The Business Imperative Of Decluttering Your Office

The Business Imperative Of Decluttering Your Office

By Ian Osborne, VP UK & Ireland, Shred-it, the information security provider

The new year is the perfect time to get your business in order.

Decluttering has become a huge movement of late, led in part to the recent TV show featuring Japanese organising consultant Marie Kondo.  

Yet decluttering isn’t something that’s 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 businesses declutter? 


Data security compliance 

Decluttering the office has enormous advantages from a compliance perspective, enabling employees to better handle sensitive information while reducing the risks of potentially disastrous data breaches. 

Take paper documentation, for example. The average office worker uses a staggering 10,000 sheets of paper per year – many of which are left lying around in the office and not stored away 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 last year revealed the attitudes of office workers in the UK to handling sensitive information. The survey found that over 14 per cent of office workers admitted to having left sensitive information lying on their desk. Furthermore, over a third of respondents admitted they were unlikely to dispose of sensitive information by shredding paperwork, and 9 per cent admitted to having put people’s CVs into the bin or recycling rather than shredding them. 

The research also unveiled the potential consequences of mishandling sensitive information in the workplace. According to the data, 38 per cent of office workers admitted to having had 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 as a result of mishandling sensitive company information. 

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


Think digital 

It’s important to remember however that data protection regulations apply to digital records as well as paper documentation.  

The rise of the digital economy, coupled with an increasingly flexible workforce globally, has resulted in more and more documents being saved on laptops and handheld devices, easily accessible for remote workers. 

With this movement however has come a new wave of security concerns, from using unsecured wireless networks in cafes, to leaving laptops and mobile phones on trains or in stations unattended. 

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

With digital forms of communication, such as email, business leaders should consider whether it is necessary to use the CC field for colleagues who aren’t expected to reply. In addition, 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? 


Productivity Boost 

Reorganising the office can also have huge benefits on your workforce, helping to greatly increase productivity levels. With recent data from the ONS revealing that UK productivity had grown only marginally in the third quarter of 2019, and with the Brexit debate no longer dominating the headlines, there is now huge onus on business leaders to introduce new measures to help increase productivity and drive economic growth across the UK. 

Furthermore, there are also mental health benefits to having an organised office. Taking the clean desk equals clean mind approach, scientists have found that being in a cluttered environment can make it more difficult for us to focus, resulting in greater stress levels and a sense of confusion, and thus reducing efficiency and productivity. 

Worth remembering the environmental advantages to ensuring an organised officespace. With consumers growing ever more conscious about brands and businesses being environmentally responsible, they also expect their employer to be too. By shredding and recycling any unwanted paperwork, not only are you helping to reduce clutter, but also safeguarding your company’s green credentials. 


Business decluttering: top tips 

With a clear business imperative for decluttering, how can business leaders ensure their workforce are more organised and productive in 2020?   


1.    Everything in its place 

Spend a bit of time identifying or creating a logical home for all the items you want or need in your work environment, ensuring its accessible if it’s frequently used. When establishing these locations, listen closely to those who are in the environment the most so you can understand what will work best for their day-to-day activities  


2.    Label clearly 

Whether its offsite archiving, routinely accessed filing or the contents of the communal stationery cupboard, using clear labels so anyone can find and follow the systems will save time and energy.  


3.    Create clear work zones 

Allow space for colleagues to interact away from their desks, whether over a water cooler or while making a cup of tea. Introduce small spaces to break away to have more intimate and focused conversations if the workplace is open plan.  


4.    Blitz as a team 

At least once a year, allocate a day for all the office staff to blitz their paperwork, data files and emails to cull any surplus. Set out-of-offices on email and voicemail to prevent distractions. This is a great initiative to do early in the year or when you’ve just passed another financial year-end as you can potentially bin another historical year’s worth of documentation. And if everyone is in the same zone that day, you can easily confer with colleagues if you think something should be kept or not.  Key thing is to ensure the secure destruction of any unwanted paperwork in order to protect sensitive information, so consider partnering with an external shredding company. 


5.    Confront your inbox  

Allow time for colleagues to tackle their backlog then try implementing Merlin Mann’s ‘Inbox Zero’ guidelines. When you receive an email decide which of the following apply:  

Delete: just get rid of it (or archive it)    

Delegate: assign someone else to deal with it  

Respond: if it takes just a few minutes, do it right now  

Defer: put it on a to-do list or file it in a To-Action subfolder to deal with it later  

Do it: handle whatever the email actually needs you to do (e.g. away from your inbox)  


Unsubscribe from any sources that aren’t adding value or you are realistically never going to make the time to read.

Remove audio alarms and visual notifications from inbound emails. Designate specific times to check your 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.  


6.    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.  


7.    Do not disturb signs 

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


8.    Clean desk policy 

By definition, a clean desk policy specifies how employees should leave their working space when they aren’t there. Desks should be cleared of all papers, particularly those containing sensitive information such as personal details, account numbers and commercially-sensitive data. The policy should also extend to sensitive information on computers. 

Ian Osborne, VP UK & Ireland, Shred-it, the information security provider