The easiest way to increase productivity of your knowledge workers is to simply increase the amount of "screen estate" they have. I recently suggested that a firm add an additional screen for all their customer service workers and you can see below that in a month's time, the time per call decreased from about three minutes and fifty seconds down to three minutes and twenty seconds - 12% -- with no additional training or change in the work load or work design. Because of habit, most firms never consider increasing the size of the digital window, or windows, that we work within. If Henry Ford were around you can be sure that his employees would have at least two screens - and often more. Most people don't know that you can add an additional screen to any laptop and by changing the desktop settings - which takes less than 15 seconds, creating a continuous work space from one screen to the next. The mouse moves across; you can drag applications to the other screen seamlessly. (Windows can drive up to ten screens if you want to get fancy!) Why bother? Well, two screens allows you to open two full sized windows or applications at once, so if you are looking at your email, you can also see your calendar, or open a written document. With the trivial cost of 15-19 inch screens (many under $100), every knowledge worker should have at least two screens - because they will pay for themselves almost immediately.
This handy tip is part of a larger concern I have. With the exception of extreme knowledge work jobs like bond trading, or flying a combat aircraft, companies have not thought creatively about the interface of their knowledge workers and the information tools. For those familiar with "The Bloomberg" - the information utility designed and delivered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's eponymous company, it usually comes two side by side screens in the typical installation.
Small investments can make a huge difference in productivity and employee satisfaction. Most executives have forgotten that a key task of management is to design work - not manage it in the existing design. With the increasing information intensity of all work, we must return to first principles and design more productive and useful interactions of people and their information tools.
You should ask yourself:
Are my employees constrained by their screen estate?
Have I looked at how to improve work - not just by automation, but by redesign?
Why don't I use two screens too?