By Lea Schneider
Finding things isn’t too much of a problem if you are the only one working in a room. Toss in coworkers and pretty soon everyone is pointing at someone else when something goes missing.
Productivity centers around the workbench for many small businesses. From framers to florists to jewelers to computer repair wizards, the workbench is the primary source of income. Oftentimes, one workbench is used by many employees. If it’s not organized, it can cause wasted time and frustration. In one company I stepped in to organize, the messy workbench had even lead to hard feelings between coworkers over who had which tool last and who didn’t put things away.
The good news is that it is possible to create an environment that maximizes productivity by setting up an organized system for the workbench and tools.
Adding a New Workbench
If you need to add work surfaces to your company because you don’t have enough room, begin with these considerations:
- How much surface space do you need for your work? Is the item you are working on, such as a flower arrangement or laptop, going to actually sit on the workbench? If so, measure out the maximum amount of space you can imagine an item will need. Then, add in plenty of extra room for turning and maneuvering the item, plus an allotment for tools.
- Consider the height. You’ll want to help employees avoid workplace injuries by having their work surface a height at which they can work at safely and comfortably.
- Gather up all of the tools and equipment you expect to use at a workbench. As you study the many different worktable options, figure out how and where you will store the accompanying tools, parts and supplies so they are within reach. Whenever your employee has to get up to go and get something, time is wasted. Choose a bench that allows for the in-reach storage you need.
The ABC’s of Organizing an Existing Work Area
- If your work area has more than one workbench, organize each one in the same way. This method ensures every employee can find what they need no matter what work station they are using. It also means anyone assigned to clean up can easily tidy any work station into ready condition.
- Color coding tools is helpful in a multiple-workbench situation. Add a strip of colorful tape around each tool so it is very to see the loose hammer with the red tape strip belongs to the bench with similar tools.
- Decide on the location of tool and parts storage based on workflow. Walk through an ordinary work day with awareness, noting which things are reached for most often. The items used the most should be placed at a height between your knees and the top of your head, so you do not have to crawl on the ground to get them nor climb on a ladder.
Organizing Your Tools
Once you are ready to organize the tools at the workbench, put some of my favorite organizing tips to work:
- Go vertical. Use a pegboard to hang commonly used tools behind the workbench but within easy reach.
- Put like items together. That means storing your curved claw, ball peen and soft-face hammers next to each other, even though you may use them for different purposes. That way, when you’re looking for a claw hammer, you’ll know it’s waiting in the “Hammers” drawer instead of lost among other tools in the “Frame Repair” drawer.
- Invest in clear containers. It is a waste of time opening jars or bins to see what they contain.
- Use pull-out bins or plastic drawers. Place them on lower shelves and use them to organize loose items. The bins can easily slide out so you can get what you need, rather than getting down on your knees to find something in the back.
- Keep the most commonly used items the close to you. Organize items you need to keep but seldom use on an adjacent set of shelves. As you organize, this is a good time to get rid of things you never use, are outdated or worn out.
- End by labeling. Label everything. If you label the spot where a tool goes, it is much more likely to return to the correct spot. Label bins, tubs and drawers. If the bin is not see-through, take a photo of its contents, print it out and use it as a label.
Finally, keep company workbenches organized by establishing a policy about how you expect them to look and when you expect them to get tidied. At a busy shop, tools will be pulled and used all day long. At some point, they need to be reorganized in order to maintain productivity. Ideally, workbenches should be left clean in the evening or tidied first thing before starting a task in the morning.
Being able to find what you need, when you need it helps business flow and limits coworkers’ frustrations. Organizing your workbench is a valuable investment of your time.
Lea Schneider is a long-time expert on storage and organization techniques that businesses can adopt to improve their efficiency. Lea writes on her storage and organizational expertise online for The Home Depot. To review a wide assortment of storage options available at Home Depot, including the types that Lea discusses here, you can visit the company’s website.