5S and Five More Working from Home Hacks

By Jon Miller Updated on July 12th, 2020

For many knowledge workers it looks like working from home may be here to stay for a while. Some have found that working from home has improved productivity, due to time saved not commuting or other reasons. For others, the home environment hasn’t been as productive.

One of the biggest challenges of working at home is focusing on work. There are many distractions. It doesn’t help when our office is not be an actual workspace, but a spare bedroom, basement or dining room table. We aren’t productive because the work environment hasn’t been prepared for us to be.

Home Office 5S

Office 5S has a bad name in some quarters. This is often due to attempts to place a manufacturing-like regimen on highly variable knowledge work. The proverbial taped outline of where the stapler goes misses the point of 5S. The practice 5S involves sorting the necessary from unnecessary, straightening by placing everything needed within easy access, sweeping so the workspace is clean but also to easily expose emerging clutter, and activities to sustain these conditions. The exact number, choice and combination of S words is less important than what one does to make the workspace safer, more pleasant and productive.

We explain how this is done both in office and industrial workspaces in our online 5S course. When setting up or improving your space for long-term work from home, the first step is to get rid of the clutter, make sure you have the basic space and tools you need, and to give everything a good dusting and vacuuming. Here are five other, less conventional WFH hacks that conveniently start with the letter S.

Remove Visual Distractions

Spotlight. Even if we have physically sorted and tidied up our desk, unless we are in an empty room, there will be visual distractions. Unlike our place of business, we don’t exactly want to remove visual distractions from work at home space. Many of those distractions make our home pleasant when we are not working. One solution is to turn down the lights in the room and shine a spotlight on your desk or work area. The overall effect should be to reduce what enters your field of vision. The spotlight makes it easier to see what you’re working on. Everything else in the room should fade into the shadow and be distracting.

A Place for Everything

Screen size. Improving productivity may be a simple matter of reducing time, mental energy and focus wasted switching between programs, documents, spreadsheets, video conference windows and so forth. If the transition from commuting to working from home was abrupt, it’s possible that we went from desktop monitor to a small laptop screen to do the same work. The second step of 5S is to make a place for everything necessary. Using up a large monitor with enough screen space to arrange the digital resources you need in one glance can be a quick way to improve productivity.

Economy of Motion

Stand up. A big part of 5S is to make the work easier to do. For physical work, this involves reduced lifting, turning, searching or anything unsafe or tiring. Office work may not be as physical, but we may not have ergonomically optimal desks and chairs when working from home. These can be expensive. On the other hand, the home can a wider variety of work surfaces. When tired of working at a desk, pick up and move to the kitchen counter and stand for a while. Certain types of work lend themselves to standing while others not so much. It’s possible to stand or walk when on a phone call, or video conference, returning to the laptop or notebook when it’s necessary to take notes. When writing a detailed report or reading for long periods, sitting or may be better.

Sweep and Sanitize the Air

Sniffer. One of the reasons some people have found productivity worsens when working from home is due to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air. The normal CO2 level in the outside air is about 400 ppm. This can be much higher if we are in an enclosed space without good air circulation. At the 1,000 PPM level or higher, people begin to feel tired and mentally sluggish. If our windows don’t open, or if doing so isn’t practical due to climate or noise, consider getting an air sniffer. An air monitor that measures CO2 levels will let you know when it’s time to freshen the air. Working from home in a small, enclosed room, it may only take an hour or two to get to unproductive levels. When it does, it’s time to open the door and sweep out the carbon dioxide.

Take Time to Smell the Roses

Scents. The traditional workplace doesn’t allow us to customize our olfactory environment. Good or bad, we smell what everyone else smells. If each desk or workstation pumped out their own aromatherapy it probably wouldn’t smell very good to anyone. Bad smells can be distracting. Whatever one’s preference, working from home, we can add the scents that perk us up and make us feel good about being in our workspace.

Bonus S: Embrace the Distractions You Love

Spend time with who or what you love. Some of the greatest distractions when working from home can be children, spouses, family pets or the temptation to spend a few minutes on one’s hobby. Instead of treating these as distractions and pushing them away, embrace them. Chances are, we will not wish we had spent more time focusing on our computer screens, when all is said and done. We can view these times as trying, or as offering us a choice to work differently.

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