21st century work is thinking work. Actually, to be more precise, it is typing and talking work. 20th century work was metal-bending, lathe-operating, furnace-stoking and plastics-extruding work, but 21st century work is typing and talking work.
So, properly understood, the job of your CEO and managers is to help you type and talk better and better and better.
There are a variety of ways to accomplish this: with formal training, with an informal environment that makes you more creative, by feeding and beverage-ing you so you’re never distracted by those needs, and so on. But I can’t think of a bigger bang for the buck than buying you as many monitors as you can possibly use.
When I shared pictures of our office space this week with the four-and-a-half million people that get my weekly newsletter, I got a lot of comments: on the open space, on the smiling people, on how young everybody looked, but especially on the number of monitors on each persons’ desk.
At TheLadders, we started off with one, then two, and now three monitors as our standard setup for many of our staff. (You’ll notice that some people have their monitors “turned up” into portrait mode – that makes it easier for them to work on resumes, which are portrait mode documents. It is important to match the tool to the task.)
And now, for some of our folks, we have the type of crazy setups that you’ll see on Wall Street trading floors. I mentioned it in a comment of Fred Wilson’s blog and he’d said he liked to see it, so here it is:
It’s actually 8 desk monitors, a laptop and an iPad all wired together for one of our database people.
I am incredibly passionate about the tools that we provide to our people to help them type and talk better — I may even be too passionate. In order to help people find their personal productivity peak, I once bought one copy of every style of mouse on Amazon, including some very strange ones like this Kensington Expert Mouse Optical USB Trackball for everybody to test out and figure out which one they liked best. Like most social engineering experiments, it failed and people tended to stick with the basics.
But for monitors, two or three are such a quantum leap better than one, that I can’t believe any corporation doing the math would come to the conclusion that one monitor is optimal for human productivity and happiness.
In addition to being very conducive to a productive and happy office environment in the 21st century, a lot of monitors for each person makes sense financially. In explaining this to your MBA boss, the important thing is to focus on “how much more productive would I have to be in order for the additional cost of more monitors to be break-even?”
My personal experience, and I think the personal experience of many of the people at TheLadders, would be that two or three monitors easily makes you 10, 20 or 30% more productive — you can have multiple screens open, you don’t need to keep information in your head as you switch between programs, you can view the entire problem at once, etc. [Actually, I am going to ask TheLadders’ employees to comment here with their viewpoint on how much more productive multiple screens makes them.]
For the sake of argument, let’s look at somebody making $50,000 per year in salary and bonus — for people making more, the case is obviously stronger and stronger. “Fully loaded” considering rent, utilities, etc., overhead might be 20% of base cost, so let’s call it $60,000 all in.
We’ve standardized on this HP 20-Inch Diagonal LCD Monitor, which now goes for $99 on Amazon. I actually just found this out last night when I asked our Operations person to fill me in on the current economics, and I was flabbergasted. When we originally started doing this, each additional monitor was $250 or more. I’m stunned that it is now that cheap.
So as our operations guy says: “Buy 3 and string them together with a $100 quad-head graphics card as TLC does, and you have a total 60” monitor for $397 when a single 32” costs $1,200.”
Because you need to have at least one monitor anyway, the incremental cost for the two additional monitors and the card is $298. As this setup will be good for three years, your “per year” cost is $99.33. How much more productive would you need to be in order for this to make sense economically?
The answer for your MBA boss is: in order for it to make sense economically for me to have a three monitor setup, it would have to make me 0.17% more productive per year.
It’s a pretty easy argument to make, and win. I will personally swear up and down that it makes me at least 10% more productive (and if I had to honestly guess, I think I’d say high teens).
Oh, and one more thing — it’s not all upside with the multiple monitors at work. Your home setup, with just one monitor, will never feel right again. : )
OK, let me know how the conversation goes with your boss in the comments section!
UPDATE 1: gbattle in the comments point to this 2003 Microsoft Research showing a 9 to 50% improvement in productivity with multiple monitors. That means your boss is wasting at least $5,000 per year by not buying you multiple monitors!