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How to reorganize your workspace to boost productivity

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A badly organized workspace could be costing you a lot of money. Do you know how much time your employees waste moving back and forth? Or what portion of your facilities isn’t being used to make money for your company?

Few entrepreneurs can answer these questions, says Patrick Choquette, a BDC Business Consultant who advises businesses on operational efficiency. But the answers can be eye-opening. “In most manufacturing plants, very little of the square footage is used for value-added activities,” says Choquette, an industrial engineer.

And that means space, effort and money are going to waste. Here are steps to assess and rearrange your workspace to increase productivity.

1) Map your facility—Your first step should be to map what you’re doing. Start by asking yourself which activities create value for clients. These are the specific activities that a client is willing to pay money for.

Next, create a map of your facility showing only the areas where value-added activities happen. Also, calculate what percentage this represents of your total facility. The results may surprise you. “The map shows you how well you are focusing on activities that actually generate revenue,” Choquette says.

2) Show the flow—Now create a second map of your workspace showing the movements of people, products and paper. One way of doing this is by creating something called a spaghetti diagram.

You observe work processes and draw lines on your map that show all the physical movements needed in your operations. Each movement should be recorded with a separate line. Also measure the distance and time of each movement, plus time spent waiting at each stop.

3) Observe the floor—Get managers to spend more time on the floor, observing the layout and work flow. “Most managers aren’t on the floor enough,” Choquette says. “You can’t just do a quick five-minute tour and make major decisions. You must invest time in observing and understanding.”

4) Optimize your workspace—Use all your observations to think about ways to rearrange your workspace. Involve your employees. Your goal should be to free up employee time and optimize your workspace for more output, Choquette says. “More time and space will let you do more for your clients.”

Look especially at eliminating spaces not used for value-added activities and reducing distances and times on your workflow diagram.

Choquette’s advice made an enormous difference for Craig McConnell’s sign-making company, Miller McConnell Signs. The company was experiencing strain for fast growth, so McConnell hired Choquette to suggest solutions. Choquette realized that overworked salespeople were on a different floor than production staff—even though the two departments needed to be in constant contact.

The solution? Move the two departments to the same floor. That change, along with other efficiency refinements, raised productivity and staff morale. “The assessment opened our eyes,” McConnell says. “It created an environment where questions were being asked that weren’t asked before.”

5) Look for creative solutions—Solutions may also emerge that go beyond simply rearranging workstations. Consider deeper changes—like streamlining production.

For example, you could combine two departments and train workers to do both jobs. That could not only save time spent moving back and forth, but also improve production flexibility and reduce errors.

Or, instead of moving your product between workstations, you could have workers move around the product. Choquette cites Bombardier Aerospace. “The plane doesn’t move. The workers do.”

See more tips in BDC’s free eBook on operational efficiency, Create a Leaner, More Profitable Business: A Guide for Entrepreneurs.

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