66

I have several hats at work - I'm primarily a software developer but I also have to do Linux sysadmin, Windows sysadmin, tech support (like changing printer ink, plugging in cables for people, etc), and new computer equipment.

Recently I managed to convince my boss to get new keyboards and mice for everyone, since most of our current fleet had had 4-5 owners and were disgusting and/or broken. I picked a decently well-reviewed keyboard/mouse set from Amazon with what seemed to be good ergonomics.

No one's a fan of any of this. People keep coming in to complain about how their keyboard doesn't have a calculator key anymore or that the mouse click isn't what they like. My boss especially is mad about this. He says it was immature and unprofessional of me to have this outcome, but I don't know how I could have prevented it. Most people have gone back to their old keyboard and mouse and my boss won't approve returning them, he just says "you need to fix this". How could I go about fixing this?

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    how is it immature on your part that people are complaining? Did you choose novelty or otherwise silly keyboards and mice? – jesse Mar 25 at 17:08
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    Why did you not ask people what they liked or preferred and then come to a consensus about what to purchase? Your boss sounds a bit immature... and unreasonable. The obvious fix is to return them. Why your boss won't allow that is beyond explanation. – joeqwerty Mar 25 at 17:09
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    This is the reason why Office Admin is an actual job. – rath Mar 25 at 17:16
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    What made you decide to push to buy everyone keyboards and not just request a new one for yourself? In the handful of office environments I've been while the company provides keyboards (that are admittedly non-ergonomic, older than dirt, sticky, dirty, gross, and probably capable of supporting complex life), most people provide their own keyboard because it's understood that fancy keyboards and mice are a luxury the company isn't really expected to provide. – Sidney Mar 25 at 20:42
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    I am curious about this part: I managed to convince my boss to get new keyboards and mice for everyone Why would your boss need convincing? Presumably if people were complaining, you would just be answering the need. If people were not complaining, why would you decide new items were needed? Answer this honestly and I think you have your answer for how to fix it. – user101950 Mar 25 at 21:31

16 Answers 16

179

Amazon should allow for returns. Box them up and send them back.

Before you order new, ask your boss for specific requirements, or ask your teammates for suggestions of what they'd like, then clear the purchase with your boss.

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    Good answer. If the workplace is fractious enough, it might be better to present a set of options and allow people to vote/submit comments on them rather than letting everyone submit any products they want (though that can also work). – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Mar 25 at 17:42
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    I wonder if Amazon returns policy applies to B2B transactions given that the item is not faulty but the buyer has just changed their mind. – Ghanima Mar 25 at 18:39
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    Yup. "I have a $40 per person budget for new keyboards and/or mice. Ordering from Vendor $foo, here is their catalog site, please have all requests in by close of business Thursday." – ivanivan Mar 25 at 20:07
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    @Ghanima I'm not sure about B2B but as a consumer, Amazon gives the option of "I changed my mind" when starting the process for a return. – DreDre0623 Mar 25 at 20:14
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    If your coworkers don't want to choose their own keyboards or mice (because there are too many options), also consider just providing a list of a few well reviewed ones and asking people to vote. – Kimberly W Mar 26 at 16:28
96

The biggest problem is you don't realize what you did wrong, and people are miffed about your obliviousness.

Keyboards and mice are personal. Tournament gamers bring their own keyboards and mice. Tech workers regularly BYO keyboard and mouse because they'll be on it 8h/day. They even make retro "clacky" IBM keyboards. I won't have a keyboard that has \ in the wrong place. Also, ergonomics is a very big deal, ask HR.

*It's even possible the "motley collection" is their personal gear and they like it.

It was your job to know this, hence, you screwed up.

When the boss refuses to return them and says "No, fix this", what he means is he wants to see you write a plan for correcting the problem. If returning them is part of the plan, he'll be fine with that then. Your job is to create the plan and get it approved while the return window is still open.

As for how, that's your job, but what I would do is say

OK, boss authorized new keyboards/mice for everyone, up to $authorized_cost. You have 3 choices within that budget:

  • Stay with what you have
  • take the one you rejected earlier
  • choose another one, send me the URL by Thursday.

Let me know what you want to do. Default is "stay with what you have".

