Cutting Tool Engineering
March 2010 / Volume 62 / Issue 3

Efficient office space improves shop

By Keith Jennings

My brother and I recently delivered some parts to a machine shop that outsources marking and engraving services to our shop and, while we were there, took a tour of its facility. I enjoy visiting other companies like this and was impressed with its well-maintained shop. Even though the building is 26 years old, the entire production area was clean and organized, and the work centers were set up nicely. The result was a very efficient shop.

When we toured the offices, on the other hand, the hosts commented about the older design and layout of the rooms and how it wasn’t conducive to a 2010 working style. They were right. The office space definitely didn’t receive the time and attention given to the shop floor. That’s understandable because the shop is where the parts—and money—are generated. An office space isn’t as interesting of a project to spend time and money on when you’ve got a shop that houses big machines and their accessories. Even so, the value in creating a well-designed office environment shouldn’t be ignored.

This all really came into focus a few days after our visit when we saw the results of a class design project from senior architecture students at the University of Houston. Our company works with the university each semester to expose students to CNC technology and build awareness of how it can be utilized in the industries they’re studying. These kids are smart and put much thought into even minute details.

Because of the cooperative relationship we have with the college’s industrial design and architecture departments, this past semester ended with our company being the focus of a student project that resulted in 13 different shop and office designs for a Crow Corp. of the future.

Upon seeing the final presentations, it was clear that our office and facility could operate so much better if we incorporated some of the ideas. While our company, like most, can’t go out and build a new facility with all those cool designs and concepts, it was beneficial to see their designs and contemplate ways to apply them in our existing building. So, we started evaluating our offices.

We soon realized that some rearranging could have a positive impact. We relocated a secretary to a new location and made it easier for her to interact with guests and handle administrative functions. We removed clutter and unused furniture. We improved the area where customers review their projects. We painted and added clean rugs and other small touches.

The changes weren’t radical or disruptive, but we’ve already seen improvements. Improving utilization of an office space doesn’t have to be costly and can include a lot of simple things that make a big difference.

Even if your staff doesn’t like the idea, maybe it’s time to conduct some independent analysis. Walk into the front door on a weekend when everyone is gone and envision your ideal setup. Walk through the space like you were a hired consultant and pretend as though nothing is off limits. What type of layout would it be? Then think of inexpensive ways to start accomplishing that vision.

If you develop an idea that clicks and gets you excited, implement it whether the staff likes it or not. Employees generally don’t like change, but sometimes a manager must make unpopular decisions. A good shakeup can have a positive impact, and when the office is working smoothly and efficiently, the shop benefits.

Maybe you’ve already gone through this drill and your office layout works. If so, congratulations; you can worry about something else. But for most, I’m certain something can be made better, and the office is where it all starts. Make it conducive to your needs. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, laser cutting, metal fabrication and metal stamping. He can be e-mailed at

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