Tear down your offices

By Richard Kunst   

Business Operations Industry Operations Manufacturing collaboration manufacturing Offices

Open spaces build collaboration and teamwork.


Eliminate office silos and organize people into teams.PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

There are many lean plants where the rest of the organization still operates in functional silos. Why do they allow this to happen? Perhaps they voice the mantra that “change is good anywhere, except in my backyard.”

In operations where ugly is quickly visible, great things have been accomplished. In many cases cells created by adopting single-piece-flow are delivering dramatic results, which can also be accomplished in administrative areas. Instead of having a sales department, engineering group or groups, production control, accounting, marketing, human resources operating as functional silos, create cells based on value streams.

A common complaint voiced by organizations is that communication is horrible. Well, of course it is if you have walls acting as barriers to prevent collaboration and teamwork. People will say they need an office for quiet thinking to focus on the required tasks, but they can learn to work in hectic environments without offices and walls, and be very effective at completing tasks. You also tend not to collect a lot of clutter or personal items.

Open concept

Here’s a challenge for you: tear down your office walls and organize people into teams, then experience the power of collaboration. You’ll also see an immediate improvement in the flow of work through the administrative processes, likely at twice the speed of your former format.


For the unconvinced, here are some points to consider:

• Cadence will improve since people can immediately hand off information instead of waiting until break, lunch or end of day to deliver the paperwork.
• Concerned about private discussions? Teams don’t have secrets, but if you need to share some confidential information, go to a meeting room. Have several small ones.
• With all the technology now available, there should be less physical confidential information but if you have the need, invest in lockable fireproof filing cabinets.
• Need to concentrate? These days you can work from home, or head to the library if the kids are home.

What’s nice about totally open work areas is the work environment can be quickly reconfigured to a specific task or project.

Teams work in a community and if a specific task is not required in one community, move it to another community that specifically needs the skill.

Hiding places should be eliminated in a lean workplace. What are offices? The ultimate hiding places. Best to get rid of them.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Kunst Solutions Corp., which publishes the “Lean Thoughts” e-newsletter and helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions. Its Cambridge, Ont.-based facility supplies custom workplace organization solutions.

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of PLANT.


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