How Organizing Work Stations Drives Business Productivity
While the modern office may have different needs from turn-of-the-century factories, there is still much that can be learned about productivity from work stations and assembly lines.
The assembly line was first developed as a means of increasing the efficiency of human workers. Since then, humans and machines have always had something of an uncomfortable alliance.
Machines are fast and never tire, which made many workers feel uneasy about the safety of their jobs. Machines did take over high-risk jobs that often lead to injury, making way for new types of jobs – after all, those machines need the human touch even now.
There’s something quite magical about the way machines operate – fluid and streamlined, always on time. We can learn much about productivity from the way they work.
The automotive production line is the source of modern productivity
“While Henry Ford was certainly an early pioneer of production lines and used them to drastically increase automotive production, he didn’t actually invent them.”
Instead, he built on concepts already being used in other industries to create his automotive production line. In fact, the idea of the division of labor actually dates back to ancient times and there’s plenty of early concepts in other industries.
Some more modern inventions that Ford also borrowed from included the automatic flour mill and the moving line techniques used by the meat industry at the time. In fact, Ford was not even the first car manufacturer to use an assembly line concept. His biggest rival, Ransom Eli Olds was. Ford added the moving part to it, which changed everything.
Toyota paved the way towards continuous improvement
In the early 1900s, an executive from the Toyota Motor Company named Taichi Ohno became fascinated by Henry Ford’s work on the automotive assembly line. During a visit to the US, he also became enamoured with some aspects of the delivery system of the local grocery store called the Piggly-Wiggly.
Upon returning to Japan, he improved upon Ford’s methods and developed what later became known as the Toyota Production System (TPS). The TPS was so successful in fact, that it spawned a number of different modern business strategies, including Kaizen (continuous improvement), Six-Sigma and Lean.
Each one of these methodologies takes a slightly different approach when solving different issues in different types of businesses, but they all find their roots in the TPS. Continuous improvement, in particular, has much to offer the modern office in terms of increasing efficiency.
What is Continuous Improvement and How Does it Help My Business?
The method of continuous improvement, better known as Kaizen, is one of many different methodologies that has sprung from TPS. It is a system that businesses and individuals can use to advance in almost any area of life.
From productivity to physical fitness to finances, the main principle of Kaizen can be applied to all of them: Just improve by 1% daily. While this may not seem like it would accomplish much, there are three elements that make Kaizen so successful.
- If you fail to reach your goal one day, it does not derail you in any way
- 1% growth is achievable every single day
- Daily 1% growth adds up to significant results over time
“Small daily improvements lead to significant gains over the course of a few months or a year and astounding gains over the course of a decade or more.”
Imagine you saved $1 every day. In a week you would have seven dollars, $30 in the course of a month and in a year you could save $365. Now that may not seem like much, but if you continued to save $1 a day and invested with a 10% return, in 20 years you would amass nearly $25,000.
This same principle works for business efficiency.
Kaizen and office organization
It is in our nature to create something of an assembly line in our lives so we can simply go about our day without having to think too much about what we are doing. This creates efficiency, but without awareness, it will become an obstacle to efficiency.
The world around us is constantly changing. New products and services that can improve our lives and even increase our productivity spring up every day. Many of those solutions often require us to change our routines and learn new things. This change in the status quo is something that most of us shy away from.
You know that old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The thing is, however, that you should fix it if there’s a better way to do it. Just make sure that you have the right approach.
Major overhauls are overwhelming and there are so many things that can go wrong that it seems it’s just not worth the effort. Changing too many moving parts at the same time equals chaos. So, take another approach – change one part at a time.
Improving Your Business Productivity one Part at a Time
Some of the biggest obstacles to achieving maximum productivity stem from very small hindrances that we stop noticing over time. That’s why it’s so important to have a system for dealing with something you use every day, then turning it into a habit can save a great deal of time.
Take a long, hard look at your daily business tasks. Is there anything that you have to do dozens or hundreds of times a day? Repetitive tasks, busywork, if you will, can eat up a staggering 30% of your time.
If you aren’t doing it in the most efficient way possible, then you are also most likely wasting a great deal of time each day. So how to improve?
It all starts with your Workstation
Workstations can and should be arranged for maximum productivity and efficiency. This includes both individual workstations and also how workstations are arranged or grouped within an office.
Some things that will improve each individual workstation include:
- You can start by investing in ergonomic equipment, which will help significantly speed up a number of small processes that can lead to a major increase in productivity over time.
- Make sure you digitize documents you use every day and upload them to cloud storage. They will be easily accessible, even easier to share, and you will also do something good for the environment.
- Look into automation options so you free up your time. For instance, now that you have digitized your documents, set up automatic backups and synchronization across all your devices.
When you look at the layout of your workstations, always group them so all work between them happens quickly and there are no delays.
Here’s an example: You have physical paperwork that needs to regularly be passed between two departments that are currently located on the opposite side of your business offices. This takes up a significant amount of time that is spent walking back and forth. You can solve this issue with by either moving the two departments closer together, devising a more efficient system of delivering paperwork in bulk in a single trip or looking into ways to deal with the paperwork in a digital form.
These are all examples of ways in which you can create a 1% improvement in efficiency each and every day.
Constant Improvement should be a Constant in Your Business Operations
One of the biggest obstacles to productivity and efficiency lies in the false sense of safety. If your business is doing good, it means everything is working perfectly. While you are lulled by the current high, your competitors are already devising ways to improve their services and products.
If you stop improving, you won’t stay on top for long. This is why the concept of continuous improvement is so good – it lets you make changes, but in a controlled manner that won’t disrupt your current success.
“Continuous improvement helps you see what works and what doesn’t and helps you react to the latest trends within your industry quickly.”
It is also a method that invites conversation. After all, you’re not the only one with ideas on how operations and processes can be improved within your business. Each of your employees surely has an idea or two on how to do things faster. Hear them out, and give them credit when you successfully implement new solutions.
What 1% Improvement Can you Start Today?
Kaizen is as much a state of mind as it is anything else. It is a way of seeing the world around us as being in need of constant improvement rather than just accepting the way things are. The true beauty of Kaizen lies in the way that it creates major change without disrupting your daily business tasks or personal rituals. It’s painless, almost unnoticeable, but in the long run, it brings considerable benefits.
Now take a look around you. How can you improve your business operations by 1% today? Will you start digitizing your documents first, or would you rather ask your employees about their ideas on how things could move faster?
Michelle Laurey produces stories on finance, entrepreneurship, and productivity. Always interested in ways which can help individuals reach full potential in life, she loves sharing her thoughts. She is a virtual assistant for a few small businesses. Outside her keyboard, she enjoys a good book, healthy food, and bike rides. Reach out to her on Twitter.
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