Pad and pencil are increasingly disappearing from restaurants and cafés as waiting staff take and relay orders using mobile information technology (IT) equipment in the form of electronic order pads. These devices are operated by means of a stylus on a touchscreen, or the catering establishment may configure buttons on a touchpad for its own purposes. The system appears simple and has potential benefits for customers and waiting staff alike. But are these devices really as effective and suitable in practice? Do less walking and other promised benefits actually translate into a reduction in workplace stress? Many users must first learn to operate the products, find using them stressful at times, and would prefer to use a block and pencil. Personal interaction with customers also suffers; operation of the device places demands which may conflict with social conventions. Continual operation of the device (in some cases whilst walking) may also give rise to specific accident hazards.
The aim of the project, which took the form of a work placement dissertation, was to assess these devices from an OSH perspective.
The method used involved three stages as described below:
Usability tests (face-to-face): usage tests of the mobile terminals were conducted with users in the field in accordance with ISO 9241-110. The work-experience personnel were trained for this purpose by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Applied Information Technology.
Questionnaires: surveys of potential sources of stress were conducted in ten catering establishments. For this purpose, a validated survey instrument (work ability index) was used to assess possible impacts.
Interviews (face-to-face): in a catering establishment directly involved in the project, all staff were consulted regarding their satisfaction with the use of the devices and other issues.
Statistical evaluation: the results were evaluated statistically and the impacts compared with those of reference groups.
The results were presented in the form of a work placement report and in publications (DGUV-Forum, Fraunhofer Magazin)
Usability tests (FIT): the study revealed several violations of the standards. Problems such as key assignments and display settings which are unsuitable for use were documented. These problems can generally be eliminated or corrected by configuration of the device, and typical problems relating to intuitiveness can be addressed by training.
Questionnaire study/interviews: the "dialog principles" of the devices were rated positively, and time savings confirmed. The majority of users would recommend the devices to others. The lack of facilities for personal configuration of the technology was a deficit referred to during the interviews. Some users would prefer their pad and pencil, in order to be able to use the abbreviations familiar to them. The feeling of having a working method dictated to them was raised as an issue. Typical problems of mobile IT-supported workplaces occur: poor display visibility and brightness control.
The use of technology was described in interviews as conflicting at times with the requirements of social conventions: it is an obstacle to attention, which customers perceive as impoliteness.
Besides the stresses caused by the devices themselves, the assignment of personnel in consideration of their abilities is the factor exerting the greatest influence upon their mental health, followed by the quality of leadership, mutual support between employees, and the independent organization of work.
Use of the devices can be beneficial (only) as part of appropriate organization.
mental stress factorsCatchwords:
mental strain/stressDescription, key words:
mobile IT-supported work, catering sector, usability, stress, work organization, mental stress, Orderman, hand-held ordering terminals