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Finding Effective Zones To Work In

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We have talked about Workplace Artifacts. A powerful component of effective forms, files, and workspaces is the use of zoning.

When we hear the word “zoning”, most of us think of civic planning. City officials define specific regions of land and specify their fate. By carefully placing commercial, residential, and industrial zones, planners can encourage growth and commerce. They can look at current zones and see why certain areas are thriving and others are dying. They can use that information to make a city much better.

The city of Chicago is a great example of this. Up until the mid-19th Century, the growth of the city was unchecked and there wasn’t much planning involved.  After the great fire of 1871, the city was able to be re-zoned and laid out in a way that prepared it for growth and made public transportation much easier. Entire neighborhoods, such as Lincoln Park, were meticulously zoned after the fire, and those neighborhoods are now some of the most desirable urban areas in the entire country.

A landmark designation report from the city of Chicago breaks down the ways that zoning in the aftermath of the fire helped eliminate wasted space in the city. One excerpt from that study is below.

As the City rebuilt and land values increased in the aftermath of the Fire, real estate investors subdivided ever-larger sections of land into residential lots usually 20 to 25 feet in width. In order to maximize the use of ever-more expensive land, architects began to alter their designs from the free-standing dwellings of the pre-Fire era to more compact, though often equally elaborate, row houses. In fashionable and densely-developed lakefront neighborhoods such as the Near North Side, Lincoln Park, and Hyde Park, row houses were a common building type built in the 1880s through the early 1900s.

While the fire was certainly a disaster at the time, it allowed Chicago to become the thriving city that it is today. That was achieved all through the simple process of zoning.


© Flickr user Ashley Van Haeften

There is tremendous power in using “zones” in other parts of work. Think about the zones that appear on a paper form, usually as blank lines or boxes. They tell you where to write and what answers are needed.

Here on our blog, we’ve talked about the business process transformation with regard to forms that are too small. Zoning, however, gives us an even smarter technique for describing spaces. Compare this:

Email Address: ________________________________________________________

To an alternate method:

Email Address:  [ _____________________ ] @ [ ________________ ] . [ ____________ ]

This simple change will help ensure that people can use the form more easily. It also forces the designer of the artifact to truly see how much space is available. Then, any changes that may be needed will be apparent.

The same concept can be used in physical spaces as well as with paper. You already create “zones” as file folders in your cabinets. You can make these zones more effective by setting up divisions and using clear labels. A simple change like that can greatly increase efficiency and decrease headaches for everyone in your office. But unfortunately, far too many people neglect to make a change like that, even though it’s a very easy and quick one. You don’t have to wait for a giant fire to destroy the potentially inefficient zones you’ve created in your workspace. Take the time to review your process and see if it’s truly the most efficient and wisest use of space. If not, a little bit of planning could lead to major improvements in your work life.

Zoning is a straightforward technique with a powerful result. Try it out! Learn more about this approach by contacting our business consultants today.

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