PenFed's James Schenck: Cleaner, leaner offices and corporate cultures make employees more productive

It’s hard to get rid of old stuff. Almost half of U.S. adults say they have an “incredible” amount of things they could throw out or donate. Storage units have become a $38 billion business.

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But thanks to icons like Marie Kondo, many Americans have become fascinated with decluttering our lives.

As we tackle our own personal “clutter” – physical, mental or emotional distractions that are holding us back from living life to our full potential – businesses can too. According to one survey, the average American worker wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for papers.

As companies begin to plan their budgets for 2020, “trimming the fat” and focusing on what’s most important to a company’s values should be both a fiscal and a cultural corporate priority.

Getting rid of the things we no longer need makes room for the things we really do need. This principle doesn’t just apply to cleaning out our closets. It also applies to how we think about our businesses – what we are holding onto internally, and what we are offering to consumers.

Last year, I took an unfiltered look at my finances and realized that my beloved car collection was getting in the way of my financial goals. When I sold my collection and kept only my most practical car, an electric one, I didn’t just save on gas and build up my retirement fund. I also freed up more time to spend with family and friends.

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Ultimately, I realized that streamlining wasn’t just about having more space in my garage. It was about having more space in my mind and my schedule for meaningful relationships.

Looking at this principle in business means taking an unfiltered look at what we really need and what is most important. I would argue that people are always a company’s most important asset.

If we get rid of unnecessary office costs – like purging old documents and filing cabinets and having just one printer per floor, for example – could those savings add up to help fund employee raises?

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If we remove mental clutter – limiting the number of emails we send, or having one team meeting a week as opposed to two – could we make room for more innovation and brainstorming?

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If we remove physical clutter – like the small meeting room that’s usually empty – could we use that space for a meditation room, a nursing room, or something else that would support our employees’ wellbeing?

This fall, executives should take a hard look at both their offices and their products. Which products are serving clients best, and which ones do consumers actually want? Sometimes a company’s darling product isn’t actually the one that’s making the most money, or the one that’s getting the best reviews.

This also means focusing on quality over quantity. Instead of investing in more product offerings, invest in improving and perfecting products that have the most potential. 

Just as studies have shown that giving away possessions makes people feel physically healthier and less stressed, cleaner, leaner offices and corporate cultures make people more productive.

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When executives make it a business focus to have and offer less stuff – and focus on the right stuff – we can increase both our employees’ wellbeing and our bottom line.

Sometimes, “thinking big” really just means thinking more simply.

James Schenck is president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union.