Everyone who requests the one they rejected, just give it to him. All others get returned. Then order what people asked for.

Another (more dangerous) option is to return the kaboodle, tell people to order anything they want out of their own pocket, and if they want the company to own it, they can claim reimbursement up to $X. So if they want the $200 gaming rig, ok, they can decide whether they take it home when they quit, or they get $35 and leave the rig when they quit.

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    Partial reimbursement is problematic because it's not clear whether the company should keep the kit or whether a leaving employee should get to take it home. Neither party fully owns it. So I wouldn't offer that - the item would have to be at most the stated value. Otherwise great answer! – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 26 at 11:15
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I agree. It does have the risk of disagreement on that point. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 26 at 15:35
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    +1 for the second paragraph (typed on a model M from 1991 at home, and using my personal mechanical keyboard at work). – Hennes Mar 26 at 19:26
  • I'm just seconding @Hennes, but this is typed on the modern version of the model M from unicomp. I have refused to use any other keyboard for nearly a decade now, but always buy them myself and bring them to the office. The keyboard layout is almost as critical as the old-school mechanical keys. Unless it is because of the noise, I'd probably leave if a company tried to force me to change keyboards... – Conor Mancone Mar 27 at 3:14
  • Actually this answer can be plain wrong in some contexts. There are specific legal requirements for Display Screen Equipment users that need to be ensured by the Employer. – Tasos Papastylianou Mar 28 at 19:07
80

It may be too late this time, but the expenditure per employee is small in terms of their happiness and productivity, so a do-over is probably of net benefit to the business.

Perhaps a reasonable budget can be set and each person allowed to make their own choice - subject to some rules about allowed/disallowed categories or requirements.

If you end up needing to make another fleet purchase, it would be wise to buy one set and pass it around the office for evaluation before you buy a bunch of them.

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    +1 ergonomics are specific to the individual; what is ergonomic to you might be a carpal tunnel nightmare for me to use. Letting people choose their own equipment is best for employee health and safety. – asgallant Mar 25 at 19:00
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    I think a budget is likely to complicate matters. If someone doesn't mind the old keyboard, can they keep the cash? – Gregory Currie Mar 26 at 0:21
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    @GregoryCurrie Then you tell them you can't do that for various legal reasons (need to pay taxes, need to pay social security, giving them cash counts as a pay raise which you'd have to give to everybody because labor laws, .... ) A subset of those points will be valid in almost any jurisdiction. – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Mar 26 at 7:27
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    I think this is a really great idea. As someone who has a custom mouse (3M Joystick mouse) and a custom keyboard (Microsoft ergonomic keyboard) I'd be really frustrated if someone tried to swap them out. These ones for me are really beneficial as they've eliminated RSI and got rid of my clicking wrist joints. – Ian Mar 26 at 10:08
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    @GregoryCurrie You're not giving the hardware to them to keep as their own property. You're letting them choose which hardware the company will own. – Jeanne Pindar Mar 26 at 19:14
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Why are you purchasing new equipment? If the users don't have a problem with their current equipment, and prefer it over the alternative you have provided, then you seem to be creating a problem that did not exist. People tend to be pretty vocal about keyboards and mice that don't work or fit well because they are constantly annoying; just because they are old or dirty doesn't mean you need to replace them. If you are concerned about the dirty part you can purchase an office cleaning kit with disinfectant and keyboard vacuum.

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    Keyboards and mice are dirty and you can't clean them very well, they need to be replaced on a regular basis. They're a health hazard. – Pieter B Mar 26 at 12:44
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    This is the answer. I was the only IT person for a small organization for seven years and one thing I learned is that people don't want any "help" until they ask for it. Many users consider their keyboard and mouse their personal keyboard and mouse and will be very upset if you just switch it out. If they came to me and said "I need a new keyboard", then I happily gave them one from the stock I kept. When people got a new computer, I gave them the option to keep their keyboard and mouse. I chose when we got a new server. Users chose when they got a new keyboard or mouse. – Todd Wilcox Mar 26 at 15:42
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    @PieterB Are there studies of this being an actual health hazard, or is it just from germophobes who has never walked in a forest? – pipe Mar 26 at 15:43
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    @PieterB The only time you have a health reason to replace a keyboard is when the user has been discovered to be contagious, went to a hospital/morgue, and you had to replace them. Of course you'll be replacing a lot more than the keyboard. The usual bacteria that live on human-contacted surfaces are harmless, else we'd all be dead from them on our skin. – Therac Mar 26 at 19:19
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    @Therac Indeed, almost all bacteria are harmless. Some are harmful if they get in the wrong place (e.g. your skin bacteria getting in your blood through a laceration). The one's that are left are a tiny, dangerous minority. And one of the things those mostly harmless bacteria on your skin (and in your guts etc.) is prevent other bacteria from flourishing. In fact, this is how salting food works as preservation - the environment is awesome for harmless lactic bacteria, and they make it almost impossible for something like salmonella to live on the food. – Luaan Mar 27 at 8:10
24

