We communicate in many different ways each day in our workplaces. We strive to standardize our work to reduce variation and keep us productive and safe. These standards not only define expectations, but serve as a baseline for making improvements. Yet, sometimes we fall short of the expectation. We fail to communicate and don’t provide the right information, at the right time, for the right reasons. It is not for lack of trying. We go to great lengths to make sure that we follow the standards by creating work instructions and providing on-the-job training, but this is still not enough. With the volume of information that we are accountable for each day, we need to do more to make sure each person knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Visual communication is the key. By reinforcing these standards through visual communication, we can eliminate missing information and provide instruction directly at the point of use. This can be done most effectively by creating a smart floor environment that directs behavior providing information where it is needed most.
What does a Smart floor look like? Why is it important? A Smart floor eliminates missing information, reinforces standards and can keep us safe. A Smart floor will answer the questions, not people. Marking floors is one of the fastest and easiest ways to direct behavior and create visual communication in your work environment. Not only will floor markings communicate what is supposed to happen, you will reinforce the existing standards in your workplace. Floor marking products, such as floor decals, A-Frame signs, floor marking tape and floor symbols work to promote safety and improve efficiency — saving time, money, and reducing injury. By utilizing these types of products your facility will begin to be transformed into a safe, productive workplace.
A smart floor will direct behavior, provide point of use instruction and quickly identifies abnormal from normal situations at a glance. If done effectively, your team will become disciplined to look for information they rely on for their decision-making processes at the point of use. There are three areas that you can focus on to create a smart floor that will have a measurable impact for your organization.
A visual and efficient location for necessary items will ensure that the workplace is safe and organized. This is the foundation of the 5S methodology and is a very effective tool for creating an organized workplace. By creating designated locations on the floor for everything needed to work, you establish discipline while reducing variability. This can be accomplished with color-coded floor tapes, floor symbols and decals. If you don’t have a formal color coding system, take the time to create a system that can be utilized throughout the organization. This will reinforce standards for keeping everything in their proper place.
As a leader, you can set an example for others to improve and identify even the smallest of things that can decrease productivity. For example, you see that something is not in its proper place, or someone is wandering around searching. You either follow-up on the variance or accept and tolerate this abnormal condition. It is important to keep in mind as you set standards and begin to improve, you will expose new issues, and abnormal conditions will become more noticeable. You want your smart floor to continually expose problems and will be welcomed, seen as a gift, and not an annoyance.
In addition to improving organization and controlling our processes, floor markings also reinforce safe working procedure, creating a safer working environment. For many industries, safety standards are prescribed by regulatory agencies that standardize the visual communication for hazards, cautions, directing behavior in emergencies, and many other necessary situations. The floor is a perfect place to for visual displays that communicate safety standards. Wall space is sometimes difficult to come by. We need to get creative and find alternative ways to remind others how to work safely. There are many resources available that will allow you to customize your message to fit your exact circumstance. Don’t settle for messages that sort of say what you want them to say. Look for resources that provide custom floor products without paying extra for what you want.
Finally, we can utilize smart floor applications to increase productivity by eliminating waste (i.e.: excess motion, waiting and searching). Productivity can be negatively impacted when we deviate from standard work. We can reinforce our standards and control the process with the smart floor products. Start by looking at inventory control, labeling part numbers and reorder points on the floor. You can eliminate stock-outs and over-production with clear, visual standards for inventory levels. Products such as floor-tapes, DIY label printers and In-House Sign Shops are great tools for creating inventory control visuals. Don’t forget to also look at process visuals and utilize the floor to communicate where non-conforming material should be located, provide inspection or testing instructions and other process related instructions.
The ultimate goal of a smart floor is to reinforce standard work, establish an organized workplace and communicate safety standards. Most importantly, a smart floor will expose the moment when those standards are not being followed and give us the opportunity for corrective action. By reinforcing workplace standards with a smart floor, we eliminate questions and missing information so that work is not disrupted.
The use of commonly recognized color is an important facet to creating effective safety and work flow performance standards. Though no government mandated standard for color currently exists, we’ve provided a basic color scheme that is widely accepted.
Rhonda Kovera is CEO of Visual Workplace Inc.