My first PC, purchased in 1990 for about $3,000, had an amazing 14" CRT monitor that could display 640 x 480 pixels on the screen in 256 colors.  It was really a great PC to start on, but it ran DOS, couldn't multitask and was difficult to use for most people.  Today, my cellular phone has more computing power than that original computer, and on my desktop I run two 22" LCD monitors that can display 1680 x 1050 pixels in 16 million colors, along with a 32" LCD TV for presentations in my office.  The question is, can having larger screens and multiple monitors increase productivity?

The answer is, in most cases, an emphatic yes!  In several recent studies, including one conducted at the University of Utah, employees that multitask as part of their job can see a dramatic increase in productivity over a day.  They found that a worker can save about 10 seconds for every 5 minutes of work in just switching back and forth between programs.  More importantly, the worker can easily organize the information they need to look at all at once.  This leads to the following productivity increases:

  • 45% - Easier task tracking (finding windows, referencing text, etc)
  • 38% - Easier to move around sources of information
  • 32% - Faster to perform tasks
  • 29% - More effective for tasks
  • 28% - Easier task focus
  • 24% - More comfortable to use in tasks
  • 19% - Easier to recover from mistakes
  • 17% - Easier to learn how to accomplish tasks

Most office personnel can benefit from multiple monitors, but some of the biggest gains come from these areas:

  • Accounting
  • Administration
  • Data entry
  • Customer service
  • Sales
  • Engineering / Design

Basically, any user that has more than one program open at a time, and needs to reference between the programs can benefit greatly from the multiple monitors.

There are a few things to consider about offering multiple monitors.  First, not all computers are capable of handling multiple screens.  Most PCs can be upgraded with an additional video card installed.  Second, because having multiple programs open at the same time, the PC may need additional memory.  Third, you will need to consider desk space before making the purchase.  Finally, you need to fit the size and number of monitors to the job.  Find out how many programs the user has open at one time, and how much switching and referencing between the programs that the person does.  The user may benefit from larger screens or more than 2 monitors.

The good news is that monitors are relatively cheap for even large 22" or 24" screens.  Giving users two or more monitors may cost a few hundred dollars, but the payoff in productivity increase will be many multiples of that cost in a very short term.