Workstation Efficiency

The organisation level of the business in general will often influence how its employees organise their workstations. Businesses should provide the necessary equipment to enable each worker to organise their workstation in the most effective way for themselves and for the organisation. However, optimal arrangement ultimately depends on the tasks to be performed. Still, there are several organisational values that cut across most functions.

Adaptation and Adjustment

- Although employees will not be able to set up their workstation exactly as they want it, there are several adjustments they can make to bring about the best working space for them. Poor workstation posture was identified as a cause of back, neck, wrist, and hand pain several decades ago. Since then, there have been significant improvements in workplace ergonomics.

Adjustable chairs and computer monitors are now quite standard. Moreover, footrests, wrist rests, headsets, and document holders may be supplied to workers who require them to maintain a healthy posture.

Placing frequently used objects within an arm's length reduces the muscle strain that can be caused by repeated over-reaching.Adaptations need not be purely functional. There is always room for personal touches like trinkets and plants so long as these do not clutter up the workspace.

Focus on the Task or Project

- By focusing on a specific task or project at a given moment, employee productivity increases significantly. This approach can be achieved by applying both procedural and physical organisation. Individual employees can easily apply effective procedural organisation by creating daily or weekly to-do lists. This will ensure that their physical space is organised.

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Use of the designated procedural pattern can also help in keeping the workstation properly arranged and maintained. When organisational strategies focus on the business task or project being undertaken, they ensure that each employee has rapid access to everything they need to do their job, while minimising distractions and improving time management.

Physical Clutter

- In order to complete tasks effectively, workers must be able to find the resources crucial to those tasks. Items used daily should be within arm's reach, whereas less frequently used items should be kept farther away. It also makes sense to store related items together such as keeping writing instruments near notepads.

Clean Desktop  

- The desktop should only be occupied by items that are used on a daily basis. Decorative touches like family photos are partially excluded from this rule because they create a pleasant workspace. However, even personal items can contribute to clutter if uncontrolled.

Some workers may benefit from using an in-tray, an out-tray, and possibly an in-progress tray as long as these are reviewed regularly. Employees are advised to clean up their desks at the end of each working day to ensure that visual clutter does not distract them the next day.

Organised Drawers and Shelves  

- A functional workstation needs at least two drawers – one for office equipment and another for papers. Drawer organisers save time and frustration for workers who use handheld office equipment like staplers, paperclips, and scissors.

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Shelves, on the other hand, should be reserved for items that are used quite frequently but not necessarily every day. Examples of such items include office supplies or reference materials. Items that are used most often should also be placed closest to the workstation.

Effective Filing System  

- A good business filing system is organised similar to a library catalogue. Records are filed hierarchically, divided at the highest level into broad categories like Finance or Human Resources. The categories should then be subdivided into sensible subcategories.

Colour codes and alphanumeric reference numbers can aid the organisation and retrieval of the information. Documenting the structure of the filing system by including names of individual files or folders if necessary will help employees to locate files quickly when required.

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Staff should be encouraged to review stored documents and decide whether they need to be actioned, archived, or discarded. Some paper records will need to be kept for a specific period after they have finished being actively used but others have a shorter shelf life or can be digitally archived.

Generally, retaining duplicates of the same document is not required, so these can often be discarded. Many businesses have a formal document management policy, which should be adhered to.

Digital Clutter

- Computers are business critical for most organisations. This means that digital clutter is at least as harmful to productivity as physical clutter if not more. Organising digital material is therefore equally important.

Clean Virtual Desktop  

- Like the physical workstation, the virtual desktop should be kept clear and preferably should only contain items that are essential for current tasks. A huge array of icons on a computer desktop can be confusing and distracting.

Organised Files and Folders  

- Employees may spend hours looking for an important file they think they may have deleted or overwritten by mistake. Furthermore, version control can become a serious issue when team members collaborate on digital documents.

Many organisations use standardised naming systems for folders and files to create a shared understanding of what each contains and what else it relates to. If there is no organisation-wide policy, individual workers can devise their own classification system to suit their preferences.

Effective Filing System  

- The electronic filing system should mirror, as far as possible, the physical filing system. The same structure can also be applied to email filing systems. This makes it far easier for employees to locate relevant documents and files in all formats.

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A digital index of file names, cross referenced with the physical filing system, is often useful. Digital archiving on the Cloud is a practical way to preserve documents and save hard drive space.

Effective Email Management  

- Email is central to most operations of a modern organisation. Many organisations supply email software to their people but little in the way of training or guidance in how to make best use of the technology. As a result, many users become overloaded and overwhelmed with the volumes and demands of this workplace productivity tool.

And while email is now highly mobile and accessible via laptops, smartpads and smartphones, much of it is handled in an office environment where access to relevant information and documentation is more easily available.

Some of the key strategies for using email as an effective productivity, technology and communication tool are as follows:

It is critically important to control when email is addressed. A wealth of research shows the highly unproductive and debilitating effect of constant email interruptions and distractions. Best practice is to schedule specific blocks of time to fully focus on dealing with the inbox, rather than trying to multi-task it along with other activities. The frequency of checking email will depend on an individual’s role but even those in highly responsive roles such as customer service or sales will benefit from being able to have dedicated time to address their tasks without continual interruptions from incoming email.

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Once a schedule for checking email has been established all email alerts (audible and visual) can be turned off (with exceptions for specific people or circumstances). In addition, expectations on response rates for incoming email can be established and communicated to others (internal and external).

When addressing email, the aim is to handle each message only once by simply making a decision on the next action needed for each of them. It helps to recognise that there are only ever one of 4 actions needed, as follows:

  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Deal with it immediately (2 mins or less)
  • Decide

  • When the email can’t be deleted, decide where the it should be stored (an email folder or along with an existing calendar appointment or task).
  • When to address the task which has arrived by email, by converting the email into a calendar item. This process encourages consideration of how long the task will take, an appropriate time to schedule it and other considerations that help to better manage and balance the workload demands arising from the email.
  • For emails which rely on someone or something else, a reminder can be added to the email and it can then be stored in a waitlist, watchlist or pending reply folder.
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Finally, once actioned, email should be quickly moved stored out of the inbox and stored in an appropriate folder, away from the inbox. The simpler the folder structure the quicker and easier it is to use. With search capability increasing exponentially in modern software, it is possible to use a single email folder for storing email and rely on the sort and search functions to quickly find relevant messages. This is often much quicker than having to remember and use a complex folder hierarchy. It also helps to reduce the resistance/reluctance to file emails.


Employers should provide the necessary office equipment, technology, systems, policies, and procedures to facilitate the fulfilment of business goals. However, to some extent it is up to employees to make the best use of these for their own benefit and that of the organisation as a whole. Physical and digital clutter is the enemy of productivity, but both can be minimised by staying organised.

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