Running a Business

Running an Efficient Office

Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

The layout of your office can greatly affect how well your company operates. By improving the way your office operates you can increase productivity, reduce costs and improve quality.

Conventional thinking of Operations Management, Lean Manufacturing, Quality Management and Continuous Improvement is that their primary applications are on the factory floor.

The truth that innovative companies like GE understand is that these concepts can be applied to virtually all aspects of business and their benefit in previously unchartered areas can be astronomical.

GE and Jack Welch applied Six Sigma, a breed of quality control, to every corner of their business and the results were tremendous and well documented.

This is not to compare the small business to a global powerhouse like General Electric. And this article is not set on boasting the benefits of Six Sigma. This is simply to use GE as an example of how Operations Management can greatly impact your business in more areas than one.

Without getting too technical, there are seemingly minor changes you can make to how you view your entire Operation that can go a long way towards increasing your productivity and quality while reducing your costs.

A great example, especially for small businesses, is office organization. By making improvements to how your office operates you can see the aforementioned benefits to costs, productivity and quality.

The layout of your office can greatly affect how well your company operates. Your office layout includes location of equipment (faxes, printers, copiers), the layout of desks and departments and the visual appearance of office materials (papers, folders, files). By improving these aspects of your office you'll see some amazing changes.

Begin by mapping out your current layout of desks and departments. Are there cubicles separating areas? Do inter-related departments have to travel to talk with one another? Is there any resentment over allocated office space? These are all issues that should be considered.

In terms of increasing productivity, you want to make sure that distance traveled between common areas in minimal. Cubicles are a good way to increase privacy and occasionally productivity, but are they necessary? There are many instances where cubicles hinder communication and require extra transit time. If you find these issues haunting your office, don't be afraid to tear down the walls. You should also be fair when allocating desk and office space. Resentment among employees can lead to lower employee satisfaction, which ultimately affects your product or service.

Once you're sure you have an appropriate layout of desks and departments, it's time to analyze your equipment location. Is your fax machine located near departments that use it the most? Are there departments that require their own pieces of equipment? Are there individuals who need the copier more than others?

These may seem like basic concepts, but too often I've visited small businesses and seen great inefficiencies due to a poorly placed machine. In one instance, I witnessed Accounting using the copier more than any other department yet the copier was located on the other side of the office. The employees in accounting had a 10 second walk each way to reach the copier and they used the copier about 3 times an hour. That's a full minute per hour wasted on an inefficient set-up (20 seconds round trip x 3 trips per hour). Add up 8 minutes a day for a year and these minimal changes don't seem so minimal.

Finally it's time to get down to the smallest aspects of your office organization, which can have the greatest impact. How well your employees organize their office materials and paperwork can greatly affect your overall productivity.

A great benefit for many small businesses is the sense of informality, especially when compared to larger companies. The problem is that this sense of informality can lead to great disorganization, especially when it comes to your office.

Stacks of paper and messy desks are no way to run an organized operation. Usually the owner of the stack and messy desk knows his or her system. The problem is that these systems aren't fool proof and the employee spends more time than you might think searching for materials or information amidst a sloppy workplace.

By encouraging your employees to keep an organized workspace their productivity will greatly increase with the elimination of searching for scattered goods. In addition, there is the added benefit of appearance when prospective customers or clients visit your facility.

These basic examples of improving your office organization have high practical value. By starting with an organized office you are sending a message throughout your company that productivity and quality are a part of your culture. You will see decreased costs, increased efficiencies and the good feeling that accompanies a clean working atmosphere.

Once you've started implementing Operations Management into one aspect of your company, you'll find the temptation to improve all areas irresistible.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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