On developer workplace ergonomics

workplace_failMost developers don’t care much about their working equipment. The company they work in typically provides them a rather powerful computer with a mediocre monitor and a low-cost pair of keyboard and mouse. They’ll be given a regular chair at a regular desk in a regular office cubicle. And then they are expected (and expect themselves) to achieve outstanding results.

The broken triple

First of all, most developers are never asked about their favorite immediate work equipment: keyboard, mouse and monitor.

With today’s digitally driven flat-screens, the monitor quality is mostly sufficient for programming. It’s rather a question of screen real estate, device quantity and possibility of adjustments. Monitors get cheaper continuously.

The mouse is the second relevant input device for developers. But most developers spend more money on their daily travel than their employer spent for their mices. A good mouse has an optimal grip, a low monthly mouse mile count, enough buttons and wheels for your tasks, your favorite color and is still dirt cheap compared to the shirt you wear.

The keyboard is the most relevant device on a programmer’s desk. Your typing speed directly relies on your ability to make friends with your keyboard. Amazingly, every serious developer has her own favorite layout, keystroke behavior and general equipment. But most developers still stick to a bulk keyboard they were never asked about and would never use at home. A good keyboard matches your fingertips perfectly and won’t be much more expensive than the mouse.

Missed opportunities

The failure is two-fold: The employer misses the opportunity to increase developer productivtiy with very little financial investment and the developer misses the opportunity to clearly state her personal preferences concerning her closest implements.

Most employers will argue that it would place a heavy burden on the technical administration and the buying department to fit everybody with her personal devices. That’s probably true, but it’s nearly a one-time effort multiplied by your employee count, as most devices last several years. But it’s an ongoing effort for every developer to deliver top-notch results with cumbersome equipment. Most developers will last several years, too.

Some developers will state that they are happy with their devices. It really might be optimal, but it’s likely that the developer just hasn’t tried out alternatives yet.

Perhaps your organizational culture treats uniformity as professionality. Then why are you allowed to have different haircuts and individual ties?

Room for improvement

Our way to improve our workplaces was to introduce an annual “Creativity Budget” for every employee. It’s a fair amount of money destined to use one’s own creativity to improve productivity. It could also have been named “Productivity Budget”, but that would miss the very important part about creative solutions. There is no formal measurement of productivity and only loose rules on what not to do with the money. Above all, it’s a sign to the developer that she’s expected to personally care for her work environment, her equipment and her productivity. And that she’s not expected to do that without budget.

The Creativity Budget outcome

The most surprising fact about our budgets was that nearly none got fully spent. Most developers had very clear ideas on what to improve and just realized them – without further budget considerations. On top of that, everybody dared to express their preferences, without fear of overbearance. It’s not a big investment, but a very worthwile one.

2 thoughts on “On developer workplace ergonomics

  1. Pingback: SSD and (One)-touch Backup solution « Schneide Blog

  2. Pingback: Blog harvest, December 2009 « Schneide Blog

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