5S Methodology: Optimizing Your Workspaces for More Productivity
by Jim Simpson, Manager, Systems Engineering, Rackspace Technology
I first dove into the world of Five S (5S) methodology in 2018 when I was tasked with creating a 5S methodology internal training course for our Global Data Center Infrastructure organization. Research for this course sent me to our data center in Chicago to see and learn from those who already practiced 5S methodology in their daily work environments.
Fast forward to 2020 and the start of the pandemic. Many of us were sent home to work in our individual spaces, our homes. But, in doing so, a problem arose: many of us didn’t have the space necessary to ensure that we were productive. For example, many didn’t have a quiet place from children, neighbors, or even roommates - the stuff of home and community life.
I quickly realized that work had come into our home spaces and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, I needed first to ensure that I had an area where I felt like I was productive while working but, at the same time, recognize that this isn’t necessarily “the office.”
I also wanted to reimagine my workspace and process so that if/when I returned to the office or began working a hybrid working model, I could quickly and seamlessly implement it at home and in my working space within the Rackspace Technology® headquarters, The Castle.
I’ll be honest, my workspace before the pandemic was much like everyone else’s, where you have little tchotchkes or trinkets everywhere on your desk. I had this and that, stickers, my daughter’s drawings, and such, but I didn’t want that clutter in my home workspace, where my aesthetic is quite minimalist.
I asked myself, how can I be more productive and make my environment functional? I immediately turned to 5S. The 5S methodology comprises five steps: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. I meticulously reviewed each step and began creating the perfect workspace that I welcomed at home and at the Castle.
I started by clearing all the clutter. Some stuff was hard to get rid of because some of those things brought good memories. I took a photo of them as I cleared them out, and those photos live in a digital binder where I can always revisit those memories. I also tossed or found ways to get rid of other things that weren't important. The first step in sorting everything is getting rid of the junk and really seeing what’s left behind. In my case, I now had a clean open desk with space. This allowed me to bring things onto the desk that I absolutely needed without the clutter. So, here’s how to get to sorting:
- Go through everything on and around your workspace
- Organize the things that you need daily to work more efficiently
- Consider removing any nonfunctional clutter
Set In Order
The second step is setting things in order and putting everything in its place. For example, put your dock, laptop, monitors, and other functional items like your wastebin where they need to be. It’s also an excellent time to ensure that you have the correct cabling for your monitors, your ethernet connection, and other technologies. I even decided to work on my cabling, for example, looping wires properly so that you know which one goes to what item.
- Only keep things on your workspace that you use daily
- Consider creating a cable management system
- Design your desk based on how you operate (i.e., if you’re left-handed or where you like to keep a notepad and pen)
Taking a desk apart is the greatest way to get in there and clean the things that need cleaning because so much dust collects. Clean your monitors, keyboard, and cables. You don’t necessarily have to be a neat nick, but always have a microfiber towel handy to clean where you work daily. I recommend starting a daily desk cleaning routine, for example:
- Wipe down everything at the end of the day
- Remove trash from the wastebin at the end of every shift
- Try not to eat or snack at your desk
When I returned to the office for a hybrid working schedule, I recreated my workspace from home to be 100% identical at the office. Everything is entirely the same, from my lamp, monitors, laptop docking station, cellphone holder, and charging area to my mouse and keyboard position. This way, if you need to go back and forth, it’s no big deal, all you need to take with you is your laptop, and everything else remains the same.
- Organize all your workspaces identically
- Put everything back in its place before you shut down for the day
- Remove anything that isn’t part of the daily setup
The last step is self-discipline. I’m always looking for ways to make the setup even more efficient. For example, is there a way that I need to see data on my screens? If so, you should organize the windows on your screen to optimize how you navigate between them. Having my environment orderly helps me stay orderly because, in my mind, if there’s chaos everywhere, I just go straight to chaos. This is an excellent way to practice self-discipline by having a clean environment, or at least a structured environment, wherever you work.
- Commit to a routine
- Continuously look for ways to improve
- Create a sustainable structure for your workspace
In the end, there are endless ways you could set up your workstation, but I tried to find the most minimal that worked for my needs.
Implementing the 5S methodology across my workspace has allowed me to continue to develop in other areas of my life. For example, I can practice my daily journaling without moving all kinds of junk to make a little space for writing. I've also worked on other little projects like building a Raspberry Pi. I now have room for all sorts of things that I put away at the end of the day.
Practicing the 5S methodology has also made me comfortable with somebody coming to my desk as there’s now space for them to bring their laptop next to me. So, it’s completely opened the lines of collaboration.
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