Cheap Peripherals for Work

A problem with a lot of the purchase of peripherals is that they don’t match the needs of the users and often get thrown away long before they wear out.

At many companies when a new employee starts they are given a laptop (expensive corporate asset), a cheap headset for video calls, and optionally a keyboard and mouse for people who don’t like the laptop keyboard and/or touchpad.

When an employee leaves the company their laptop can be assigned to someone else if it isn’t too old. Headsets and mice often show signs of wear if they have been used for a year or two and while keyboards often have a long service life they will be dirty after a couple of years and they are cheap to replace. So every time someone leaves and returns all company hardware there will be a headset and mouse owned by the company that ends up as e-waste and sometimes a keyboard too. Often people leave and just keep the headset, mouse, and keyboard expecting that no-one at their former employer will demand them back – this is a reward for dishonesty.

Buying the keyboards, mice, and headsets in bulk allegedly makes it easy to support them, but supporting such devices isn’t difficult and the IT staff end up fielding complaints because the devices they issue don’t match the preferences of the workers. These devices have the worst ratio of value to complaints of anything a typical company supports.

I believe that the best solution to all these problems is to not buy those items for employees but to instead give them a sum of money sufficient to buy cheap items in each category (EG $60 for keyboard, mouse, and headset) and let them buy whichever they choose. If they want something more expensive (Bose headset, split keyboard, or gamer mouse) them they can spend their own money to do so (and claim a tax deduction). Then when people leave the company they can take those items with them and save the company the expense of waste disposal while also not rewarding dishonesty. An additional benefit for the company is that it can reduce the issues of complying with disability legislation, anyone who already owns such hardware can just keep the money.

The current situation is bad for morale, a waste of time for IT workers, and contributes to the waste problem.

6 comments to Cheap Peripherals for Work

  • Paul Boddie

    At a former workplace they had drawers full of keyboards and mice, and even a substantial collection of monitors, all waiting for disposal. Some of the equipment, including older computers, was being donated to organisations able to make use of it in less well-off countries. Occasionally, people were offered the monitors, and I did wonder if I shouldn’t have asked to take a Dell USB keyboard off their hands, given that I bought a cheap “Deltaco” keyboard that didn’t even last a couple of years.

    Then there was the colossal pile of electrical waste that sat in the basement with plenty of electronics, telephones, and the odd computer or piece of laboratory equipment being thrown out. And there was the story of the television of considerable size apparently used for videoconferencing that was just thrown out still apparently completely functional.

    Organisations love to buy new stuff, even for people doing very short contracts, as I discovered. Some of the people responsible clearly like acquiring things, but their “retail therapy” is itself a behavioural problem that needs a form of treatment, I think.

  • For people on short term contracts the correct thing to do is to have some spare desks with PC etc ready to use.

    The wasteful way of disposing of things once the decision is made is another problem. At a co-working space I was at in the past I started the practice of having a bin for small items that work but aren’t needed (like small DIMMs replaced by bigger ones) that anyone can take. I also started the practice of sending a Slack message when there were big things being disposed of, things like FullHD monitors still have some use and it’s better for grateful people to carry them away than pay for someone to take them to landfill.

  • Paul Boddie

    I have to say that the absurd thing about my temporary contract laptop experience was that for the overwhelming majority of the duration of the contract, I actually used a spare laptop that was available as a kind of stand-in machine. So, there was plenty of kit around to accommodate people floating in and out of the institution. Maybe someone thought that some newer kit would be nice.

    They did actually have spare desks with fancy monitors and a few keyboards and mice. But there is a compulsion in IT purchasing now to get laptops for everybody, just in case they need to travel or work elsewhere. That might have been a benefit during the pandemic, but then there were people complaining that their homes were not ergonomic enough for work and that someone should be paying for a bunch of extra kit to be set up for them there, too.

    Oh, I could just go on about all the waste, I really could.


    I think that for most tasks laptops are a better choice than desktops. The economies of scale have turned in favour of laptops. Desks are expensive and hot-desking does have some advantages. The old way of doing things where everyone had a PC at a desk that was permanently reserved for them because it had their PC with their data and then taking removable media or print-outs to a meeting room wasn’t an efficient way of doing things.

    But I agree that there’s a lot of waste. The laptop I am using right now is from 2017, I only have it because the 2016 model didn’t have USB-C and couldn’t use docks etc. Companies could get more life out of laptops if they did the computationally intensive things on servers. People who do big compiles on their laptop will always want a newer and faster laptop.

  • Paul Wise

    They should wipe their spare computers and give them away for free to open source developers.

  • I agree that giving them away to free software developers would be a good use, or pretty much anything other than trashing them.

    But apparently some corporate legal types are worried that their old computers may end up being used by ISIS or something. I am not joking.