The Science of Multiple Monitors and Productivity

The market today has got very competitive, productivity is the key for a business to survive in such a market. If you take a look at the working environment of the most productive businesses you’ll find that they provide more than just one monitor for employees to work efficiently. In the past multiple monitors used to be a thing only for Wall Street traders and with Silicon Valley companies, but the trend has now been adopted by businesses across industries. 

In this article, I will answer questions such as why multiple monitors increase productivity? How many monitors are needed for maximum efficiency? So, let’s begin.


Why Multiple Monitors Increase Productivity?

Before I answer this question let’s first answer what’s the main problem of using one monitor? The main issue with using one monitor is that it’s not suited for modern multitasking. Let me tell you something about myself, I work from home, and most of the time during work I find myself doing multiple tasks at the same time such as:

  • repeatedly switching from one program to another and back again
  • copying & pasting items from one source to another
  • side-by-side comparison of two or more elements 
  • drafting an email using source material
  • manage inventory levels
  • prepare summary information and proposals for executives
  • data entry from different active sources
  • reviewing more than one timesheets
  • leaving a chat box open while working
  • and so forth

All these tasks are ill-suited for the limited space of one monitor, as I either have to subdivide the display or they overlap one another. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who multitasks, there’s more than 70% chance that you do too. Our works take longer than it should primarily because of the time lost due to switching attention between different tasks. The more that we switch our attention, the less there is a focus on a complicated, multi-tasked effort. This results in more errors, as information has to be remembered for varying periods of time. Let’s understand this concept through another way, let’s say human memory is analogous to a computer’s memory: the more that’s going on and is obscured, the more mental energy must be expended to maintain an appropriate amount of focus.

Multiple monitors simply provide us with more visual space to work digitally. One can easily switch from one task to another by looking just a few inches to the side, which helps employees focus. Similarly, having more than one monitor can provide a dedicated communication screen for email, online collaboration platforms, social media, or dashboards.


Research on Utilizing Multiple Monitors for Productivity

Now, I know some of the readers will be skeptical about how such an obvious fix could lead to such drastic benefits, well, you should know that there are more than one studies that prove the benefits of using multiple monitors, all with positive results across the board. You can easily find them through one simple Google search, in case you are too lazy, here’s a list of some of the studies:

  • In a ’17 study conducted by Jon Peddie Research found that multiple displays can increase an employee’s productivity by an average of 42%.
  • This study, first conducted by Georgia Institute of Technology in ’08, found that employees were able to complete tasks 2-and-a-half minutes faster by using multiple monitors instead of single.
  • In ’08, a study by the University of Utah and NEC found a ten percent increase in productivity and a twenty percent reduction in errors when test workers used a multiple monitor setup. As a byproduct, reduction in stress among test subjects was also noted along with $1.5 million in cost savings in 1 year with a business of 250 employees.  
  • A research paper from Microsoft in ’03 estimates companies saw a minimal nine percent improvement in productivity when changing to a multiple monitor setup from a conventional one-display scenario. 
  • According to research commissioned by Fujitsu Siemens Computers and conducted by Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in ’09, three-display workplaces increased productivity by 35.5%.


Three Monitor Setups are Optimal for Productivity

The most important one out of all the above studies is the last one, as it pointed that web developers, scientists, editors, engineers, or any other job where digital information has to be processed very frequently, the employees/workers preferred a 3-monitor setup as optimal. Similar tasks were performed both with a 2-monitor and a 3-monitor setup, by comparing the results of both they arrived at the conclusion that, using similar tasks, 3-monitors were the clear winner.

Bill Gates to uses a 3-monitors setup, with inbox open on the left screen so that he can see the incoming new messages, the center one focused on the task he has to do at the moment such as a message or document that he’s currently reading or writing, and the right one for the additional task needs such as to open up a browser or to look at a document that someone has sent in an e-mail. And not only Bill Gates, Larry Page, Al Gore, and countless web developers also rely on a 3-monitors setup to accomplish their mission-critical tasks. The reason why I’m mentioning this is that I know that there will be some resistance to this idea, possibly some will say that its over-complicating the process. So know this, many high-profile individuals use a 3-monitor setup, and if they are doing it there must be some reason.

What makes 3 the perfect number is the fact that the center monitor functions as where the primary work takes place, while the monitors to the left and right are supplemental, but can be compared in real-time with one another for efficiency. You have already gone through the example of Bill Gates, another example could be programmers using the center monitor as the Integrated development environment (IDE), with reference documentation on the right side and various browsers to test across on the left side. 

In fact, the combinations are endless and are only limited to the creativity of the particular user.

A multiple monitor setup will not only help improve your employees’ potential output but will also improve the bottom line of your company. Considering all these benefits, I think adopting a multiple monitor setup for employees and staff members should be a no-brainer for all the bosses out there.

Thank you for reading!

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