How Simple 5S Saved My Sanity

Working remotely had been my method of operation for the last seven years. I had my protected office space, had found my groove and our family had found a solid routine that worked for us, even though I travelled quite frequently. Now, throw in a pandemic, along with virtual learning/instruction for one elementary student, one 3-year-old toddler, a move to a new home that brought along with it two additional housemates (my parents live in our in-law suite one-third of the year), and gaining one additional office mate, now that my husband is fully remote as well: this had the makings of a recipe for disaster. My protected space and time were thrown right out of the window.

When my husband and his co-workers were initially sent home in March of 2020, it was thought, along with the rest of the world, that this would only be a short period of time. They were provided minimal equipment to get by: just their laptops and any cords/papers that could fit into their hands, as working in the insurance industry, most of the paperwork and necessary reporting contained PHI and personal identity information that couldn’t leave the building, much less their own department. The only solution we had at the time, since most stores had closed at this point, was to office share based on our call/meeting schedules. Who needed the additional monitors, who needed the privacy? Each time that meant a take down and reshuffle of equipment, cords, monitors and set-ups. We very quickly found that the office layout/organization led us to disagreements and lost productivity time in resetting equipment or searching for something only to find one of the kids has borrowed it and naturally thrown it back into the room somewhere that worked best for them.

How could we possibly office share in these conditions? How could we help make this better for all? In came 5S. The often-used lean tool would actually come to save our space, our sanity and restore balance/harmony.

Introducing it to my husband was at first like speaking another language. I’m pretty sure his response was something along the lines of, “you want me to do what?”  But it was worth a try. When I took a step back and reflected on the troubles and daily stress we found ourselves working in, I realized our home office was just like the work place. What did I want the culture to be like here in our home office? My way or the highway? Afterall this was my protected space for the past seven years. I needed to show my willingness to adapt and change in this environment we suddenly found ourselves in. What had previously worked for just me was just that, it worked for me. Not for us.

So, we took an afternoon, first made a list of the items we each needed to work. What items could be shared and left in place, what items needed to go with each person’s computer to work in another location? We found many of the items didn’t necessarily need to travel with each set up. We also looked at placement. What items needed to be where to work most effectively? I’m 5’4”, my husband, 6’2”. Our wingspans and where we placed simple items like a coffee cup (the most necessary work item of all) could have a potentially drastic effect. If he is constantly bumping into the cup/coaster and taking the time to move it, what on the surface to me seems like a simple annoyance to him in reality, translated to lost work time moving it out of the way…and had he knocked it over it could have easily ruined what equipment we could get our hands on.  

After weeding out and pairing down the needed items, finding the best way that worked for us to both function within the space, we also took time to pull the desk out and thoroughly clean, disinfect the area/equipment and taped out spots for each item to go in its respectable place. That way, no matter who was coming or going, we could visually give a glace over and recognize that something key to our workstation was, in fact missing. We weren’t left trying to scramble between calls identifying cords, monitors, searching out writing utensils, etc. It made our transitions and office swaps, seamless and quick and what started out as a simple use of a tool actually became a reflection of the leadership behaviors we used and demonstrated within our household. We wouldn’t have survived taking or keeping a toxic approach.

After trailing our work, we did in fact make small adjustments along the way knowing that sometimes our rolls and needs changed given the pandemic and our business needs evolving alongside it. Simply taking the time to stop, think the set-up through and document what we knew to be best saved us time and sanity in merging home offices. In the end, it helped through our home move as well. It allowed us an easier transition having already gone through and laying the groundwork to repeat and adjust our process in our new space, which I’m happy to report allows for duplicate set-ups. This simplistic tool was incredibly helpful, effective and allowed us to learn more about ourselves and the ways in which we work.

Tell me, what ways have you utilized 5s in your daily life?


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2 Responses to How Simple 5S Saved My Sanity

Debbie Stubbs says: 01/18/2022 at 9:22 am

I laughed as I was ready your blog as my now “home office” multi-functions as grandkids playroom and my craft room! But if you looked at my space, you would think I was OCD about organization. I’m really not, but life is so much easier if “everything has its place.”

Our team recently shared pictures with each other of our work space at home. It was amazing how few desks had any papers at all on them. What was important was the right equipment to get the job done (i.e., multiple monitor setup) and appropriate background for virtual meetings which has become our norm. How we work has certainly changed over the last few months. Without applying 5S principles, I can’t imagine what my “multi-function” space would look like!

Nicole Christensen says: 01/18/2022 at 6:11 pm

I love that you mention crafting and the “multi-function” home office. I am also a crafter so our office doubles as my craft and our dual workspaces. Everything has to have its place. I don’t know why I overlooked using 5S so much sooner.

Your observation of the lack of paper is spot on. Now that I think of it, the only papers I have on mine are the flyers/work sent home with the kids from school and tax prep documents right now. This virtual world has helped with my physical clutter.


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