In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan discuss workplace optimization with an emphasis on the desk. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How the workstation has evolved to accommodate different preferences
- The ins and outs of every one of these variations—monitor, keyboard, mouse, desk, etc.—and why they’re designed that way
- How to give your employees a choice without halting or slowing down operations
Previously, we looked at the importance of optimizing your office environment. Here, we break it down even further by looking at the most basic unit of workplace productivity: the desk.
Your desk is your battle station, where you go to war for your clients. In the long run, your output is only as good as the state of your workstation. If your desk causes you pain or discomfort, your work will suffer. In the old days, you were assigned a 6’x6’ cubicle and that was going to be your life. Years of misery and muscle aches have highlighted the limitations of this. The market now provides workstation variations that accommodate every personal preference. Standing desks, open base, even footstools are fair game now.
In this episode, we survey this ocean of choice, while being careful not to formally endorse any one thing over another. That’s because what works for us isn’t guaranteed to work for you or every one of your employees. Later, we will tell you how to give employees choice without stopping to interview every one of them. First, we need to make sure we understand the anatomy of a workstation.
COMPUTER TYPE: DESKTOP OR LAPTOP? (4:13)
This was never an easy question and it’s become even harder in recent years. A decade ago, we would have said a desktop gave you more bang for your buck. But laptops have since grown in power even as they’ve gotten smaller. Furthermore, work has become more mobile, and if you’re not trending in that direction, you should be.
There’s no sense in throwing out your desktops, though. A powerful computer is never wasted, no matter how far it can travel. Versatile as your laptop might be, some things you just can’t do well on the go, like scanning and printing. Agents know this, which is why they wait to batch all those things at the office.
The good news is that computer selection no longer needs to be so draconian a proposition. Combining the best of both worlds, Desktop as a Service (DaaS) software now enables you to “remote into” any computer from another one. You can access your beast at the office from your dainty little laptop at home, without any loss of continuity. Thin clients have sprung up precisely to make this easier, as they’re designed to do little more than remote into better computers, even immaterial ones “in the cloud.” Of course, you can’t do much with thin clients without a solid Internet connection. But if you’re looking to marry the power of a strong, centralized computer with the portability of a mobile device, they’re the way to go.
MONITOR: NO PAIN, MORE GAIN (11:45)
Once upon a time, you would get frowned at for suggesting the use of a second monitor. Walk across an office floor today and you’ll see how far along we’ve come since. Some workstations are up to a third monitor, and a fourth one is not unheard of. Productive employees love multiple monitors and know how to use them. In fact, Ryan recommends leveraging them as an incentive: do a good job, get another monitor.
If you are imaginative, passionate, or have a lot of ideas, multiple monitors help you visualize your work better. Some manufacturers supply one giant monitor, but that might not be for everyone. The problem with having extra screen space, be it on one monitor or more, is that dragging things around and repositioning them can be cumbersome. Luckily, the software that enables you to design your own grid has gotten better.
Monitor quantity aside, monitor support is of ergonomic importance. Much of the hunching that happens over desks is the result of poor monitor placement, causing neck, back, and shoulder pain. (It is advisable to have the top quarter of a monitor at eye level.) You might want to invest in some adjustable monitor stands for your employees’ sake. IT people tend to hate them because they make it hard to carry a monitor away, but this is a small sacrifice compared to the impact on your employees’ wellness!
MOUSE AND KEYBOARD: MORE THAN ONE DILEMMA (15:20)
Here we go. First, you’ll need to decide whether you want your keyboard (or mouse) to be wired or wireless. The latter looks like the superior option—what good is a wire if you can do without it?—until you realize (many people don’t) that wireless keyboards run on batteries that need to be changed out every once in a while. Don’t be the person who bursts into Ryan’s office in a panic over why their wireless keyboard “mysteriously” stopped working.
After clearing that crossroads, you arrive at another one: do you settle for a traditional, straight keyboard or a split one, whose keys are separated into two groups for ergonomic reasons? Some keyboards can also be lifted—do you go with that?
Anxious, perhaps, to dispense with this indecision, some are ready to throw out the keyboards altogether in favor of voice, but we don’t recommend going too crazy with this. Although voice technology is clearly making headway, bear in mind that the way people work is personal, private, and resistant to sudden change. It is one thing to use voice to ask your computer to do things—quite another to, say, dictate an email, which a lot of people aren’t used to and might be uncomfortable doing. (If your office environment is dense, you might not relish the sight or sound of several employees talking at their computers at once.)
RISE OF THE DESKS (22:02)
Though they’ve not yet revolted against us humans, the desks are literally rising and overthrowing their oppressive “chairlords”.
Let’s not be radical, though: a good chair can be a great comfort. It can also be a constraint, limiting what you can do with your body and mind. Standing desks enable you to hop from one activity to another with ease. Some report feeling more energetic this way.
Though standing desks are a relatively recent craze, they’re already quite sophisticated. Some, you can adjust with an electric keypad; others are cheaper “retrofits” that you can place on a regular desk. Either way, standing desks are not an easy thing to implement across the board, especially in a large office—but they might be the boost to productivity your agency needs. What to do? Ryan has this idea: set aside one room for standing desks only. They don’t have to be many: four might be enough. Then, invite willing participants to test them out, and see what kind of reaction they get (and from which employees).
It’s okay if you can’t afford to give all options to all employees. This is less about the options themselves and more about your willingness to provide them. If you rigidly enforce too inflexible a workstation standard, your employees are likely to blame you for keeping them from doing their best work. At the same time, figuring out each employee’s individual preferences and tailoring every workstation accordingly might take forever. So here’s a useful in-between:
Set a company standard for each component, but allow for alternatives and let your employees know that they can opt into them. For example, you might decide that a straight keyboard will be the company standard, but a split or raised keyboard will be provided to those who ask for one in time. You will also empower your employees this way, by placing the fate of their productivity in their hands.
Have an open mind. This episode is a testament to how different things work for different people. Steve writes his emails faster by dictating, whereas Ryan would rather type—on a straight keyboard, as it happens, whereas Steve couldn’t part from his split one. Steve also likes to stand when he works; Ryan likes to recline with his laptop on his, well, lap. No preferences are more right than others: the goal is to put your employees in a position to do their best work possible. Talk to them about it.
And speaking of talking about it…
What do you like to have at your desk? Have your preferences changed as you’ve gotten older or switched jobs? Would you take a picture of your desk and show us—either because it is awesome or maybe because it’s a hilarious example of how not to assemble a desk? We created the Digital Broker LinkedIn Group for these very purposes. Join us to chat.
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