Use 5S to Keep Your Home Office Efficient and Effective

July 9, 2013

messy office

Last week I wrote about lean methodology which was originally developed by Japanese engineers at Toyota.  When lean methodology started to become known among Western companies in the 1990s, an associated concept called 5S, already used by Toyota and many other Japanese companies, also became popular.  The 5 S’s stand for the Japanese words that start with the letter ‘s’ when translated into English: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.  5S is used by many manufacturing organizations to help keep the workplace organized.  You can use it too to help keep your home office efficient and effective.  And don’t worry, you don’t need to remember the Japanese terns.  Over time, Western managers have found similar ‘s’ words to take their place.

Sort: This is the type of sorting you do during spring cleaning.  Eliminate all unnecessary items in your home office.  Keep only what’s essential to doing your job on a daily basis.  If you don’t use it regularly, consider storing it someplace.  I moved my home office to a smaller room in my house and it forced me to take a hard look at all the stuff I had accumulated – a docking station for my laptop that I never used, old headsets, spare storage drives, etc.  Most of it was just taking up space.

Straighten: Arrange your home office equipment so it minimizes wasted movement (remember the category of waste from last week’s post called Motion).  For example, I initially had my modem and router located in another room.  Since I was having consistent problems with my local service provider and was manually rebooting the devices regularly, it made more sense to have it within arm’s reach.

Shine:  Keep it clean and organized.  At the end of a shift, it’s normal for workers to clean the shop floor and ensure all equipment and tools are put in their place.  You should do the same.  At the end of the workday, spend a few minutes to clean up your home office and prepare for the next day.  It will keep you focused and help organize your thoughts, not just your office.

Standardize.  This step usually refers to maintaining uniform policies and procedures.  In regards to working from home, think about your routine.  Getting into a routine will keep you focused and productive.  It will also help fight some of the distractions that creep up from the household.

Sustain.  Ensure you are following through on the previous steps.  If necessary, schedule time every now and then to review your home office, do the necessary cleaning, or review your work habits.

Over time, engineers and managers have expended on the 5S concept and created 6, 7, and even 8S.  The additional step that I think is most relevant to those that work from home is Safety.  Many organizations provide a home office safety checklist to help employees, but others leave it to their teleworkers to figure it out on their own.  Don’t overlook this step.  Ensure that your home office is not only clean and organized, but safe as well.

Good luck,



Using Telework to Lean Out the Enterprise

July 2, 2013


A few decades ago, Toyota Production System gained attention for its manufacturing processes.  The methodology and collection of tools used by Toyota engineers was later coined “lean” and popularized in the book The Machine That Changed the World.  (Coincidentally, lean started to become popular during the era when the process improvement methodology Six Sigma was taking off, and today the methodologies are combined, termed Lean Six Sigma, in many organizations).

One of the central themes of lean is to reduce waste.  Waste leads to higher internal costs, lowers profits, and/or decreases customer satisfaction.  Waste can be classified into 7 categories:

  1. Transportation.  Unnecessary movement of goods, people, materials, or documents.
  2. Inventory.  Excess inventories don’t generate revenue (because the goods aren’t sold) and lead to higher costs (to hold and maintain them).  This led to the concept of “Just-in-Time” – no inventories, providing a product or service exactly when the customer requests it.
  3. Motion.  Excess motion or unnecessary movement in the production process.
  4. Waiting for the next process step.  Wait time can make up 90% of the overall process cycle time.
  5. Over-processing.  Doing more work on a product or transaction than is absolutely necessary.
  6. Over-production: Producing more than what is necessary.
  7. Defects.  Rework that is done to fix something that should have been done correctly the first time.

What does waste have to do with telework?  A lot.  In many organizations, telework is still seen as an employee privileged or perk.  As I have argued in the past, organizations need to think more strategically about how to leverage telework to achieve competitive advantage.   Telework has the potential to reduce waste and lean out the enterprise.

For example, telework can greatly reduce transportation for employees.  Internal travel can be reduced by leveraging video conferencing or desktop sharing applications.  Traveling to client or customer locations can be reduced by hiring talent near these locations versus hiring at corporate headquarters or company hubs and sending employees to the customer.

Excess motion can also be reduced.  In the manufacturing world, a “spaghetti diagram” can be created that traces the paths employees take around the plant to do their job.  The same concept applies to the typical office building.  How much do employees move around to meet with people or use office equipment?  Reducing office space, perhaps moving to an open floor plan or hoteling environment, can allow employees to work more closely with others they may need on temporary basis  or allowing employees to work from home can eliminate most motion altogether and make employees more productive.

If you think about it, you may come up with additional ideas of how telework makes the organization more efficient, reduces costs, reduces waste, and increases customer satisfaction.   This can help you build the business case for telework if you are just starting out, or it can help maximize the potential of the virtual workplace if telework already exists in your organization.

