A Leaned Out Office

Lean, in the simplest of terms, is creating more value with less waste, which makes sense in a manufacturing setting or in a warehouse; but what about in an office?

The truth is that people like their space, and if that space is a desk that you sit at eight hours a day each and every day, should you be told what you can and can’t do in that space?

The simple answer is yes. The desk, the equipment, and the chair are all owned by the company and are there as tools for the employee; however, employees bring in personal items to decorate their home away from home.

So let’s briefly examine two of the ways that lean thinking can be applied and used in an office setting.

First is the visual stabilization of work areas. This is where every desk or work area has the same look and feel, but still allows for personal touches. Examples could be having a stapler in the same spot on every desk, having two personal photos hanging on the right side of each employee’s cubicle wall, or keeping the four different highlighter colors needed for documents in the top left drawer of every desk.

Why is visual stabilization important? 5S (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) is the piece of lean that helps create an ongoing and higher performing workplace. In the office environment from above, this translates into a cleaner unified look for customers and leadership as they walk through the office. This also cuts down on wasted time trying to find your yellow highlighter, or when another employee is using your desk and needs to find the stapler; they can just reach over to it because it’s in the same place as theirs.

The second way that lean thinking can be applied to an office setting is through cutting out waste with processes. Companies in general do things that are wasteful and take time away from other tasks. In an office that could be having a shared printer against the back wall; which is convenient to some employees, while others have to walk a larger distance. Another common example is saving documents electronically, but then filling a paper copy as well. How about the ordering of office supplies?

The lean process has steps that gets the team from the before, to the after, to being able to sustain the process going forward. Sometimes it is a simple process of relocating the printer to a centralized location so that it is convenient for the majority (hopefully all) of the employees, or training every employee how to save files electronically. Office supplies are a big expense for any business, and by implementing lean practices where every item has a place, it is easy to see when it’s time to reorder needed supplies; rather than the old practice of we’re out of yellow highlighters, we order some, and then find six in Mary’s desk because she kept losing them in her cluttered work area.

Lean thinking and practices should be used in an office setting. It is not something that employees should be afraid of because it is meant to make their work life easier and more productive, and that’s a good thing.


April Salsbury, MBA is a strategist, an analyst, an operational guru, a recognized leader and C-suite global healthcare executive with drive and focus for competitive markets. Co-host of The Business Forum Show and regular contributor to various business journals, she possess multi-functional and multi-national competencies with more than 15 years experience in business and healthcare. Her expertise is in invigorating revenue growth and infusing value of lean practices in growing companies through improvements to cash flow and operations management.

Fueling revenue, growth and profit, Salsbury & Co. is a consultancy firm focused on helping businesses and healthcare organizations achieve excellency. Our specialists have executive experience combined with deep functional expertise to provide our clients with services that drive real impact and results.

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