How to work from home – the lean Toyota Way!

How to work from home – the lean Toyota Way!

Toyota Motor Corporation is renowned for its lean production management system. One of the engine plants, based at the Deeside in North Wales, has been using the power of the famous Toyota Production System since 2009 to help companies run smoothly. But the “Toyota Way” can help people to achieve much more.

The Toyota Way can also help people make the most of having to work from home, and the experts at Deeside have produced the following tips to help tackle the challenges this presents:

Chained to the desk?

Whether working from a home office, at the kitchen table or from the sofa, there’s a risk that home workers will spend all day in the same location, so break up the day with some exercise – even a short walk around the block will help you feel energised and more productive. The Toyota Production System also practises Jidoka, which means to pause to fix a problem: apply this principle at home if you’re facing a challenge, rather than leaving it until later.

Losing the work/life balance

The traditional commute meant a clear distinction between work and home life. Working from home can blur these lines, so that a half-hour of TV sneaks into the working day, or emails are answered during the evening news, but it’s important to keep work and home separate. The Toyota Production System says standardised processes benefit employees, so dress for work as usual and begin work at your normal start time. Consider setting an alarm to mark the end of the working day, as this will replace the usual cue received when colleagues are leaving the workplace.

The messy desk

If the kitchen table now doubles as a workstation, its new multi-use status is no excuse for mess and clutter, which can affect your concentration. This is where the Toyota principle known as 5S can come in handy to keep you organised and productive. In Japanese, the 5S process is: Seiri, Seition, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke, which translates into English as: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain. Remove the items you don’t need and ensure everything you need is to hand before starting work. After using an item, return it to the same location to make it easy to find next time you need it. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Just one more biscuit

Working from home is likely to mean snacks are more readily available. “Challenge” is part of the Toyota Way and it can be applied to solving this kind of issue – but it also requires huge self-discipline. Challenge yourself to plan what and when you will eat, in the same way that you would pack a lunchbox to take to work. Putting structure into your day should make it easier to avoid the biscuit barrel.

Technology strikes back

With no IT department immediately on hand to solve any technical equipment problems, poor WiFi, difficulty downloading important files or webcams focused on your chin are just some of the issues home workers have to deal with themselves. The Toyota Way encourages Genchi Genbutsu, which means ”to visit the actual place and see the actual thing”. Practise with the technology – for example, hold a family quiz night on Zoom with people who will see the funny side of errors, and will provide valuable feedback and a safe place to practise. It’s also a good idea to load work apps and platforms onto a smartphone or tablet as a backup.

Too many meetings

The desire to keep in touch has escalated with increased home working, and this can lead to “mission creep”, where too many online meetings mean that there isn’t sufficient time to clear the daily “to do” list. The Toyota Way encourages kaizen, which is continual improvement of working practices and processes. Continually review invites and don’t accept meetings you wouldn’t attend in person, while for those meetings you do take part in, draw up an agenda and stick to it.

Status paranoia

Home workers can feel under pressure to prove they are working hard. Mutual trust and respect, an important Toyota Way value, can help here. Identify “value-added” work opportunities. For example, it could be useful to sketch or write something by hand, or simply have some thinking time. Don’t feel guilty about closing the computer. The world won’t end if an email goes unanswered for an hour.

Eight hours is a long day at home

Eight hours is a long time anywhere, whether spent in the workplace or at home, and it’s difficult to maintain concentration for such a long stretch. Break your work into small chunks so you feel more motivated as you achieve each one. These small chunks will soon add up to one big achievement.

Embrace the advantages – add value

Working from home means many people have gained more time in their day by not having to commute, but there are better uses for this extra time than “more work” or “more time in bed”. The Toyota Way helps people by minimising waste, so think about what “value-added” means in your personal life – it could be spending time with someone you love, reading, learning a new hobby, skill or exercise.

* Fleet Publications, the largest publisher of transport-oriented magazines in Ireland, has kindly granted permission for us to republish this article, which it originally circulated in its newsletter.

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