Hand held rugged devices have become ubiquitous in various environments, including retail stores, checkouts, warehouses, field services and healthcare. Typically, hand held devices perform multiple functions, including enterprise applications, communications, scheduling, inventory management, email, voice communications, SMS and more. Most of these applications issue notifications. When users receive a notification, they must cease what they are doing to pick up the device, initiate operation, access the notification, read the message and react to it. Each interruption affects productivity and concentration.
While notifications received through hand held devices and PDAs are often distracting, some notifications are necessary. Warehouse workers get notifications about tasks to complete, while courier drivers and field service technicians receive GPS instructions, customer information and schedule changes through their devices. The issue isn’t the notification feature but how it is presented and managed.
Adding a second display at the devices’ top edge and leveraging the Android™ operating systems’ granular ability to manage notifications can significantly reduce the impact of notifications. Researchers report that interruptions lead people to change not only work rhythms but also strategies and mental states. Workers concentrating on a task in many cases do not return to that task but shift their attention to something else. On average, researchers found that it takes 23 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. A second display enhances productivity, prevents loss of concentration, and reduces the type of handling that can result in drops and breakage. Datalogic estimates that the impact of notifications can be reduced by over 40% as a result of a second display.
Interruptions Impact Productivity
The effects of interruptions have been studied extensively and show that the impact of interrupted work affects worker behavior and productivity. Researchers at the University of California found that fragmentation of work is commonplace and interruptions impact worker performance in many ways. Researchers noted that as interruptions impacted the amount of time workers had to complete their tasks, the work was done with less thoroughness and detail. Moreover, subjects in the studies reported more stress, frustration, and time pressure compared to uninterrupted work.
Researchers also found that interruptions lead people to change not only work rhythms, but strategies and mental states. Workers concentrating on a task in many cases do not return to that task but shift their attention to something else. On average, researchers found it takes 23 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
Once a worker is interrupted, their attention may shift to a different priority. The worker becomes distracted by the interruption and strays from the task at hand. A worker getting a notification such as an instant message or text will often check non-enterprise related feeds such as email and social media.
Professionals who carry ruggedized hand held or personal digital assistant (PDA) devices for work take them wherever they go, usually holstered on their hip for easy access. Delivery drivers, field service workers, warehouse pickers and hospital nurses are among the legions of professionals who depend on hand held computers for numerous tasks. Applications include scheduling, routing, barcode scanning, image capture, web browsing, invoicing, email and messaging.
Devices typically have a single multifunctional display which is covered when the device is holstered. When a notification arrives, the device vibrates or sounds an alert. The user must unholster the PDA and initiate operation to view the newly arrived information. All this activity interrupts the person’s work. In the course of a workday, the process is likely to repeat itself multiple times. Studies show that on average people get over 60 notifications per day on their personal devices. Depending on the user, enterprise devices can generate an equally large number of interruptions in the form of email, SMS, schedule changes, order notifications and more.
Every time a worker must unholster a PDA to read a message, a loss of productivity occurs, even if the interruption lasts only a minute or two. Lost productivity adds up and is compounded by the loss of concentration from the task at hand that also occurs. After each interruption, it takes several minutes to regain concentration. On average researchers found that it takes 23 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. This means productivity loss extends past the time the device is replaced in its holster.
Interruptions also affect quality of work. A study by Michigan State University found that errors doubled when participants were interrupted for an average of 2.8 seconds. When the interruptions averaged 4.4 seconds, the rate of errors tripled.
The interruption itself is undesirable, especially when the notification doesn’t require immediate attention. Stopping to read anything other than an urgent message – or one that requires immediate action – is wasted time. The vast majority of notifications do not require immediate attention, so a worker can needlessly lose several minutes of productivity with each interruption. If those interruptions occur frequently, the productivity deficit grows substantially.
Safety is another potential issue when someone needs to check notifications. A warehouse worker at the top of a ladder could lose their balance while grabbing for the device. A delivery driver balancing a few packages between chin and a forearm could slip, fall or drop a fragile package. The safety of the device is also placed at risk; if it is dropped from the top of a ladder, the back of a freight truck, or other mishandling can result in damage and reduced functionality. Breakage incurs hundreds or thousands of dollars on repair or replacement.