Good luck,


Building the Telework Business Case: Productivity

June 4, 2013

3d blue Diagram with arrow


I always get asked about the impact of telework on employee productivity.  Over the years there have been a number of case studies and research in the public and private sector that show how positive results due to teleworking.  Here are just a few:

  • A March 2008 study between the Telework Exchange and the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that 87% of NSF managers felt that productivity increased or at least remained the same for their teleworkers.
  • Results from a study of Cisco employees released in 2009 revealed that the company saved an estimated $277 million in productivity by letting employees telework.  69% of surveyed employees cited higher productivity while teleworking.
  • 79% of teleworkers in a pilot program for the General Services Administration claimed that their productivity increased while teleworking.
  • A study by Brigham Young University found that telecommuters could work 19 more hours than office-bound workers before feeling that work was interfering with their personal life.
  • A 2008 study by CompTIA of 212 IT professionals, 67% said increased productivity was their primary benefit from telecommuting. Survey respondents said that productivity improvements primarily resulted from the ability to work during the time employees would otherwise be commuting to the office.
  • According to Innovisions Canada, surveys and pilots conducted by IBM Canada (where about 20% of its workforce teleworks) indicate that teleworkers can be as much as 50% more productive than when they work in a traditional office setting.
  • AT&T workers work 5 more hours at home on average than their office workers and JDEdwards teleworkers are 20-25% more productive than their office counterparts (According to a Chicago Sun Times article in October 1999).
  •   American Express teleworkers produced 43% more than their office based counterparts and Compaq teleworkers increased productivity by 15% – 45% (from the Colorado Telework Coalition).
  • British Telecom, which has 80,000 employees, found productivity rose 31% among its 9,000 teleworkers (according the Telework Coalition –
  • Maryland Department of Transportation employees who telework (approximately 100) reported a 27% increase in productivity (according the Telework Coalition –
  • Dow Chemical claims productivity increases of 32.5%: 10% through decreased absenteeism, 16% by working at home and 6.5% by avoiding the commute (according the Telework Coalition –
  • A Telework Exchange study (“Face-to-Face with Management Reality”) revealed that 66% of managers who manage teleworkers find that teleworkers are as productive as their in-office counterparts.

Had enough?  There’s plenty of data on the internet to help you build your business case when it comes to productivity.  Productivity is one of the biggest, and most researched, benefits of telework.

Good luck building your case!




The New Definition of Presenteeism

May 14, 2013

Car keys


I used to work in a traditional office setting in a large office building.  It was your standard cubicle farm.  Directors and Vice Presidents had their offices at the end of a series of office cubes where their employees worked.  The boss only had to step outside her office door to see the tops of the heads of employees as they worked behind their computer monitors.  Everyone was visible, and everyone was working.  At least, that’s what management thought.

  One of my coworkers liked to carry around two sets of car keys.  Why?  He would throw one set of keys on top of his desk next to his keyboard and then take off for an extended two hour lunch in the middle of the afternoon.  When people came around to look for him, they would see the car keys on top of his desk and immediately assume he was still in the office building somewhere, most likely in a meeting in one of the numerous conference rooms.

The moral of the story is obvious: just because employees are co-located in an office together doesn’t necessarily mean they’re productive.      

Traditionally, presenteeism has referred to employees that attend work while sick.  However, in today’s workplace many are realizing that presenteeism isn’t about ailing workers in the office, it includes workers that are present but not producing any work. 

Measuring the cost of unproductive workers is often difficult.  Studies conducted on the traditional definition of presenteeism have found that the average cost per worker in the United States is about $255 annually.  However, the cost of present but unproductive workers is far higher.  According to a survey by Proudfoot Consulting a few years ago, almost 29 percent of company time in the US is unproductive.  The estimated cost of poor productivity is a whopping $600 billion and is the equivalent of 33.5 days per worker annually. 

Obviously, the huge loss of productivity is not due to employees running around with a couple sets of car keys in their pockets and taking two hour lunch breaks.  However, it does point out that not all the time people spend in the office place is value added work.  Telework can’t fix all the productivity problems within an organization but it can have a positive impact.  Effective managers of teleworkers know that they can’t manage through attendance.  They have to develop tangible managers of success.  When this is done, employees have to deliver results and an employee’s time is time spent working.



Time Again for “Clean Out Your Inbox Week”

January 24, 2012

Here’s one to add to your New Year’s resolution list: keep your email inbox clean.   This week it’s time for the 5th annual “Clean Out Your Inbox Week,” brought to you by email productivity expert Marsha Egan (you can check out Marsha’s blog and website here).

I did manage to clean up my inbox after last year’s event (at least I could still see all my emails on one screen without spraining my finger to scroll down the list).  However, it has somehow managed to mushroom once again into an unwieldy virtual mess.  For me, it’s a reminder of my overreliance on email.  In fact, for many teleworkers and virtual workers, email is the primary means of communication. 

Is there a better way?  Yes, say anti-email advocates.

 Back in November, French tech firm Atos announced a “zero email” policy with a goal of eliminating internal emails within 18 months.  (This is why a friend of mine told me that “American companies are good, but French companies are civilized”).  Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, told an ABC reporter that his employees receive about 200 internal emails a day with only about 10% containing useful information.  Middle managers spend up to 25% of their time sifting through their inbox and searching for information.  What will employees do without email?  Atos is hoping that they will find more useful ways to communicate, like wikis and social media.  

