Blog: Spring Clean Your Office with Lean and 5S

The idea of spring cleaning has been around for many years. But while this notion of cleaning is mostly applied to home organization, it also can — and should — be used to tidy workspaces.
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Mike Beels
Mike Beels // Courtesy photo

The idea of spring cleaning has been around for many years. But while this notion of cleaning is mostly applied to home organization, it also can — and should — be used to tidy workspaces.

Some might argue their offices don’t need to be deep cleaned, or even resist reorganization because they’re used to the current system (no matter how cluttered it may be). Ask yourself, how much time is spent each day struggling to find a specific document, folder, or file due to the lack of organization in your workspace?

With worker productivity, efficiency, and morale on the line, the benefits of becoming more organized are clear. For those of us who need extra help with knowing were to start, a solution can be found in 5S.

Part of the Lean methodology, which aims to remove waste from activities and processes, 5S stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. This organization tool is designed to create a clean, safe, and organized work environment.

The process begins with Sort. This is likely the most difficult step for us to accomplish, since it requires us to use a disciplined eye to look at what we do — and do not — need to complete our job responsibilities. Here, following the motto, “When in doubt, move it out,” can help us better discern between what’s really needed and what is simply taking up space.

Making these decisions can be tough, as we tend to want to hang on to things once we have them. If we are honest with ourselves, we can easily see opportunities to remove things like old magazines, files and duplicate copies, dead plants, and knick-knacks that are accumulating and making it more difficult to perform everyday tasks. A good place to start is with documents that you have already stored electronically. Minimizing paper usage provides a number of benefits, including better organization and reduced costs associated with printing.

Once we have determined what we truly need to keep, we move to Set in Order. Here, we work based on the idea of, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Visual management is key. Color code using labeling, signage, tape, or other means to identify where each object belongs. This makes resources easier to find and easier to return. Consider, for example, someone trying to locate a file that you have told them is “somewhere on my desk.” A good filing system or ‘In’ and ‘Out’ box with labels will greatly reduce the time they need to search through things on your desk.

The next of our 5S’s is Shine. As expected, this involves cleaning and straightening your area. Put yourself on a schedule to clean your area, including using an antiseptic wipe for your phone and keyboard, wiping down your monitor and dusting the desk, shelves, etc. Throughout this process, continue to purge your desk and drawers of unneeded documents and items to keep belongings at a minimum.

Standardize, the fourth pillar, helps us to ensure that the first three pillars are successful. This is where we create rules to keep us on track. Sometimes, doing something as simple as taking pictures of your desk, office space, meeting room, or lunch room to capture how it should look can be helpful.

Lastly, we must Sustain our efforts to create a clean, safe, and organized environment. While it is relatively easy to clean and organize a workspace once, it is much more difficult to continue doing it on a regular basis. This can only be done by auditing the process.

Once we have our desk or office the way it should be, we must review it regularly, comparing the way it is to the way it should be. Going forward, after you have fully implemented 5S in all of your offices or cubes, you can consider auditing other areas or even having others audit yours.

Taking the time to spring clean tends to give us a good feeling when we are finished; a feeling of accomplishment and knowing we are in a cleaner, more organized environment. Why not extend that feeling to the office and beyond with 5S?

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