How a Better Keyboard Can Improve Office Productivity
Everyone’s had that awful hour of slow toil as their keyboard stutters to get its letters out. In spite of the financial attraction of cheap rubber membrane keyboards, their old age leads to unresponsive or sticky keys which cause either frustrating silence on the page or frenzied excitement and mild panic as you attempt to stem the flow of Es pouring out onto your important report.
Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, offer a smooth, streamlined and faithful user experience, maximising typing speed and pleasure. The benefits of switching to a mechanical keyboard far outweigh the cheaper alternative, not least because they last much longer, but the real attraction of mechanical keyboards is their ability to be customised according to particular office needs.
The first port of call is choosing a layout. The most common is the standard 104-key full-size layout, offering a full number pad, a function row and arrow cluster. These may require less effort, initially, but they cost more, being bigger, and give little in return.
Next step down is the tenkeyless (TKL) board, or, imaginatively, 80% boards. This is exactly the same as above minus the number pad, so would be worth considering if you’re more of a written than a mathematical office.
Continuing to chip away, next in line is the 60% – or mini – keyboard. These boards have only the alpha keys, modifiers and number row. All the other keys you will be missing can be accessed via a function layer, for example Fn + WASD for arrows. The less keys the cheaper the board is, so if you can manage to navigate the functions effectively then these are an advantage to your business. Speed of typing and portability are other benefits worth considering.
Now if you’ve mastered the 60% board and you’re after something even more portable and efficient, it’s worth considering the 40% custom keyboard, otherwise called ortholinear. These consist of just the alpha keys and a small selection of modifiers. Whilst this requires a little extra work – learning a double layer of functions – once you’ve programmed it to how you want the speed and efficiency of your work will increase tenfold due to the tight typing space. These almost fit into your pocket – very handy for a business that require employees to travel a lot.
For those who never leave the desk, however, the ergodox keyboard – split boards with half the keys on each side – could maximise the comfort, ease and productivity of office work. As with the mini and the ortholinear, these also have function layers which, when mastered, maximise the potential productivity gained from layout.
Whether you like a satisfying click to voice the speed and agility of your type or whether you prefer an obtrusive silence, mechanical keyboards have it all. Cherry produce’s the most popular switches, colour coding each switch type depending on its characteristics.
These types can be reduced to three categories: linear, clicky and tactile. Linear switches (MX Red and MX Black) have the most basic operation, moving simply up and down. The give no tactile feedback or click, so are popular with the fluid, mysterious moves of gamers.
Tactile switches (MX Brown the most popular), however, have a little bump as the key presses down. These give your typing process definition, confirming the success of a key press and enhancing the overall typing experience. These are more preferable in offices than clicky switches (MX Blue the most popular), which have an added clicking mechanism, for clicky keys can lead to cranky employees. Rubber membrane keyboards can also have this agonising effect.
This could be the thing that sways you towards one perfect keyboard over another. Most boards have inexpensive ABS keycaps, with legends printed or lasered on. These will get shiny after much use and the legends may wear off. A double-shot of ABS will help, but only temporarily.
PBT plastic are the don of keycaps, so if you want the best for your office – and the most durable – go for PBT. The texture is rougher so will work better with finger grip for speedier typing. Some still print on the legends but the best ones integrate the dye into the plastic itself.
If you’ve still got money to throw at this then there are certain other tweaks you can make to maximise typing potential. Swapping keys is one thing, although much work has gone into the standard set up to ensure cohesion and also swapping keys around at this stage in life is akin to learning a new language. Similarly, it’s very expensive.
The contours of the keys themselves is something that might be worth attention, however. Most keyboards use something called an OEM profile, with slightly angled keys at varied heights for each row. Other profiles are available, however, which offer different patterns of synchronisation.
The best, most rewarding mechanical keyboards aren’t easy to find, but you can get some perfectly good quality boards from retailers like Amazon and Newegg. For extra special full-size boards check out Ducky, Das Keyboard and Cooler Master. For TKL see WASD Keyboards, Filco’s Majestouch and the Cooler Master QuickFire. For mini boards, there’s the Vortex Poker 3, the Ducky Mini and the KBP v60, among a few others.
Don’t shy away; keyboards are business investments that will be giving back for years.