Experts estimate workers from entry-level to management lose half a workday per week to disorganization. That’s 10% of your payroll, every pay period, every year. That’s the bad news.
The good news is you’re not helpless. You can take solid steps across multiple areas to reduce wasted time and wasted money. Here are eight ways to improve your office.
8 Organization Tips and How They Reduce Costs
1. Perform a Purge and Scan
Searching for the right phone number, invoice, form, or other piece of paperwork can add minutes to every task and add up to an hour or more daily. The situation gets worse when dealing with archived files, such as during tax season or a department audit. Although this is never completely avoidable, there are helpful strategies to minimize it.
Perform a purge and scan of every workspace in the office. Have each employee conduct three steps:
- Place in a specific clearly labeled space all papers they use regularly or are using for a project they’re currently working on.
- Shred every document they no longer need.
- Scan documents that aren’t used often but need to be kept for archive purposes, then shred the documents.
At the end of the process, your team will spend much less time searching for documents.
2. Assign Discard Dates
Even after you’ve implemented the solution to No. 1 above, you’ll be in the same situation again six months or a year from now if you don’t establish a company culture of discarding unneeded papers.
Some experts, including David Allen, author of the legendary productivity and organization book “Getting Things Done,” recommend setting aside a purge and scan day once a quarter, but that doesn’t keep things from accumulating during the interim months.
Take a page out of grocery stores and label each file or sheet of paper with a discard date. That date can be a literal calendar day, or it can be an if/when statement such as, “Discard once John Smith moves from lead to client.”
With that date plainly visible on documents, unneeded paper clutter gets squared away as it becomes unnecessary. The office remains less cluttered, and less time is lost.
3. Use a Zone Defense
If one of your employees needs a tool that isn’t at their desk, one of two things happens. In a disorganized office, the staffer spends time (sometimes a long time) searching for that tool. Even in an organized office, staffers must walk to where that tool is kept and then walk back to their workstation.
The same thing happens when staffers are finished with a tool. In an organized office, they take a trip back to the supply room to return the tool. In an unorganized office, it sits where it is left until somebody else needs it and begins the search again.
Create “work zones” and “supply zones” that physically position workers engaged in similar tasks next to the supplies they need. Look to fast food restaurants for a strong application of this concept: The fry cook stands right beside the salt shaker and the stack of paper baggies the fries are placed in. Staffers don’t have to cross the aisle to reach needed tools.
4. Invest in an Office Labeler
This one is simple to understand, time-consuming to implement, and as close to universal as anything can be. A McKinsey study suggests we spend one-fifth of our time at work looking for things around the office.
The old adage “a place for everything, and everything in its place” only works if everybody knows where that place is and agrees to use it.
Fix this by investing in an office labeler. Place identical labels on (a) each object whose purpose and name isn’t immediately obvious, and (b) the location in your office where that object is kept.
Make sure there’s a team member whose job it is to keep labels up to date, to keep people trained on where to find homes for company tools, and to sweep through the office once or twice a day “rehoming” lost objects.
5. Automate Your Contact Management
Poorly organized contact management systems lose money in two ways. First, there’s the wasted time from searching for various pieces of information, as described in several of the listings above. Second, there’s the lost sales opportunities when a date is missed, client details get misplaced, or other information is lost or delayed due to poor organization.
The job of marketing and sales is to turn strangers into leads, leads into clients, and clients into advocates for your brand. A badly organized contact management system slows that process.
Your best solution for organizing contact management is to automate. Deliver content marketing through newsletter automation, reading flow on your website, and with alerts and notifications for your sales team when a client reaches a certain point in their interaction with your brand and marketing materials.
Pair this with automated and uniform databases containing information about your customers and leads, so sales and customer service can access all of their information and the entirety of their relationship with your company.
6. Adopt a Clean-Desk Policy
Even if you organize an office’s common spaces, each employee’s workspace must be clean too. A messy desk is a desk where its owner has to search for tools and papers.
It’s also a space where common tools can get hidden for long periods of time, forcing the company to spend money to replace them.
You needn’t be draconian in your demands or enforcement of a clean-desk policy, but having something in place can avoid the problems listed above. Each office will have its own best practices, but it’s wise to set an official policy in writing.
One related practice worth considering is a 10-minute wrap-up standing meeting where the team discusses the day while also straightening their desks. It can make a big difference in both office organization and team unity.
Also, if your office ever has school visits or visits from members of the community, you can use those special occasions to urge everyone to clean their desks before visitors arrive.
6. Consider Professional Document Management
Ironically, the average office in the 2010s used more paper than equivalent office workers in the 1980s, owing largely to how much easier it is to print things now. Even with all the above tips in place, most workplaces are drowning in documents, many of which are required either for daily operations or by laws regarding archiving and availability of financial information.
Storing, organizing, and accessing these documents is a task unto itself and can interfere with other organization and workflow processes.
A small business, or one that uses little in the way of documents, can get by with some banker’s boxes and a storage room. But once you reach medium to large business size, there’s a strong case to be made for professional document management.
This is one of those situations like accounting and legal services — a highly specialized task with low margins for error that (until you reach enterprise-level) doesn’t justify a full-time expert.
7. Perform a Task Walkthrough Audit
A 2016 study by IDC indicates businesses lose 20% to 30% of their revenue from time lost due to inefficiency. That inefficiency might include time spent looking for lost items or searching through documents, but it’s also due to workflows that create redundancy, unnecessary lags in productivity, or similar issues.
The issues can be as simple as poor ergonomics in a production space, as complex as company-wide communications infrastructure, or anywhere in between. They usually exist as a constellation of problems too small individually to be caught by normal management techniques.
Have each member of your team audit their own workflows, looking for places time is wasted by something outside of their control. Collate the audit reports, and find the opportunities to improve workflow companywide.
8. Do It All Again — Virtually
Everything we just said about organizing the physical space in your office applies equally (if not more so with each passing year) to your virtual spaces. A cluttered computer desktop can lose as much time as the cluttered top of a physical desk. Poor reporting workflow impacts productivity just as much as a badly designed manufacturing workstation.
Go through each item on this list and apply it to the individual computers, servers, databases, and the communications infrastructure of your company. You will find just as many, if not more, opportunities to tighten things up and save money as you did in the physical realm.
Final Thought: Where to Start
Allen recommends taking three to five workdays and having all team members focus on decluttering and organizing their stations according to your overarching plan.
But not every company can afford to slow or stop operations for a full week. Instead, focus on one of the above items at a time, maybe at a rate of one per month. In less than a year, you’ll be moving forward with better organization, lower costs, and higher profits.