How to persuade your MBA boss to buy you more monitors

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:

TheLadders Work Station

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!

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. TheLadders Sales Rep says:

    2 monitors is SWEEEEET!

  2. Marissa says:

    As an employee of TheLadders, I LOVE having 3 monitors! It really helps me when I am on the phone with our Job Seekers. While on a call, it's important for me to have access to their resume and account information, and to be able to take notes on our interaction. I can't imagine trying to do this job with just one screen, and you're right- going home to my little laptop just isn't the same!

    Marissa
    Job Search Advisor

  3. Kean says:

    Not only do I love having multiple monitors, it's critical to delivering stellar customer service. With client/account/customer interaction, even something as basic as a call, it is a necessity to have more than one monitor in that you can view the entire breadth of their account's information for them. It's great not having to spend time weeding through several window panes of information and having it out all laid out in front of you allows you to quickly access and deliver any information your client needs at the time. This allows us to deliver swift and accurate customer service!

  4. Chrisbarnes1125 says:

    As an employee of TheLadders having two monitors helps me be more organized and efficient with my work.

  5. Tiffany says:

    As a TheLadders.com Resume Analyst, I have three monitors — we wouldn't be nearly as productive with anything less!

  6. TheLadders 1 says:

    1 monitor is like digging out of a snowstorm with a shovel – it definitely works. But wouldn't you be better off with Snow Plow?

    ..and we've had a lot of snow in NYC!

  7. I can't work with just one – two monitors are essential. I have never had more than 2 however… maybe its time to talk to the boss… :o )

  8. mcenedella says:

    Dale — definitely talk to the boss! You *deserve* three!! :)

  9. Michael D Naughton says:

    Actually the ironic thing is that I have more screen real estate at home than at work! I thought it was so nice at home that I convinced my supervisor to give dual monitors to my entire team!

  10. Rmenconi says:

    Its funny because I was actually talking about this yesterday at home. I logged on to SalesForce and Outlook from home and was attempting to get a little extra work done. I made the comment to my girlfriend about how much slower I was working compared to in the office due to the usage of two screens.

    I dont think anyone realizes how beneficial a second or third screen can be until you use it for work purposes. I work much more efficiently and am obviously a huge fan.

  11. fredwilson says:

    instant reblog on fredwilson.vc
    that setup is sick!!!!

  12. Noah Goldenberg says:

    As a Research Analyst at TheLadders who spends a lot of time making sense of data and translating it into meaningful and easily digestible charts and slides, I couldn't imagine having less than my three monitors. When working on an analysis, I typically have a PowerPoint document open on one monitor, and Excel sheet on another, which I'm using to create charts and tables for my slides, and a SQL Server window in another, where the data is actually coming from. When one of these isn't needed, my Outlook email or task list fills in the third. I actually only had two monitors when I started at TheLadders, and quickly said “Yes” when offered a third. I'm certain that even just the few seconds I save every minute from being able to see two or three things at the same time, rather than having to tab back and forth constantly or keep things in my head, add up to a lot of extra time each week to get real work accomplished!

  13. Ware Sykes says:

    After getting 2 monitors at work 5 years ago, I immediately upgraded to 2 at home. I simply could not go back to the 1 monitor system. Now, I laugh when I walk through an office and I don't see 2 monitors. Its the most affordable way to get at least 10% more out of yourself, and your people. I have an MBA, and they certainly didn't teach that at school!

  14. gsuper says:

    2 or 3 monitors is definitely better than 1 – and TheLadders is the first place I've worked that has such setup as “standard”.
    I've also noticed that a combination of 1 larger monitor (e.g. 30″) and 1 regular 20″ is an ideal combination for most software developers.
    What that allows for developers is being able to see more code all at once, finding specific snippets faster and seeing general patterns better.
    Then the second monitor becomes the “prep” area – tailing the logs, keeping an eye on email and team chat window.

  15. Heather Bauer says:

    I definitely have to agree. At any one time I tend to have 2 Firefox windows, Outlook, and an Excel spreadsheet open bare minimum. 2 monitors are an absolute necessity although I'm starting to think it's time to make my case for 3! I know when I think about how often I have to switch between screens when I'm working at home, I can assure you I'm definitely $100 more productive a year!

  16. gurov says:

    As the user of the pictured setup I can vouch for how it does make me more productive. It allows me to never have to hunt for screen real estate when some task has to be done in a crunch. It also somewhat keeps the fatigue down due to having to move my neck instead of just my eyes.

    Eight screens are hooked up to 4 regular destktop computers, no special video card required, just a dualhead card in each one.
    Three of them are running Linux, and one Windows, laptop is running windows7.
    There is one keyboard and one pointing device to control all computers, connected together using Synergy (great piece of software).
    Keyboard is an adjustable split keyboard made by keyovation.
    Pointing device is a microsoft optical trackball.
    Screens on the left are connected to the windows machine, but they didn't quite come out in the picture, hence white was replaced with something less boring to get the point across.

  17. Michael K Wagner says:

    When will 4 monitors become standard issue here at TheLadders? :)

    I'm joking; but this does speak to the passion that the team here has about the tools that are provided to them and how much more productive they make us.

  18. blake41 says:

    OMG I couldn't agree with you more. I just got a 23 inch monitor to add to my home setup for coding and it's mind boggling how much more productive I am. I want another one but my macbook pro won't drive two external monitors.

  19. Pfeiffer report from 2006 puts the productivity gain of more pixel space at more like 50%.

  20. gbattle says:

    Marc, there is an old Microsoft study that supports your claim:

    http://research.microsoft.com/

    I personally used 3 20″ CRTs back in the late 90s during my Wall Street days and never looked back. At $99/20″ monitor today, you really can't afford not to use multiple monitors.

    FWIW, I'm partial to this 27″ monitor: http://amzn.to/gPtUvI

  21. mcenedella says:

    This is by far the best comment on the topic. Thanks for the research!!

  22. gbattle says:

    I've been a huge proponent of multiple monitors for a long, long time.

    Here's more fun information on the advantages of multiple screens for you

    from MultipleMonitors.org: http://bit.ly/gdkb15

    Enjoy!

  23. Adrian Scott says:

    great post — any suggestions on sample $100 quad-head vid card? thanks in advance

  24. Happy3monitorLaddersEmployee says:

    I'm another 3 monitor employee at TheLadders.com and I feel lucky and fortunate enough to have an intelligent and accommodating CEO that's willing to supply his employees with the proper tools to perform at their highest level. I never thought I'd need more than 2 monitors but I was wrong. After getting a 3rd monitor I was kicking myself for not requesting this sooner. My productivity has gone up at least two-fold, a small price to pay if you're running a company. The only down side to this is, you won't tolerate anything less going forward. My single monitor setup at home is pretty much useless when I work from home.

  25. mcenedella says:

    According to our team, we use the default internal card for the first monitor and this:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ

    for the external ones.

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