure.


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