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Eyestrain

Arseni Mourzenko
Founder and lead developer, specializing in developer productivity and code quality
130
articles
July 5, 2014

A few months ago, I left the company, but it's only today that I understood why I often had headaches and eyestrain at work, and I rarely have that when working at home.

At home, I unconsciously follow the next pattern: work for ten minutes to an hour--an hour being when I'm truly in the zone, then do stuff which doesn't force me to stay in front of a monitor: take a nap for five minutes, eat something, go look through the window. All those tasks are hardly concieavable in an unhealthy environment such as what we had at the company I left. I imagine that I don't have to explain why taking a nap would be impossible there. Eating something could be possible, but in front of the monitor. Spending a few minutes gazing through the window would definitvely be suspicious.

As a manager, I can hardly expect people to stare at the monitor all day long. While some managers would qualify gazing through the window as a sign of laziness, it's really not; tiredness, on the other hand, can have a huge impact on the productivity. The other misbelief is that doing something else for a few minutes will kick the person out of the zone. This is wrong as well: if the person is in the zone, he won't be able to take a nap, because he just can't think about anything rather than the task itself. If the person decides to go eat something, he's not in the zone anyway.

Of course, the tasks are different too. In this company, I was asked to write lines and lines of code for the whole day. At home, I work as a developer, which means that a large amount of time is spent doing tasks which require not a PC, but a pencil and a piece of paper. I can also afford reading--a task which is stricly prohibited at my previous job.

Additionnally, at home, I have three 24-inch monitors which are not the most expensive ones and may not be the best ones, but are still quite good, at least compared to the crap I had to use at the company. Frankly, I take it as a sign of lack of respect to have to use those cheap 22-inch Dell monitors we see everywhere: seriously, I don't deserve a monitor which costs more than $150? When working there, I had to fight to have dual-monitor configuration. Most colleagues had only one monitor, and used their notebook screen side-by-side, ruining their eyes.

Finally, the workspace was done in such a way that we didn't have windows nearby to gaze through, but the window was slightly behind us. In the morning, it was practically impossible to see anything on the screen because of the sun, so we closed the blinds, and turned the lights on. There were ways to solve this issue, but it was strictly forbidden by the management to move the furniture. The workspace being large and dark, we were often forced to keep the lights on the whole day, which only increased eyestrain. This is just disrespectful to provide such working conditions and to forbid people to try to improve them.

So, if you're a manager, please:

  • Just buy two large monitors for every developer, and don't pick the cheapest one you can find.

  • Stop believing that a developer looking through the window for a few minutes is a lazy person. By forcing him to stare at the screen the whole day, you will only decrease his productivity.

  • And most importantly, stop doing micromanagement. If people want to move furniture, let them do it. If they want to relocate to another room and it's possible to do it, they should be able to do it, without asking your permission.