Most people have gone back to their old keyboard and mouse and my boss won't approve returning them, he just says "you need to fix this".

Issue is fixed. Most people have returned to using their old equipment. Keep the new stuff for new hires or when keyboards or mice break.

On a more serious note, your users will likely have made a similar choice in purchasing if they purchased for themselves. They just wouldn't have anyone to blame for the minor inconvenience of not having a calculator button so they would just deal with it. You obviously shouldn't defend your decision like that.

  • A perfect example of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." – Mohair Mar 25 at 20:51
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    @hjf I couldn't disagree more. I like very specific keyboards, ones with the shift+tab key the right size, ones with play/pause/skip: it helps me work. In times I've had to use a different keyboard or a stupid ergonomic one it makes me frustrated. The cost of a keyboard (for a company) is practically nothing, and there's no reason all staff need to have the same keyboard. I agree with the answer that it's done now and they should just be kept, but asking employees what they would like is preferable (lest this situation occurs) – Tas Mar 25 at 22:11
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    @Tas - I absolutely and resolutely refuse to take home a laptop without dedicated home/end/pgUp/pgDn keys. – enhzflep Mar 26 at 0:16
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    I'm a programmer and I need a flat as possible keyboard with quick reacting keys. I also need a mouse that has a freescrolling function(unlock wheel, whip scroll wheel and scroll down 1000 lines in one go) like the logitech m705 that also has a back and forward button on the mouse. Without those my coding routine is serously hampered. On my home laptop I have home and end keys that require the FN key to be pressed. The agony is real. Keyboards and mice should be discussed with employees based on their needs to be productive. Not a "swallow this and deal with it" – Tschallacka Mar 26 at 8:39
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    @Tschallacka - I have almost never used the built-in keyboard or track-pad on any laptop. Except in rare cases where I'm travelling and need to take it out for only a few minutes, I always have a regular full-sized keyboard and mouse plugged in if I'm going to be doing any serious work on it. Laptop keyboards, even when they have the full 104-key+ range, are just universally terrible. (I even made sure to invest in a backpack which can comfortably hold both a laptop and a full keyboard, so I'm never without the option.) – Darrel Hoffman Mar 26 at 19:04
23

Here's an anecdote a friend told me. It was the 80's and in the company's multistory building, they were installing computers, which required coaxial cable to be run everywhere, which in turn required a lot of drilling in concrete. (Some folks will remember the days of incessant drilling.)

Of course, to save resources, the coax was run in one hole up the middle of the building. Therefore, all the computer screens were against inside walls. Therefore, the window in each office was behind the user and so the user had much glare on his CRT, about which there was much complaining.

Some engineer was given the task of solving this problem. He got a catalog, ordered the cheapest blinds and had them installed. Of course, the blinds were ugly and again, there was much complaining.

So another engineer (my friend) was assigned the task of solving the new problem. He got several copies of the same catalog and distributed them around the various coffee-break rooms in the building. Then he sent out a survey asking each worker to specify which blinds in the catalog they preferred.

He collected all the surveys and shredded them without looking at them. Then he ordered the 2nd cheapest blinds in the catalog and had them installed. They were also ugly, but no one bitched because they thought they had voted. Problem solved.

My friend told this story (often) and finished with "and that's engineering."

Moral: You have problem solving skills. Feel free to use them more widely.

