How To Effectively Implement 5S in the Workplace

The 5S method, respected for its long-standing success, boosts productivity in today’s hybrid and remote workplaces.

By Alyssa Zacharias  •   May 8, 2024  •   5 min read

A clean desk—or desktop—means every item has its place, and you don’t have to sort through stacks of paperwork or a maze of icons to find what you need. 

The Japanese realized this decades ago when Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota and the father of the Japanese Industrial Revolution, embraced the 5S method (previously called the Toyota Production System) in the 1960s. The idea was to eliminate everything factory employees didn’t need so they could work distraction-free. 

Toyota discovered significant value in the 5S system, and its principles still benefit contemporary workplaces. Whether you head a hybrid or remote team, you can use 5S in the workplace to improve team productivity.

What’s the 5S method?

5S is a systematic approach to waste reduction that streamlines workflows. Here are the five steps and what each “S” means:

  1. Sort: First, sort through work processes and eliminate unnecessary tasks.
  2. Set in order: Then, organize everything involved in your workflow, like documents and tools, so they’re easy to retrieve.
  3. Shine: Next, focus on keeping the workplace clean and in good working order. This might mean maintaining equipment and regularly auditing documentation. 
  4. Standardize: High-level leaders define and implement rules that keep 5S practices consistent for continuous improvement.
  5. Sustain: Finally, maintain the progress made. Team members must follow 5S principles and improve processes where possible.

Why implement 5S in your workplace?

The 5S method isn’t limited to manufacturing—applying it to hybrid and remote workplaces offers the following benefits:

  1. A cleaner workspace: Just like physical offices are safer and easier to navigate when organized, digital workspaces require structure for safety and ease-of-use. For example, organizing documentation and communication channels makes data readily accessible. And auditing cybersecurity practices for efficiency and safety boosts digital platform security for your team.
  2. Better teamwork: Clear responsibilities and effective communication are cornerstones of great teamwork. Defining workflows involves clarifying responsibilities and best practices for completing work, and increasing efficiency means finding productive ways to communicate as a team. Plus, streamlining information storage to create a single source of truth keeps the whole team on the same page to reduce frustration and misunderstandings.
  3. Reduced waste and costs: 5S helps you find and eliminate waste, like inefficient workflows and unproductive meetings. For example, you can lose $25,000 a year if 10 people (with an average salary of $50,000) meet unproductively for an hour twice a week. But using tools like the Fellow AI Meeting Copilot to tackle inefficiencies ensures meetings are always productive.
  4. Improved culture and well-being: The 5S method is all about improvement—and that includes employee satisfaction. If there are ways to improve this metric by building in boundaries for better work-life balance (e.g., not requiring Slack on employee phones), the 5S model helps you find them.

The 5-step 5S implementation plan

While Toyota developed 5S with factories and physical spaces in mind, you can implement 5S practices in a remote setting by following these steps.

1Define clear goals

Start by stating the goals for your 5S strategy, noting what you want to achieve and how you’ll measure success. A common goal for remote companies is reducing digital clutter in shared workspaces, so we’ll focus on this example throughout our guide. 

AI solutions like Fellow are great for goal-setting meetings—the AI Meeting Copilot transcribes all audio, packing everything into an easy-to-follow summary. Plus, each participant can jot down points in the “Private Notes” tab without disturbing others’ records. And you can use Fellow’s OKRs feature to define and track success metrics.

2Sort through your current workspace

With decluttering as your goal, audit your virtual workspace for unnecessary items that make finding information difficult. For example, shared drives full of outdated documents take up storage and slow users down as they search for files.

3Set your digital assets in order

After decluttering folders, map out what you’ve kept so employees can find what they want quickly. 

Use categories and subfolders to group related documents, and create a hyperlinked documentation index defining where files exist. You might also incorporate tools that do the organizing for you, like Fellow, which sorts meeting notes and links them to calendar events to keep them in order. Fellow also integrates with popular project management platforms like so documents update across locations. 

4Standardize by setting workspace policies

Set policies for organizing online workspaces. Host a staff meeting to discuss how to name files, arrange folders, and handle access permissions. Record this call, getting a tool like Fellow to transcribe it for absent employees.

5Keep it clutter-free

Tracking how employees manage 5S practices from remote locations is difficult, but shared documentation libraries help. Create a maintenance schedule, assigning individuals to audit shared drives and other essential information hubs. You can use Fellow’s check-in template to discuss progress and hiccups.

How to solve common challenges when implementing 5S

Implementing and sustaining robust waste reduction measures isn’t without challenges—here are some common ones and ways to address them.

Lacking employee engagement

Involving remote employees in the 5S process can be challenging, especially if they don’t know how to reduce digital waste. To address this, involve as many team members as possible in 5S-focused discussions, letting Fellow transcribe sessions and churn out meeting notes for those who can’t attend. This involvement makes everyone feel better prepared and more engaged in this policy change since it encourages a sense of ownership.

Resistance to change

Most employees enjoy familiarity and getting in a groove—it makes a job’s stressful and unexpected aspects easier to handle. And resistance to change can be even more prominent for hybrid and remote teams, as they might feel disconnected from the decision-making process.

When you flag resistance, communicate with these employees (or have direct managers do so) to uncover the sources of their uncertainty and discomfort. Clarify why waste reduction is important, how it helps the company succeed, and the resources available to achieve it. This clarification expresses that this wasn’t a flippant decision—it’s an excellent opportunity for the whole team to progress in a positive direction. 

Then, involve employees in the implementation process, frequently asking for and considering their feedback. This employee-focused and collaborative approach fosters more resilience regarding change because your team feels well-supported and informed.

Technology limitations

Effective workflows—ones without redundancies and cluttered documentation—often require tools like Google Docs, Slack, and Fellow. If off-site workers don’t have the tools and technology needed to be productive (perhaps they have choppy WiFi that boots them from calls or are lacking an efficient task management platform), your waste reduction efforts might be negated by these productivity impediments. 

Work with your CTO to audit your tool stack, finding ways for employees to be more efficient. For instance, Fellow centralizes meeting agendas, meeting notes, and action items, updating relevant documents across your most used platforms. This makes waste reduction easier on employees since it’s already happening in the background (via Fellow’s organization practices). 

Become a 5S organization with Fellow

Implementing the 5S method can initially seem troublesome, but it’s equally transformative. And with Fellow, you can encourage team alignment for a smoother transition. 

The Fellow AI Meeting Copilot has auto-recording, transcription, and summarizing features, plus the platform centralizes meeting information to offer your team clarity regarding why you’re making this change and—perhaps more importantly—how to do so. 

Declutter and improve team productivity with Fellow

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