Back to the office with 5S

April 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

Now that you’ve mastered a year or more working from home, it’s time to return to the office. You’ve been preparing mentally for this inevitability for months, but you might have mixed feelings about going back. You’ve been home so long, you’ve gotten into a groove, created a nice routine. On the other hand, you might be dying to get away from your house.

What can you do to maximize your work effectiveness from the get-go?

Enter 5S

Try 5S. It’s a five-step system for organizing your workspace and increasing your effectiveness. It emerged in Japan as part of the Toyota Production System, known as Lean Manufacturing in the west. Here’s some background on 5S

The theory behind 5S is that if you don’t have an optimized workspace, you may be more prone to make mistakes or even experience safety issues. While it began in manufacturing, 5S has expanded to other industries, including education, government, and healthcare. It can be beneficial in any workspace.

In the year-plus that we’ve been working from home, the world has changed greatly, from masks to distancing to remote everything. Our social norms and health practices will probably never be the same as they were before the pandemic. This is the new normal.

You can bet the workplace has changed, too. That’s why we need 5S more than ever.

I’ve done many projects to organize several workspaces to help people and teams become more effective at what they do. I can tell you that 5S works. Let me walk you through the steps as they relate to returning to the workplace.

Step 1: Sort

The first step in the 5S process is sorting. Here, you determine what is necessary to your workspace and what you can do without. When you return to the office, you will want to sort all of your items to see what is still relevant and what isn’t. Some businesses have vastly accelerated their paperless movements over the last year, so you may have many old papers to file or dispose of.

When sorting, ask yourself these questions:

  • “How often do I use this?”
  • “What is its purpose?”
  • “Does it really need to be here?”

Tools and other instrumental items to your work stay in your workspace, while non-relevant items are removed. If you’re unsure whether you’re going to need something any longer, you can place it in a box near your workspace designated for such things and take it out of the box if and when you need it.

Step 2: Set in Place

To set in place is to put in order what you need. The key is to minimize motion. Think ergonomics. What is the most conveniently located space for each item that will keep you from engaging in unnecessary movement?

When setting items in place, ask yourself these questions:

  • “When do I use this item?”
  • “Is there a place I can put this that will cut down on unnecessary movement?”
  • “Where does it make the most sense to put it?”
  • “Do I need more storage containers?”

You want to think about the paths of movement your body takes through space when working and using your items. This will help guide you as far as where to place your items.

Know that although people are getting vaccinated (or not, depending on their personal beliefs and comfort levels), and things are getting somewhat “back to normal,” there will still probably be social distancing in the workplace. Think about how the six feet rule might impact your paths through space, as well.

Step 3: Shine

Ah, everyone’s favorite step: cleaning. But seriously, cleaning is a critical practice because not only does it sanitize and reorganize your workspace, maintaining its efficiency, it also allows you to take pride in and ownership of your space.

Cleaning tasks consist of:

  • Putting things away
  • Sweeping
  • Dusting
  • Mopping
  • Wiping down surfaces

This particular step will be of great importance when returning to the office to continue to stop the spread of COVID. 5S recommends cleaning on a daily basis, but right now you may even want to clean some surfaces more frequently than once daily, especially any shared spaces.

Bleach wipes work well and kill germs in minutes. You may want to wear disposable gloves to complete some tasks, such as wiping down items. And, it goes without saying, wash your hands often.

Step 4: Standardize

To standardize is to ensure that everyone on your team is aware of, understands, and participates in the 5S system and does so in the same way. This means that procedures and schedules should be established to make sure the first three steps of 5S are carried out.

You can adapt standardization to your own workspace by standardizing your process of sorting, organizing, and cleaning. Create a schedule for yourself and make sure you’re keeping it up to date

Step 5: Sustain

Turn your 5S routine into a habit that you can accomplish without even thinking about it. Habits, whether good, bad, or indifferent, last and are hard to break. Sustain your process by adapting it into a habit.


5S will be instrumental in boosting your productivity at work. Once you start it, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. It will be especially useful to you now in light of all the changes in post-pandemic times. Contact me today to arrange your workplace assessment today. You can schedule an appointment on my contact page today.

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Todd Allan

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Todd Allan

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