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    This is just wasting people’s time. – Jan Tojnar Mar 27 at 10:18
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    @JanTojnar Not really. The time "wasted" was the time previous spent on bitching. But now everyone is happy. Hardly a waste. – B. Goddard Mar 27 at 12:33
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    Great story (and I fully intend to re-share it as appropriate!), but not a good solution for such a small team where you would immediately be found out, making the situation even worse. – brichins Mar 27 at 23:13
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    @brichins Well, the main point is that it surprises me that bright, well-educated people often use their abilities in their field, but not in outside it. I've been amazed that brilliant mathematicians spend decades teaching calculus, gripe about the problems of teaching calculus, but won't bring their considerable intellect to bear on those problems. – B. Goddard Mar 28 at 1:46
9

Preparation: Tell your colleagues you'll be placing a new order. Send everything back to Amazon (I hope you're using a company account for this) unless someone wants to keep their stuff.


  1. Get a budget for each peripheral.
  2. Select devices that fit the budget. Allow people to give suggestions, as long as they have desirable properties (ie. Fulfilled by Amazon or Returns policy).
  3. Send out a form and ask everyone to fill it in by X date (2 weeks is fair and reasonable).
  4. Remind people 2-3 days before deadline. Make allowances for sick people and let them order later.
  5. Place the order with everyone's preference.
8

As a rule, people generally hate forced change. Unless there's a new policy that mandates all existing keyboards and mice can no longer be used, I don't see any reason why anyone needs to change. Instead, what I would do is pick out a couple of models and make those available for requisitioning for anyone who wants them.

I'd also introduce a formal requisitioning process that requires employees to submit a written/electronic request for any new equipment they want. Ideally, they'd only be able to choose from a list of approved models so they don't go all crazy and get super-expensive gaming keyboards that they don't really need. You can then optionally have a manager sign off on each request before ordering it or you can create a manager-approved corporate policy that dictates how often employees can request new stuff and what the price limits are.

This process has the advantage of creating a paper trail that says "we bought this piece of equipment at this price for this particular employee because they asked for it". You'd also have either a manager's approval or the corporate policy as evidence of authorization for the actual purchases. You could (and I'd recommend you do) go as far as recording the serial number of each piece equipment and which employee received it so you always know who has what.

You can use the keyboards you've already bought as one of the approved models so you have them on hand as soon as someone asks for one. Other approved models would have to be ordered in but that would only happen as people request them (maybe order a few at a time so you have some extras on hand). I'd recommend also adding the same model that people already have to the list, if possible.

In the future, if you need to replace any hardware or equipment for employees, you'd simply pick a model, have a manager approve it and then add it to the approved list. Any employees wanting it would then go through the standard requisition process to obtain it.

7

You need to apply some basic marketing strategy to this.

People like to think they have choice. But if you give them too much choice, some of them will realize they don't have any rational reason to choose one thing or another, and that also makes annoyed by the whole process.

So, use the same strategy as a typical physical shop. Give everyone a choice from three options: one that is "obviously" barely adequate, one that is "obviously" too high-tech for what they actually need to do their jobs, and the one in the middle of the range that you want them all to choose.

There's another reason for not giving everyone a completely free choice: inevitably, some of this kit will break or get damaged, and you need to keep some spares. If 90% of the workforce are all using the same model, the other 10% can't feel too hard done by if they have to use that model rather than their own personal choice for a short while, until a replacement arrives.

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    or just talk to the boss and get support from him. The real problem here is the boss not supporting a decision and blaming it on the employee. This is extremely toxic. People here are focused on the keyboard thing but don't see the deeper issue. – hjf Mar 25 at 20:49
  • @hjf - Can you be certain that this is not another in a long line of similar experiences at this workplace? (That the boss has had to endure) On one hand, you'd hardly give out a purchasing job to someone that's always zigging instead of zagging, on the other hand - it sounds like such an epic miscalculation that is likely to be especially painful for the boss, given the original post states "I managed to convince my boss" (emphasis mine) Neither of us have all the facts and find ourselves sitting on opposite sides of the fence. Be careful how far you stray from said fence without facts. – enhzflep Mar 26 at 0:44
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    I don't like the particular marketing strategy suggested here. This works for wubscription websites - they give you a low-cost (often free) but very bare membership, a very pricey "complete" membership which includes what most don't need, and a middle of the road thing with the essential features included at some affordable price point. People will then tend to go for that. But that's because they are constrained in their need - if they aren't paying for the keyboard, there is no drawback to get the most expensive option. – VLAZ Mar 26 at 7:59
  • As an alternative, employ a different strategy - just give the people choice of what they can offer. Constrain the choice so it's for acceptable parameters (price/quality/whatever) and then force that choice. The tactic here is that "don't pick anything" is not a choice. Users are happier because they got to have input in the change and while there would be some unhappiness over change that's inevitable. – VLAZ Mar 26 at 8:04
5