Atos is not alone in the quest to eliminate email. just ran a story last week about Luis Suarez of IBM who began to leave email behind in 2008.  Although he checks his emails daily, it only takes 2 minutes.  Two minutes a day!  Suarez replaced email with social media as his primary means of communicating.  What would you do with all the extra time if you weren’t staring at your inbox?

 As you clean out your inbox this week, think about the variety of mediums at your disposal whether it is instant messaging, social media, or video and see how you can reduce your email reliance.

 Happy cleaning,


‘Flipped’ Classrooms to ‘Flipped’ Meetings

October 11, 2011

Last week, USA Today ran the story ‘Flipped’ Classrooms Take Advantage of Technology,  describing a new approach to learning in some US high schools.  Instead of teachers lecturing in class and assigning homework, teachers digitally record class lessons for students to listen to on their own time.  Classroom time is then spent working through their homework problems.  Greg Toppo writes,

“Pressed for time and struggling to reach a generation raised on YouTube, [the teacher]… digitally records her lessons with a tablet computer as a virtual blackboard, then uploads them to iTunes and assigns them as homework.  In class the following day, she helps students work out exercises and work out knotty questions.”  (see link at the bottom for the full article).

Although there are critics to this approach, proponents argue that flipped classrooms provide more face time with students, encourages more collaboration, lessens stress, and is more productive.  Interestingly, I have seen a trend in company meetings that are similar to this classroom approach. 

Think about this: how many meetings have you sat through where you have felt lectured to?  Or, if you were lucky, it was a virtual meeting and you could multi-task while someone droned on and on.   Even if the entire meeting wasn’t spent listening to someone dispensing information, a portion of it probably was.  A best practice I have observed is to follow a format similar to the ‘flipped’ classroom.  Information can be distributed beforehand so that the actual meeting time is spent collaborating, developing ideas, or working through issues.    

One word of caution: stay away from email and PowerPoint.  Blasting paragraphs of text in an email or simply sending a slide deck with enough slides to ensure deforestation of the Amazon if printed is not the answer.   If you go down this path you will usually find that people don’t read their email if it is more than a few lines.  Instead, get creative.  I’ve seen some managers starting to use video.  You can record your thoughts via a webcam or at least narrate your presentation and send it to participants.  Keep it to about 5 – 10 minutes in total duration so you don’t exceed anyone’s attention span.  Other suggestions are to leverage internal blogs or wikis.  Make sure participants know this is a requirement before attending the meeting.  Don’t be afraid to be firm cancel or reschedule the meeting if you still find people are not doing their ‘homework.’

Got an idea or best practice on how to run a virtual meeting more efficiently?  Let me know!


 Toppo, Greg.  ‘Flipped’ Classrooms Take Advantage of Technology , USA Today, October 7, 2011:

When Setting Goals, Be SMART

July 12, 2011


Setting goals is important for all employees, teleworkers and office bound workers alike.  All of us need tangible, quantifiable targets to aim for.  Regardless if you are setting short, midterm, or long term objectives, use the acronym SMART to help ensure you are creating valuable goals.

S – Specific. 

M – Measurable.

A – Achievable or Attainable.

R – Relevant.

T – Time Bound. 

Specific:  Avoid vague and general goals in favor of detailed, precise ones.  Don’t leave any doubt in the minds of your employees of what the expectation is.   Bad:  “Assist with driving process improvements through ongoing engagement with stakeholders.”  Better: “Participate as a core team member on at least one project to improve the Emerging Markets Customer Fulfillment process, working directly with logistics, customer service, and operations stakeholders.”

Measureable:  You may have heard the old expression, what gets measured gets done.  Ensure that you have tangible, quantifiable targets.  Describe the difference between the current and desired state.   Bad: “Improve customer satisfaction.”  Better:  “Improve customer satisfaction scores associated with on-time deliveries from 4.5 to 7 (on the company’s standard 1-10 customer sat scale).”

Achievable/Attainable:  Make sure milestones and objectives are realistic.  If necessary, split the goals into minimum and stretch targets.  Setting the bar to unrealistic heights can actually reduce the motivation among employees to try to reach the goal.  In the example above, is achieving a customer sat rating of 7 realistic?  Maybe you know from historical data that the customer sat index is incredibly hard to move.  You may restate the goal as “Improve customer satisfaction scores associated with on-time deliveries from 4.5 to 5.5 with a stretch goal of 7 (on the company’s standard 1-10 customer sat scale).”

Relevant: You may have tangible, specific goals that the team can realistically achieve, but who cares?  Are the goals linked to the business strategy or departmental goals?  As you try to make your goals as specific as possible, don’t narrow the scope down to such a point that no one really cares or feels the impact if you achieve them.  Goals should be important and warrant the time and effort to achieve them.

Time Bound: Often ignored, but most important, make sure your goals have a clear deadline and/or agreed upon review dates.  Bad: “Reduce the cycle time of the requisition process.”  Better: “Reduce the cycle time of the requisition process from 4 days to 1 by December 31, Fiscal Year XY.”

Have a tip of your own?  Le t me know.  Good luck setting your goals.  And remember, be SMART!