How a $7,500 investment in employee workstations can return $89,000 or more in increased productivity
I consider myself something of an efficiency obsessive. In fact, boosting productivity has been the focus of my professional career. Both as a manufacturing consultant and now leading Bezlio, I’ve helped clients replace inefficient processes with more streamlined, technology-supported ones that save time and increase profitability.
I’ll also admit that I get excited about each tech evolution. Bezlio is on the forefront of mobile ERP solutions because we saw the possibilities in smartphones and tablets early on. And we’ve jumped in to take advantage of wearables, too.
But what about that oldie but goodie, the desktop? Some companies—even a few early adopters of mobile ERP apps—still aren’t implementing proven methods for enhancing productivity with employee workstation upgrades. And others haven’t imparted their knowledge to the current environment with COVID-19. So let me evangelize for a moment.
You Can Multiply Productivity with Multiple Monitors
Some people who walk into my office laugh at my “battle station.” They think having three monitors in two different orientations is overkill. It’s a geek thing, right?
Well, I did engineer this setup to suit my workflow preferences. For example, my left monitor is situated vertically. I leave email and Slack open in this space, so I don’t need to switch applications every time a message notification comes in. I can quickly glance over and determine whether my immediate attention is required or whether I can respond later.
My other two monitors are reserved for the task I’m currently working on—and yes, splitting that work over two horizontal screens offers some real advantages. If I’m compiling business reports, for instance, I might have MS Excel open in one screen and our accounting package in the other. That way, I can transfer numbers without writing the data down or committing it to my sometimes faulty memory. Not only does this improve accuracy, it’s faster as well.
The same pattern holds if I’m writing something (like this blog) or programming a new bezl. I can keep both the source material and my draft—or the code and the API documentation—in sight.
I came up with this configuration through trial and error, but I’ve since discovered that the sense I get of increased productivity is actually spot-on. Let’s consult some of that source material I currently have up on one of my screens:
A study by Fujitsu Siemens showed that having three monitors improved productivity by 35.5%. By contrast, a bigger monitor alone only heightened efficiency by 8.4%.
Dell also investigated the issue, looking at specific tasks. They found that multiple monitors boosted productivity for text-related work by 44% and spreadsheet work by 29%.
Turns out, I’m about one-third more productive for having three monitors. Pretty cool.
Computing the ROI
The productivity results are impressive, but does it make sense to invest in a similar workstation for every employee with a computer-centric role? What does the cost-benefit look like?
Here’s some back-of-the-napkin math.
There was a time when the price point for monitors would have been a deterrent to providing a full battle station-style setup for most employees, but those costs have plummeted. A decent monitor for business use is now only about $150.
Of course, the default monitor stands aren’t well suited for multi-monitor configurations, but there are affordable alternatives. I like VESA mounts, which allow for a highly flexible desk layout. I use a dual-monitor mount for my horizontal monitors and a single gas-spring motor arm for my left monitor in vertical position. These mounts cost less than $50 apiece.
Another consideration is the video card. You can certainly daisy chain multiple display port monitors together, but a better video card improves performance. That’s another $150.
Thus, calculating the total cost of three monitors, the mounts, and an upgrade to the computer’s video card comes out to about $750.
Now let’s consider what we get in return. Say an office worker spends four hours per workday on their computer. Using the metrics from the Fujitsu study—an efficiency improvement of 35.5% from three monitors—the employee would gain 1.42 hours of productivity each day.
If the employee makes $50,000 per year (which is $24 per hour), the daily productivity gain is worth $34. That means a full return on the $750 investment requires just 22 days to realize—and the rest of the year’s efficiency improvements go right to the bottom line.
If a small or mid-sized company could afford to upgrade workstations for, say, 10 employees who make an average salary of $50,000, their return on investment would be as follows:
1.42 hours increased productivity per employee per day
X $24/hour average labor cost
X 10 employees receiving three-monitor battle station
X 261 working days per calendar year
Feel free to grab a calculator and check me, but that’s a remarkable ROI! And every extra hour employees work at a computer only adds to it.
Assisting Remote Employees
Even for companies with high-quality employee workstations in the office, the issue of multiple monitors has reemerged (along with many, many others!) since COVID-19 struck. If the accounting department, marketing team, and sales force are currently telecommuting for health and safety reasons, it’s important to ask—are they using efficient workstations or tapping away on a laptop from the couch? Because if it’s the latter, you could be suffering productivity loss.
For one thing, a laptop without a separate keyboard and/or monitor does not promote good ergonomics. That’s because you can only choose to put the keyboard at the right height for typing (on the lap) or the screen at the right height for viewing—not both. That’s fine for short sessions, but working full-time from a laptop takes a physical toll. And when you add the inefficiencies of switching between applications on a single screen, the productivity damage can quickly add up.
This is why many companies are sending office workstation equipment home with employees who are going fully remote, or they’re helping them afford home office upgrades. Given the documented efficiencies of a real battle station, these are wise choices.
I’ve always liked the saying, “The difference between an amateur and a professional is having the right tools.” When you employ individuals who need to use various software applications to do their jobs, giving them the right tools to work efficiently allows them to contribute the full benefit of their professional skill and talent—and that can bring an incalculable ROI on a few hundred dollars’ investment.