While notifications received through hand held devices and PDAs are often distracting, some notifications are necessary. For instance, warehouse workers get notifications about tasks to complete, while courier drivers and field services technicians receive GPS instructions, customer information and schedule changes through their devices. The issue, therefore, isn’t the notification feature but how it is used.
If users hear a ‘ping’ indicating a newly arrived message, they can ignore it if they know the notification isn’t urgent. However, if the device is holstered, they must look at the display to learn whether the message is urgent. A secondary display on the top surface of the device solves that problem by delivering hands-free visual notifications. Placed at the top edge of the device, the second display allows users to check messages with a quick downward glance. If no action is required, which may be the case a high percentage of the time, the person can immediately resume their task.
The productivity gains of adding a secondary display to a device used so frequently in so many settings can be significant. A worker who spends upwards of an hour during each shift checking notifications can reduce that to only a few minutes. The worker will unholster the device only when necessary. There is also an exponential gain in concentration, thanks to the substantial reduction of unholstering activity.
Another benefit of a secondary display is task prioritization. With the second display, users can make split-second decisions on whether to stop their task to handle something more urgent. So, in addition to becoming more productive, workers who use the device are better equipped to decide which task must be performed and when.
Custom Notifications – Android is the world’s most widely used mobile operating system5 and is highly flexible and open to customization. Use of an Android API allows for notification customization, which can limit which notifications are shown on the secondary display. Enterprises can tailor which messages are sent to the secondary display, making it easier for workers to stay focused and reduce distractions. Any notifications sent to the secondary display can be deemed as high priority, and all other notifications can be postponed.
A device with a second display is suited to a variety of environments where users need hand held devices for their tasks. Such environments usually rely on adherence to schedules and processes designed for maximum efficiency – in other words, environments where unnecessary interruptions need to be avoided. Examples include:
Warehouse environments are busy places where workers roam constantly to pick items off shelves and load them on carts to be transferred onto a truck. Similar beehive-like activity occurs at airports, ships and rail yards. As workers move about, they receive messages through hand held computers to perform tasks such as loading or offloading a vehicle, picking pallets off a shelf or scanning and stowing newly arrived items. A second display would ensure they can respond to those notifications while not getting distracted by messages that don’t require immediate attention.
Restaurant servers commonly juggle several tables simultaneously. Knowing when an order is ready in the kitchen for delivery can be a challenge as servers move around dining areas. A second display would alert them to deliver their customers’ meals before getting cold. This is also applicable to take-out and drive-through restaurants, where a second display would notify workers when food is ready for delivery.
Medical staff in busy hospitals and clinics carry hand held devices for various functions, including scanning patient wristbands and notifications. A second display would ensure they are only taken away from their current duties for important tasks, such as when to administer medication, check on a patient, pick up lab test results, or to respond to an emergency.
Field service technicians rely heavily on hand held devices that tell them where to go, how to get there and what awaits them when they arrive. Whether a repair person is fixing an appliance in a residence or a utility worker is climbing a pole, a second display would be extremely valuable. Field workers often receive schedule changes or critical information about their assignments through their hand held device. They would benefit from knowing when a notification is urgent without having to unholster a device, especially when climbing a pole or holding a potentially dangerous tool.
Second Display Benefits
In each of the above scenarios, the benefits of a hand held computer with a second display are significant, thanks to hands-free notification capabilities:
- Productivity boost
- Improved worker safety
- Task prioritization
- Repair/replacement cost reduction
Sometimes a simple idea has a great impact. Such is the case with a second display on a hand held device that faces upward for easy viewing. A secondary display has the potential to significantly improve productivity and safety in environments dependent on hand held devices by eliminating the majority of distractions that can reduce a worker’s concentration. In addition, customization will help ensure that organizations get the most value out of their staff and investments by limiting distracting notifications.
Enterprises that currently deploy PDA devices and those planning to must consider the added value of a second display. As they evaluate the replacement of existing devices, consider expanding use, or look to initiate a new deployment, the productivity gains provided by a second display should be seriously weighed. Any RFP or evaluation should include models that have second displays for consideration. Units with this feature offer the greatest flexibility and futureproofing of the investment.