Private Offices and Large Monitors


This morning Joel pointed to an article in the New York Times called Meet the Life Hackers. It talks about various research into office distractions. Some highlights that stuck out for me.

1) Private offices are not all that

Yet while interruptions are annoying, Mark's study also revealed their flip side: they are often crucial to office work. Sure, the high-tech workers grumbled and moaned about disruptions, and they all claimed that they preferred to work in long, luxurious stretches. But they grudgingly admitted that many of their daily distractions were essential to their jobs. When someone forwards you an urgent e-mail message, it's often something you really do need to see; if a cellphone call breaks through while you're desperately trying to solve a problem, it might be the call that saves your hide. In the language of computer sociology, our jobs today are "interrupt driven." Distractions are not just a plague on our work - sometimes they are our work. To be cut off from other workers is to be cut off from everything.

That backs up my personal experience which is, at least for games, private offices don't work. I've always been most productive in a shared space setting. I'm not saying private offices never work but I think at least for games they are more offen worse than better. Games need constant interaction between designer, artist and programmer to find their fun. Fun is not something that can be speced out like say your average backend webserver solution.

2) I really need more interaction at work

we are so busy keeping tabs on everything ... This can actually be a positive feeling, inasmuch as the constant pinging makes us feel needed and desired. The reason many interruptions seem impossible to ignore is that they are about relationships - someone, or something, is calling out to us ... "It makes us feel alive," Stone says. "It's what makes us feel important. We just want to connect, connect, connect.

That's something I always felt in the past and something I cherished. I was often the "go to guy" as in people came to me to solve lots of varing problems. Here in Japan though I get nearly ZERO interaction. Reading Japanese is still too slow for me so I can't spend the time to read the company news or bbs or I'd never get any work done. While I speak pretty good Japanese I'm not at the point where I could over hear random office discussion and join in like I would in an English speaking situation. That leads to many days were other than "good morning" I speak to no one all day long.

3) Every person that works in front of a computer should have MULTIPLE MONTIORS! I have 2 at work and 3 at home. Most of my co−workers have 1. 😞

The results? On the bigger screen, people completed the tasks at least 10 percent more quickly - and some as much as 44 percent more quickly. They were also more likely to remember the seven-digit number, which showed that the multitasking was clearly less taxing on their brains.

Basically the article says that having a single monitor means you end up having to flip between programs. (email, web, word, etc.) When you flip windows you forget about what you were doing as the previous window is hidden and out of sight. That taxes your short term memory and all of it cascades into being unproductive. Companies think multiple monitors are expensive perks but compared to the gains they are cheap.

In two decades of research, Czerwinski had never seen a single tweak to a computer system so significantly improve a user's productivity.

A 19 inch LCD monitor costs less than $300 now, an extra PCI video card to run 2 more monitors is only $99.

Let me make that last part more clear. If you work on a computer all day and your company has you only using one monitor they are THROWING MONEY AWAY. A 10 percent increase in productivity for a $40k a year person is $4000 a year. A 44 percent increase is a $17600 savings a year PER PERSON! For a programming making $80k a year that's up to $35000 a year. Practically a whole extra employ worth of output for every 2 or 3 people. It shouldn't be a matter of you asking your company to please give you a second monitor. Your company / management should be giving every employee a second monitor from the moment they start working. It's not just about money. Let's say you are working on a project that takes a year. A 10% increase in productivity means more than an extra month worth of time added to your project.

the escapist