In 2015 and beyond as much thought will need to go into knowledge worker dock and screen selection as goes into PC device selection today

In this post I want to discuss why more time will be needed in thinking about the experience of connecting your laptop, tablet or hybrid to a productive workspace designed to support knowledge workers be creative. In my earlier post on hybrid devices I talked about a trend away from laptops towards hybrid PCs. This will be primarily a device selection trend for knowledge workers who by their nature are more mobile, i.e. Mobile within the office, mobile between offices or mobile between home and other locations. Tomorrows knowledge worker will need to move between spaces and will use a variety of screen sizes to stay updated and to work on their journeys through their working day following a constantly changing activity continuum: 


One critical element of the user experience, what I’ve called the Activity Continuum is the experience of changing mode from mobile to desk and doing that efficiently. Once the change of mode to the desk is complete the connection to the dock enables a workspace for complex creation where keyboard, mouse and large screen are essential. These are the points when knowledge workers will deliver most value. How the user docks a laptop, or increasingly docks their tablet/hybrid is going to be a critical user experience consideration. There are 2 experience considerations I’ll flesh out further in this post:

  • How quickly can a knowledge worker change modes from mobile to productive workspace?
  • What difference does large screens really make?

How quickly is the knowledge worker productive when they change modes of work?

As soon as you touch down at your desk or a hot desk it is the experience of connecting the device to the dock that is important. That can be generally one of 3 methods.

Hybrid, Tablet or Laptop Connect directly into a bespoke dock Problem is docks are generally device specific so roaming then becomes difficult as in the modern workplace device choice is key. One problem with some of these docks is that they only support 1 video output restricting users to 1 additional screen not 2. In fact my setup is to use the bespoke dock for my hybrid which then connects to a USB 3.0 dock described in the next row of this table.
Hybrid, Tablet or Laptop Connect to a USB 3.0 Dock This offers more support for a broader range of devices. However some devices such as the Hybrid I’m using now sacrifice the USB to reduce their size. Some USB 3.0 devices will be powered through the USB cable but others won’t and the power connection will still be required. If we are talking about time being critical for knowledge workers then even such small elements of time should be addressed (the “sum or marginal gains”). In many USB 3.0 docks the ability to drive multiple screens is also an advantage, as we will discuss later. The USB 3.0 dock would also drive keyboard and mouse connections (either wired or wireless).
Hybrid, Tablet or Laptop The sprawl of cables In honesty this approach works but you could generally pay for the dock within about 1 month of use based on the time taken connecting/disconnecting at each change in activity.

Multiple screens and larger screens, why bother?

In short the reason it is important to consider both the number and size of screens used for complex creation is that this is twofold. Firstly the most valuable work of the knowledge worker performs is during complex creation. They’ve gathered knowledge, collaborated and this is the point that all that effort is translated into value for the business. So you want this activity to be the most productive experience possible. Numerous research publications show the improvement in performance for knowledge workers using bigger screens and using multiple screens.

 

For office based tasks it is clear that when single displays are used larger screens allow tasks to be performed faster:


The research of Mary Czerwinski et al showed that screen resolution makes the same task 9% more efficient. Now take a second here – how much time is spent making device decisions compared to screen decisions and compare that to making the complex creation tasks up to 9% more efficient.

More research focuses on multiple displays multiple displays. To support this research the team here performed experiments that show the improvements between single and dual monitors using the NASA-TLX workload dimensions (Are Two Monitors Better than One, J. W. Owens et al, 2012) :

 

Configuration Window Switching per second Clicks per second Mouse
Speed (pixels per second)
Temporal Demand Effort Frustration
Single 17″ 0.28 0.374 256.86 12.33 13.37 12.50
Dual 17″ 0.322 320.84 10.03 10.55 8.07
Single 22″ 0.28 0.329 318.47 10.57 11.82 9.72
Dual 22″ 0.22 0.287 344.79 10.20 11.18 8.77

 

The information clearly shows that for larger and dual displays less window switching occurs, mouse clicks are reduced and the human factors in terms of the demand and frustration reduce with dual and larger dual displays. The preference of the users was also measured with users preferring the dual 22″ configuration.

 

Given this information and the cost of monitors it is the clear recommendation of this report that consideration is given to multiple display configurations in all tasks requiring desk based work.

 

Conclusions

Thinking about the docking and desk-based experience can have significant performance impacts on knowledge workers and if measured in value and total cost terms is a simple business case. Sadly IT tends to work on a direct cost business case and everything I’m describing here costs a few dollars per user per month extra…..come the revolution I’m sure we will solve the problem.

 

This scenario does make me reflect on the fact that workspaces designed by people (i.e. at home) are increasingly becoming more productive and better designed complex creation spaces than those in the office, making the value decision on the journey to the office even tougher to say yes to (but more on that in a future post).

 

The long term dream

Longer term the widely held view is that wireless charging, wireless display protocols and improved WiFi and Bluetooth will mean that docks would become charging plates angles for best view of the screen where no physical wire connection is required. Open protocols will mean that hotels, 3rd spaces, offices and homes could support all devices in this productivity focused configuration with large screens, keyboards, mice etc..

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