One guy at work moved out of his office after about 4 years collecting mounds of stuff, and a new guy moved in last week and cleaned up the place, it looked like a completely different office. I had never noticed how spacious the office was, how bright it was with the big window, or how gorgeous the shinny mahogany furniture was. It was a true metamorphosis.
One of my colleagues, told a story about how one of the people she used to work with had so much paper on the desk, people used to think the guy was incredibly busy with work all the time. When he moved on and they finally got to check out the work at the top of the 3” pile, they found that the newest stuff, at the top of the pile, was THREE YEARS OLD!
Why do some people keep their offices looking like a dump yard?—Perhaps, some people are truly busy, overworked, and maybe even a little overwhelmed; others, like in the story above, may just want to SEEM very busy and hardworking so their bosses and peers leave them alone at work; then there are those who just like having a place to sprawl out their stuff without their significant others yelling at them to clean up after themselves; finally, some people just feel more comfortable and homey in their clutter—so different strokes for different folks.
While some workplaces, let each person handle their workspaces as they see fit, The Wall Street Journal, 27 October 2008, reports that others are enforcing a more structured and clean work environment, called 5S.
5S is a “key concept of lean manufacturing techniques that have made makers of everything from cars to candy bars more efficient. The S’s stand for sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain.”
The 5S approach “has been moving from the plant floor to the cubicle at hundreds of offices around the country.”
Some companies, like Kyocera, are taking this even further and invoking “Perfect 5S,” which “not only calls for organization in the workplace, but aesthetic uniformity. Sweaters can’t hand on the back of chairs, personal items can’t be stowed beneath desks and the only decorations allowed on cabinets are official company plaques or certificates.”
When I started my career at IBM, we had a “clean desk policy” that was more like 5S than Perfect 5S, and it was generally speaking a good thing. Coming into this environment right out of college, brought discipline to the masses and promoted positive work habits.
In architecting a better enterprise, should 5S or clean desk policies become the norm?
In my opinion, if we implements 5S to create a rigorous authoritarian culture (emphasizing top-down) and to micromanage our employees, then no, we’re just acting the workplace police and making our people miserable because we can. However, if we do it in order to truly increase efficiency, promote a cleaner more livable environment for all, and we communicate this effectively to our employees, then it has the potential to be a good thing for the people and a good thing for the enterprise.