Workplace Management and 5S
20 August 2021
On workplace management systems in the early 2020’s, and how the 5S method can contribute to meeting modern workplace management needs.
Workplace management systems
A workplace management system is a system for designing and managing your physical workplace to make things better and then keeping it that way. The first thing that springs to mind is arranging your furniture, managing workplace supplies, and keeping things clean. For most small businesses this is the full extent of what workplace management will ever mean to them. The bigger your organization gets and the more employees you have though, the more apparent it will become that workplace management is an important component of your operations.
You start noticing inefficiencies, irritations, and ergonomic mishaps around the workplace; things that hinder productivity and might even cause real problems. As a solution, you figure out a system, a way of managing your workplace that keeps everyone productive and might even improve things such as communication and efficiency. Smaller companies stand just as much to benefit, but since the need is not as apparent, the opportunity is often passed and a fully realized system is not implemented.
The new world of workplace management
This isn’t anything new of course. Workplace management systems and the techniques utilized therein have been around for ages and are used extensively within methodologies and structures such as those of Lean and Six Sigma.
However, in the early 2020’s we find ourselves in a strange place when it comes to workplace management. On the one hand, there is more attention than ever for how the design of your physical workplace affects the productivity, mental health, and general well-being of employees. But on the other hand, companies are also increasingly abandoning the idea of the workplace as a physical hub for people to do their work, replacing it with distance working and other blended alternatives.
None of this has made workplace management obsolete, but it has made it clear that a more holistic and multi-faceted approach is necessary if we wish to keep up with the beat of time’s drum. This means that when we design our workplace management systems, we must take into account more than just the physical environment in which we work, but also the digital structures in which we communicate, work and store information, the ways in which these two worlds interact and how they affect the hearts, minds and hands of the people doing the work.
5S: A traditional approach to a modern challenge
Luckily there is no need to reinvent the wheel. While the challenges may be new, that doesn’t mean a traditional approach has no merit in helping you navigate them. Take the 5S method for instance: although 5S is a fully-fledged system of its own, at its core it is also a step-by-step plan for creating a new system. Rather than proposing specific tips on how to organize the workplace, it guides you through a process in which you ask yourself questions on why things are as they are now and how they could be better. It does so through a cycle of five steps, namely Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. The first three steps are about re-organizing and cleaning up your workplace. These steps alone are useful enough to recommend to any organization, but the last two steps are what distinguish it from more static approaches to workplace management.
In the Standardize step, you essentially establish the ground rules and standards for your workplace management system, based on the results of your first three steps. And in the Sustain step, you do everything that is necessary to implement these new standards and prevent people from deviating from them; you weave them into the cultural fabric of the organization, so to speak. If we examine these last two steps, we can conclude that 5S is not a workplace management system, but rather a system for creating and continuously refining a workplace management system of your own. It is therefore not tied to specific solutions for physical workplaces and can be used for physical and digital workspaces alike. The questions you ask yourself in 5S are the same for an office as they are for a shared work drive.
That is why this traditional and relatively old approach might just be the key to helping companies meet the changing needs in workplace management. A flexible and versatile approach that helps you forge your own way, just by asking the right questions and maintaining a healthy dose of discipline.
5S won’t solve your problems, but it will help you find the solutions.