As I see it, the real problem is that the company sees fit to tell its developers which user interface devices they ought to be using. Surely any low-cost devices that improve productivity should be approved (even if the productivity increase is only because the user is happy).

I've seen organisations that handicapped their staff by insisting that they work with low-resolution monitors, or with only one monitor. For (some) programmers, this is the equivalent of asking him to compete in a race with his feet tied together. A disliked keyboard or mouse is like asking him to race with one hand tied to his waist.

While you are considering instigating a revolution in company policy, also consider their seats. In the EU, the law firmly favours the employee. Elsewhere, forcing an employee to use a company-standard chair will inevitably cause some employees to suffer in silence until they leave (literally suffer back pain). Some people would choose a kneeling chair, others to work at a standing bench, others "anything except this one" (the corporate-standard one, no alternatives anywhere in the building!)

A good idea would be to let each person choose his own interface devices, up to an agreed budget. Also allow them to keep what they have got, because familiarity can as often breed love as contempt.

3

Most of the other answers address the keyboards and mice specifically. I'm going to address your boss's and coworkers' expectations.

Although you didn't mention any other incident, you wrote "no one's ever happy with what I choose" which makes me think this happened more than once. Your boss expects you to learn from your mistakes and quickly get better at keeping your coworkers happy with their equipment. This is easier said than done because you need to balance several often seemingly contradictory goals:

  1. Giving people reasonably good equipment
  2. Giving people control over what equipment they use---such as the opportunity to try a piece of equipment before committing to use it
  3. Taking care of everything so nobody has to spend time thinking about their equipment unless they want to
  4. Similarly, taking care of everything so the boss doesn't have to spend time thinking about it, but ensuring that the boss's purposes and budget are met.

See how 2 and 3 are seemingly contradictory? But skillful people in your role manage to do both. Other answers illustrate ways to balance those. I think that's why your boss rejected your reaction of returning the equipment. It's not that he's opposed to returning the equipment, but rather, that he wants you to learn from the situation and find a way to practice your job of making it better, not just restore the status quo ante.

3

As other people have mentioned, you can usually return items to Amazon without much trouble, so I'm not going to address this.

Learn from your mistake

Take this as a learning opportunity. Mistakes happen, and that's OK as long as you learn from them (and demonstrate to your boss that you're learning from them). Talk to him about your mistake, and how you plan to address it going forward. Communication is key. If you don't talk to him, he's unlikely to trust you with a similar matter in future.

Consult others on the decision

In future you might want to consult your department about the new keyboard and mouse, and ask for suggestions.

Be conservative with your orders

When you've identified some candidate items, order just one or two to evaluate. Don't order for the whole team until you're sure about which ones you want to order. Order a few different samples, and get people to try them out and decide which one they prefer. They will be much happier if they have made a choice, and much less likely to complain.

  • "When you've identified some candidate items, order just one or two to evaluate. Don't order for the whole team until you're sure about which ones you want to order. Order a few different samples, and get people to try them out and decide which one they prefer. They will be much happier if they have made a choice, and much less likely to complain." This is exactly right. I was going to answer saying this, but you said it better that I would have. – Mike Waters Mar 28 at 16:41
2

Late to the party but just thought I'd add:

Why didn't you buy one mouse/keyboard set first to test before buying all of them just going on reviews?

You could have asked staff members to take turns trying them out. If the budget would allow I'd suggest even buying three of the best reviewed sets for testing. Then at least everyone feels they have some choice in the matter.

Hopefully Amazon will let you return the sets.

1

Let's be real: a lot of people are saying "Keyboard are really a personnal thing". Yes. Your own at home. The one you work with, however, is the one provided by the company. Period. People would complain a lot less about keyboards if management just enforced it or changed nothing.

