Heat maps are used in web design, retail and other industries to help organizational leaders identify how people spend their time, which in turn allows them to maximize resources. The example that you may be most familiar with is in professional sports. During a game, you might have seen graphics flash across your screen identifying the areas players traverse the most. That's a heat map. Similarly, retail planners leverage them to plan promotions and design floor layouts that entice customers.
Small business leaders also need to maximize resource allocation, since they operate with less than their large competitors. However, research shows that many workspaces aren't designed with worker productivity in mind. According to a Jabra report, 32 percent of workers' time is spent on tasks that take away from their primary role, such as finding a supervisor to answer questions or troubleshooting technology. This is especially true for small businesses, since workers often wear multiple hats and switch gears throughout the day.
This is where heat maps come into play for small businesses. If leaders understand where employees spend time, they can configure the workspace accordingly. It's a simple four-step process for organizations to boost productivity. Here's how to get started.
1. Observe your employees.
I'm not advocating for mounting thermal imaging cameras on your office ceilings. Not only would this be more expensive than most small businesses could afford, but it misconstrues the objectives of heat mapping. Heat mapping shouldn't subject employees to authoritarian surveillance – it should help them achieve their best work by diminishing distractions and maximizing resources.
To heat-map effectively, note where your employees typically congregate to determine whether their workspaces foster productivity. For example, you may notice that busy corridors, break rooms and other gathering spots are adjacent to employee workstations, creating noisy distractions. You might also realize that vital resources employees regularly consult, such as subject matter experts and managers, have desks across the office from each other. While overhearing a conversation or walking to someone else's desk every so often may not seem like a big deal, these are the small but consistent distractions that zap productivity.
2. Create your heat map.
Once you are finished observing, begin creating your organization's map. It doesn't need to be highly sophisticated – using graphing tools in a Word document or even just scribbling on a piece of paper will do the trick. Draw the different areas of your office, and code each section based on the amount of time employees spend there. For example, if you notice increased activity in a specific corridor, shade it red or another jarring color. On the other hand, a calmer, underused meeting room should be coded with blue or a similar cool color.
At first glance, this process might seem more like a simplistic art project than a useful management tool. However, it will serve as an important visual guide as you venture on to the next step (no matter how crude your drawing skills are).
3. Reorganize your workspace.
Once your heat map is in hand, translate your insights into action. Did you notice that your employees are far away from subject matter experts? Move them closer so that they don't waste time walking back and forth whenever they need an answer. Did you realize that many employees border a noisy corridor? Ask if they're willing to move to a quieter area of the office. These small tweaks can add up to hours of regained productivity.
Not every distraction can be cured through reorganization, though. If you find that you can't cut out all the noise in your employees' workspaces, consider investing in technology, such as busy lights and wireless headsets that mix passive and active noise cancellation to block out surrounding sounds. Combining this technology with your heat-mapping skills will keep employees focused and productive.
4. Keep improving.
The heat-mapping process doesn't end once you've implemented changes. Despite your best efforts, there may be additional adjustments to consider. For example, by moving some employees from one end of the office to another, you may accidentally create a hub of conversation that leads to more distractions than before. Draw up a new heat map periodically to ensure that the workspace you've created is truly the most productive one for your employees. Given that more than 66 percent (as found in the Jabra report) of productivity is lost to accidental noise, the process is integral to creating an efficient small business.
If small business leaders want to increase productivity, heat mapping is crucial. Understanding where distractions come from and how you can reduce them will ultimately create the most effective workspace for your employees. Take these heat-mapping steps into account as you optimize your office for productivity and, by extension, create your own small business success story.