Getting people on the same systems at work is a fundamental step in improved safety and productivity. Night shift, day shift, beginning or end of the week – everyone should understand the core goals, methods and the incremental steps to follow so that things are essentially done the same way every time. Using visual cues can simplify this goal and intuitively cause follow-through without having people remember the various steps of the overall system. Great leadership is easy to follow.
Giving people visual communication takes good planning and involves a variety of methods. In some cases, trying several methods may lead to the most effective. Using colors to guide people can be one of the most simple and therefore, one of the most effective ways to communicate. Signs, symbols and clear labels are also important keys to completing the visual workplace layout.
Reviewing the following 5 methods of organization will help you get that much closer to the goals of improved safety, productivity and simplified efficiency of your work area.
#1 Good planning equals good layout.
Sometimes a problem people run into in trying to create a visual workplace layout is that multiple area personnel come up with their own ideas and plan and how to mark out and label the area based on the needs and objectives of that particular group. A much better approach is to create a planning committee to first outline the objectives, list the possible solutions and then create a standardized list of how those markings will be used throughout the entire facility consistently. This way anyone moving from one area to the next will see and understand the overall theme to be conveyed regardless of which team member is doing the actual marking or placing signage.
As you begin this planning process, remember to keep the visual in visual workplace.
Create a list of items to be marked and messages to be used and then assigning a standardized color for each. For example blue could indicate recycle instructions and markings for recycle bin placements. Orange may be used for specific types of hazard. Green may be used consistently in directional instructions. Red for stop, do not enter and fire danger. Once these colors have been identified with a particular message it will be much easier to keep a standardized theme throughout the area.
Developing a series of shapes that will be used for different types of messages can be very helpful as well. These shapes may even be too far away to actually read but still convey the message since it has been identified to the person previously. Yellow triangle for caution, white rectangle with black text for imperative rules, red octagon for stop or do not enter and round blue circle for trash or recycle all are examples of how shapes may be used to simplify the visual workplace.
#2 Carefully consider where to place visuals.
Signs and visuals put in places where they are not easily noticed will not be very effective. Carefully think about how people will be using the area and how that might influence the ideal location to place a visual sign of instruction or caution. If people tend to be carrying things, they may have part of their view obstructed by the box or item in their hands. However, floor signs are generally an ideal location because people tend to look down when their walking and it comes directly into their line of site.
Consider putting safety control signs in the immediate area of job instructions. This often puts the person in a line of sight to take in the instruction and at the same time immediately see the posted controls as well.
Keep signs in proximity:
As much as possible put the visual information adjacent to the area that is being addressed. If you give instructions about storage in a particular area make sure the sign is clearly associated with the area of storage. And not possibly viewed as meaning an adjacent aisle or room.
Keeping signs in plain sight.
Make sure that the visual information is properly located to be seen by the right people at the right time. Ideally this would be right as someone enters the area the sign or information would be clearly visible. A sign placed high on the wall or hung down from a ceiling may or may not be seen if a person needs to look up or in some other way look for the sign.
Similar to putting visual instructions in plain sight, having enough light on the sign is just as important if it is not to blend into the background and shadows.
#3 Get rid of outdated information.
We’ve all seen from time to time a board with posts that include dated material from months ago or information that no longer pertains to the area because that operation has moved or is no longer being done that way. The cork board in the break room or the magnetic board that went electronic years ago. The outcome of excessive amounts of outdated information is that information in general is less likely to be noticed. If the bulletin board in the meeting room is often outdated some new information may be posted but ignored because that has become the habit. If neglect causes invisibility then diligent updating will naturally generate visual attention. Make sure that dated material is promptly removed and that you have several advocates who help keep things up to date throughout the facility. If you’re not sure, get in touch with the person who would have control over that particular notice and ask them if it is still accurate, if it should be updated or simply removed.
Often times instructions for labeling hanging signs or marking areas is left to text instruction to tell people how it should be done and what to expect in the planned objective. Sometimes a more clear and effective method is to show visual examples of that particular labeling or marking action. An image of a garbage can along with a clear label showing a label for “GARBAGE” placed precisely on the side or top will clearly indicate that all labels are to be done the same way. Whereas written instructions to label garbage cans may wind up with various interpretations and locations for the label placement which is not as effective as having each one done in the identical method consistently throughout the entire facility. Using an example of the actual sign with the instructions may be more effective in communicating the desired results. With the example label or sign in the color, font and wording needed along with placement directions it is easier to understand the goal. An example of directions which state “use this label for all nonconforming materials in the outgoing area” with a picture of the label in use will help keep your process consistent across multiple users and shifts. This can be a great timesaver in not needing to re-label or make changes after someone has already worked on the labeling project in the area.
When you set out to mark out your visual workplace it is ideal to keep it simple. Often times less is more when it comes to clearly defining an area. For example it may be tempting to mark out an area for stacking pallets or parking equipment with a full box that the item would be placed in. A simple, effective method of marking these areas would be to use four corner markers only on the corners. This creates a marked out area without creating a cluttered look or putting so much floor tape on the floor that the chances of damage become higher. When you think about it, only having the four corners marked means that 90% of the floor is unmarked and yet it’s obvious where things are to be placed especially when used in conjunction with color coding. A few well-placed floor signs to identify the area and in some cases dashes or dots may be added to close in the box slightly. Think about your goals and test out the marking with some temporary vinyl tape so you can stand back and see how it will look when completed.
#5 Keep it professional.
Of course things get busy, damage happens and sooner or later your ideal layout is a little tattered. Plan regular maintenance to keep things clean, neat and professional. This promotes a sense of pride and purpose in your team. Safety signs in good repair mean stay safe all the time, not just in expectation of an audit. Organizational marking means let’s all be on board all the time not just until the markers disappear from being scraped off the floor and we go back to the old way of parking things. Keep your visual workplace in good repair, keep it professional, stay on track.
Putting these actions into place takes time and money. Make sure that investment is carried forward for years to come and the benefits continue to grow and improve over time. You don’t have the luxury of doing it once and then forgetting about it. Regular reviews, maintenance and a continued focus on quality will make the visual workplace work for you.