Now, you're experimenting what we're taught in CS as "Change refusal". Users will stomp both feet down to avoid any change to their comfortable routine. You really want to buy X different keyboards for X different people, that won't be re-used after because next user will be "Oh no, I don't like this one, I prefer it pink"? The mouse click isn't what they like? Tough.1

From what you say about people complaints, I'd guess you're not working in a software company. Unless they're using a very specific setup, it make little to no difference for 90% of the users (barring the one that need specifically designed ergonomic keyboards). You can probably come up with a macro to open the calculator for those who ask for it. Or they can go to the extreme length of clicking at most three times to open it themselves. Even better, teach them to pin it to their task bar, and they will need one click.

I'm a dev. I know next to zero things about construction building. When I have to, I don't complain when the guy in charge provides me with a hammer that is slightly off compared to what I like.

What you did "wrong" 2 is allow them to pick the old "disgusting and/or broken" keyboard/mice back and make a fuss about it. Fix the missing key features, such as the "calculator button", things that could "hurt productivity" 3. Next time, ask what key features they need.

People will always find a way to complain. New keyboard? Forced change, unhappy. Old, falling apart keyboard? Management is too greedy to buy new one, unhappy. Truth be told, when there would eventually have been a problem with the old keyboard, people would have come for you anyway.

You did your job: you saw a problem, attempted to fix it and made a common mistake. Chalk it off as learning, fix the real issues. The unfounded whinings will stop over time. You just need to know them for what they are.

1: Plus, if you have X different keyboards, you will have to manage X different keyboards. Having the same one everywhere allows you to switch from a desktop to another, and spare you the unnecessary logistics.
2: and that's putting it boldly, you did your job
3: Trying so hard not to be sarcastic about your users, but it's hard.

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    "If people didn't have a choice, they wouldn't complain." Complete nonsense. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 26 at 11:16
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    Preferring the colour of a button is not at all the same thing as selection of company-provided equipment that you have to use with your hands for 8 hours every day.... sure, some people are just change-averse, but that doesn't mean every change is great, and it doesn't seem to be the key factor in the OP's case. Furthermore, your aspersion that IT people are "distants" for "mental sanity reasons" is not helpful either. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 26 at 12:29
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit "The mouse click isn't what they like" ... Just that. If they were typing on a really difficult mechanical keyboard that hurt their fingers, I could understand. The calculator button is a somewhat reasonnable request. But "The click isn't what I like"... OP selected a set with good reviews, I assume it's not a total piece of trash. And my "aspersion" (doesn't know this word, english is not my native) is the answer to a deleted comment and I stand by it. Some requests are maddening. I don't say it's always the case for "distantness" but that help a lot. – Nyakouai Mar 26 at 12:35
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    I don't understand why you don't want your workforce to like the tools that they have to put up with for the majority of their waking hours. Don't you want your workforce to be happy? Don't you realise that happiness leads to increased productivity and higher employee retention? – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 26 at 12:55
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    @hjf I don't have to interact with a coffee maker 8+ hours of every work day, and a coffee maker being uncomfortable to use won't give me carpal tunnel. It's more similar to a construction company buying the same work boots for every employee regardless of foot size and potential health needs. Their old boots might be dirty and beat up, but they fit. – Kevin Wells Mar 26 at 22:11
1

Buy 10 different keyboards/mice. Select a test group of users, and let them use them.

Get feedback.

Buy the combination of mice/keyboards that the most people are happy with.

0

In the company where i work; i am in a similar position, role-wise; our keyboard+mouse policy is setup in a way to prevent such complaints from happening.

We have a decent supply of decent gear (the set you get when buying a new computer off of amazon), and a personal choice policy: If employees are not fully content with either the mouse or keyboard (or both), they can come to the office manager with a suggestion (preferably an amazon link) of what they would like, and this item will be bought for them (if it is not to expensive).

This way, we have some people with regular ergonomic mice, several different trackball kits and a handful different keyboard types, which people take with them when changing seats.

This might be a compromise for OP as well; keep the cheap, well-reviewed items as a "starter kit" for new employees, and replace with items matching personal preference at a later time