Sunday, January 20, 2008

Office Layout and Design (Ergonomics)

A few years ago, I noticed something about my office. The copier (at the time we only had one) sat beside two men who used it about once a month, twenty or so feet away from the secretary who used it every day. As silly as it might sound, it had never occurred to anyone how ridiculous it was to have the copier there. As soon as the secretary had the copier closer to her desk, the time spent doing the daily invoicing was reduced dramatically. Later we replaced the copier with one that had a top-feeder, which allowed her to leave simple copy jobs running while she performed other tasks. The new copier also had a reducing function that allowed four copies to go onto one page. Suddenly, instead of boxing half a year's records in six boxes, the whole year could be boxed into four. With those three simple changes, the back office became so much more efficient that when two part-time employees left, we didn't have to hire anyone to replace them.

Sometimes a thing as simple as office layout can breed inefficiencies. Those inefficiencies can add up to hours, hours that cost money. I learned a lot about the importance of a good office layout in that process. We also removed walls that forced employees to walk a long way around a room to a door that was straight in front of them upon entry. Just recently we also reorganized our office to have a work flow layout on the billing desk, and to give the billing area a more private place to work without concern for people monitoring the process. Each of these improvements have made it possible to move billings through more rapidly than ever, helping us avoid overtime during the heaviest times of the year. A few technology investments along with the right design has helped more of our revenue get to the bottom line. Studying the ergonomics of an office - the workflow and its layout - is well worth the small amount of time it can take to analyze it and redesign it.

-- Robert

5 comments:

le35 said...

I can definately see how layout and design can make a difference to things. Organization really can make a difference

Alan & Kim said...

One of the great tools to help you do what you are describing (and you may have done exactly this) is to draw a "spaghetti" diagram. Draw your office layout with lines and arrows showing the work flow of everyone in your office. It allows you to visually see where there may be inefficiencies and opportunities for an improved redesign.

I've used this in manufacturing to reduce the work time of a process, and it is the same concept as you described too.
-Alan

Robert said...

I didn't necessarily draw a spaghetti diagram, but I did one in my head. I looked at the fact that just to go into their offices each day, four people were walking twice the length of the office. Any time they had to run out to their car, go to lunch, anything, they were walking that far because of the layout of our cubicle walls. By knocking out one wall, I cut out all that inefficiency. Similarly, by moving the copier onto the billing clerk's desk, I removed dozens of steps each day from the process of copying. I also allowed work to be done while the copies were going because of the feeder. I looked at inexpensive tools that would improve our work flow, and I implemented them. Since I didn't have to replace two employees, the bottom line increased dramatically and our business became much more profitable, largely thanks to something as simple as a good copy machine and a good office layout.

melissa said...

It always amazes me how important good design is. I finally got it through Spouse's head that design isn't just about color and frou. When we redid our son's room, I kept usage in mind the whole time, and it turned out great. He's able to study in there, and actually keep it in a state that doesn't give me fits.

Glad you stopped by. And keep coming by Julie's Hump Day; it's good brain food. :)

Robert said...

I know my post already explained it, but I can't stress enough how right you are, Melissa. Design is often far more important than "just getting it done." You've inspired me to write another post on use of "design." Thanks. I will continue to read the Pippert, I believe.