The business imperative of decluttering

12 Feb 2020 By Ian Osborne

Being in an untidy environment can make it more difficult for us to focus, increasing stress and reducing productivity, says Ian Osborne

Japanese organising consultant Marie Kondo (pictured) is largely credited with pioneering the trend of decluttering. Yet this isn’t something reserved solely for the home. Businesses up and down the country would be wise to take on board the principles of decluttering, reviewing processes and introducing best practices to enable a happy, healthy and efficient workforce. So why should organisations declutter?

Productivity boost

From an HR perspective, reorganising the office can have huge benefits to productivity levels. Recent ONS data revealed that UK productivity had grown only marginally in the third quarter of 2019, and with Brexit no longer dominating the headlines there is a huge onus on business leaders to increase productivity and drive economic growth across the UK.

Employee wellbeing

There are also mental health benefits to maintaining a well-organised office. Scientists have found that being in a cluttered environment can make it more difficult for us to focus, resulting in greater stress levels and reducing efficiency and ultimately productivity. There is therefore much to be said for a tidy office helping to maintain a clear and focused mind.

Environmental credentials

It’s worth remembering the environmental advantages of ensuring an organised office. With consumers expecting brands and businesses to be environmentally responsible, they expect their employer to be too. Shredding and recycling any unwanted paperwork not only helps to reduce clutter, it also safeguards your company’s green credentials.

Data security

Decluttering the office has enormous advantages from a compliance perspective, enabling employees to better handle sensitive information while reducing the risk of a data breach.

Take paper documentation. The average office worker uses a staggering 10,000 sheets per year – many of which are left lying around the office and not stored or destroyed properly after use. From contracts and invoices to financial statements and CVs, the likelihood of paper records left lying around that contain sensitive information is high.

Research commissioned by Shred-it revealed that more than 14 per cent of office workers had left sensitive information lying on their desk. Furthermore, more than a third said they were unlikely to dispose of sensitive information by shredding paperwork, and 9 per cent admitted to having put people’s CVs in the bin or recycling rather than shredding them first. 

The research also unveiled the potential consequences of mishandling sensitive information in the workplace: 38 per cent of office workers admitted to having to pay towards some or all of the cost of the lost information; 55 per cent had lost their company money or customers; while more than 23 per cent admitted to having lost their job.

These findings show the importance of ensuring your workforce fully understands and complies with data protection regulations, not only to protect the company, but to protect their own position within the company.

Think digital

Data protection regulations apply to digital records, not just paper documentation. The rise of the digital economy, coupled with an increasingly flexible workforce, has resulted in more and more documents being saved on laptops and handheld devices, easily accessible for remote workers. However, this brings a new wave of security concerns, from using unsecured wireless networks in cafes, to leaving laptops and mobile phones on transport unattended.

Never has it been more important for workers to install anti-virus software, while regularly updating usernames and passwords to reduce the risks of data theft. It’s also worth considering a specialist hard drive destruction service for any unwanted USBs or other hardware.

With digital communication, such as email, business leaders and their employees should consider whether it’s necessary to use the CC field for colleagues who aren’t expected to reply. Would a phone or face-to-face conversation be preferable or quicker, rather than sending an email unnecessarily, which in turn increases the digital paper trail?

With a clear business imperative for decluttering, how can HR directors ensure their workforce is more organised and productive?

1. Everything in its place 

Identify a logical home for all the items you need, ensuring accessibility if frequently used. Listen closely to colleagues so you can understand what will work best day to day.

2. Label clearly 

Whether it’s offsite archiving, routinely accessed filing or the contents of the stationery cupboard, using a clear labelling system will save time and energy. 

3. Clean desk policy 

By definition, this specifies how employees should leave their workspace when they aren't there. Desks should be cleared of all papers, particularly those containing sensitive information such as personal details or account numbers. This should also extend to sensitive information on computers.

4. Create clear work zones 

Allow space for colleagues to interact away from their desks. Introduce small spaces to break away to have more intimate and focused conversations if the workplace is open plan. 

5. Blitz as a team 

At least once a year, allocate a day for your staff to blitz paperwork, data files and emails. This is best done early in the year or after the financial year-end as you can potentially bin another historical year’s worth of documentation. The key is to ensure the secure destruction of unwanted paperwork to protect sensitive information.

6. Confront your inbox  

Allow time for colleagues to tackle their inbox backlog, unsubscribing from any sources that aren’t adding value. Designate specific times to check email so you can concentrate on specific tasks between those checks. The constant interruption of new emails wreaks havoc with your focus and extends the amount of time required to complete any task. 

7. Ergonomics 

Check your employees’ workstation set-up to ensure their posture and energy levels can be best supported. If staff use laptops, include some poser tables for them to move to if they need to stand and work.

8. Do not disturb signs 

If you have an open-plan office, issue each desk with some visual indicator that tells colleagues when they are in focus time and should not be disturbed unless urgent. 

Ian Osborne is VP for the UK and Ireland at Shred-it

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