Office Desk Organizing, Japanese Style.

Posted by: Mitchell H. Kirsch 1 comments

Modern office desk philosophies vary from “creative chaos” to the antiseptically clean, and ordinarily, you’ll find little agreement between employees on the best system to use. And then the Japanese came along: Japanese businesses have crystallized an organizing philosophy for every office desk that bears a closer look.

It’s called the “5S” system – a deceptively simple name for a comprehensive workplace organization methodology that’s taken the office world by storm.  Implemented correctly, 5S fosters effective workplace organization, simplifies the workplace environment, reduces waste, and improves work quality all over the office.

The “S” refers to the Japanese words that name each system, which Western implementors have translated with an equivalent English word beginning with “S”: sorting (seiri), or putting things in order; straightening (seiton), or arranging items properly; systematic cleaning or shining (seiso); standardizing (seiketsu), or maintaining a mindset that promotes constant cleanliness; and sustaining (shitsuke), or commitment to the process.

Sorting (seiri) is the practice of eliminating unnecessary tools and systems from every office desk, keeping only materials deemed essential to work. What you do keep should be prioritized depending on the requirement, and kept within reach as needed. This saves time for the average employee – seiri cuts down on time spent searching for necessary tools by removing clutter.

The elimination process doesn’t have to be done outright; a 5S practitioner might “tag” items on her office desk, adding a red tag with a use-by date on items that may prove useful in the future. If the use-by date passes without the object being used, then into the waste bin it goes. (Read more)

Straightening (seiton) refers to the process of creating a system that arranges equipment and materials around one’s office desk for immediate, efficient access. Best encapsulated in the maxim “a place for everything, and everything in its place”, seiton encourages systematic organization by making it easy to return each item to its proper location. This is accomplished by labelling and identification of items and their proper storage locations.

Systematic cleaning (seiso) operates on the principle that workers are more productive in clean and bright workplaces. Therefore, seiso emphasizes the importance of keeping one’s office desk clean – not just when messes reach a critical level, but all the time.

In Japanese companies, workers, clean their office desk at the end of the shift, putting objects back into their proper storage spaces and tidying messes up. This saves time in the long run, by minimizing the need to search for objects and alerting workers to supplies that need replacing or refilling.

Standardizing (seiketsu) ensures that the first three S’s are practiced across the business without fail. Ideally, this means that every office desk complies with 5S practice – any worker should be able to work at any station within the same facility, because every item is in the proper place and the workstation is cleaned up.

Sustaining (shitsuke) is all about keeping 5S standards to a consistent level at all times. For most workplaces, this involves continuous training and a system for keeping tabs on the practice of 5S. Managers should not allow workers to backslide into the old ways – any new rule or practice that affects the 5S should be factored into the system.

In the end, the 5S system isn’t just about keeping your office desk organized – it tidies everyone’s work space, and keeps it that way for good.

Feb 26, 2011
10:19 am

That’s certainly superior to the method used at my last job – frantic scrambling to clean things up whenever a client was about to take a tour. I’m not sure easy actually enforcing the 5S system would be in U.S. culture. Some folks don’t like being told to clean their desk any more than they liked being told to clean their room when they were a kid. However, it does make the whole office feel better when everything is neat and tidy.

Daisy McCarty

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