12 min read
Jan 16, 2019

Agile workplace designs offer flexibility that improves productivity

Agile workplace designs create highly connected environments that suit the needs of various work styles. A blend of collaborative and individual spaces…

Zach CapersSr Content Analyst

Overall job satisfaction is closely linked to the efficient management of office space. According to Gartner, employees who are satisfied with their physical workplace are 16 percent more productive, 18 percent more likely to stay, and 30 percent more attracted to the company over competitors (report available to clients).

Small and midsize businesses must rethink how they use space by designing workplaces that improve productivity and retain talent.

Chart showing the benefits of employee happiness on a business
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Agile workplace design fits modern workflows

Agile workflows have taken the business world by storm. The practice of breaking down projects, working in iterations, and putting a priority on flexibility and collaboration is boosting productivity and increasing innovation.

Businesses need a workplace that complements agile workflows by providing a flexible space that itself is broken into several elements, supports different tasks, and promotes collaboration.

Agile workplaces are highly connected environments that suit the needs of various work styles. A blend of several distinct spaces, the agile workplace focuses first and foremost on the employee experience. Since the perfect office environment is different for everyone, businesses must offer solutions to the shortcomings of traditional one-dimensional offices.

Many modern employees are accustomed to co-working spaces and commonly live in buildings that emphasize Wi-Fi-connected common areas as an essential amenity. Likewise, modern offices are becoming less of a stuffy business environment and more of a place where workers can feel comfortable and move from one spot to another.

Agile offices should be arranged so that balance is struck both between collaborative and individual space and between public and private. This means a mix of individual workstations and collaborative desk clumps along with a variety of common areas and quiet zones. Employees select spaces that work best for them or the project they’re working on at any given time.

However, at this point, many companies have gone all-in with the open-office concept and its associated sunk costs that hinder the transition to another office management approach.

Fortunately, agile workplace design works well as an enhancement to existing open-office formats. Although the transition might require creative ways to make more efficient use of existing space, the result will be a multifaceted workplace that appeals to nearly everyone.

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Design that suits every style

Every employee has a unique personality and work style, but for the purposes of this article, we will narrow them down to three archetypes and explore how the agile workspace appeals to them all:

Graphic defining different work styles: the butterfly, the independent and the nomad
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4 ideas for creating an agile workplace

1. Hot desking: first come, first served

Most growing businesses quickly run out of desks despite several being left vacant each day because of vacation days, business travel, or remote work policies. Agile workplace design abandons assigned seating for the sake of more efficient hot desking plans whereby employees sit at a different workstation each day.

Employees simply walk in, find an open spot, and get to work, much as they would at a co-working space. This generates benefits such as exposure to a larger cross-section of co-workers and reduces the overall need for office space. Like most elements of the agile workplace, hot desking is enabled by laptops, cloud-based applications, and ultra-fast Wi-Fi.

Consumer goods giant Unilever recently switched to an unassigned desk model to enhance collaboration, reduce office space, and curtail energy use.

2. Common areas, huddle rooms, and quiet zones

Making the most of unused space can help ameliorate common drawbacks of conventional office design. Agile workplaces must include common areas, quiet zones, and huddle rooms.

Common areas

Most businesses have a break room or kitchen, but a common area where one can relax with a laptop is less prevalent. A common area might be a corner with a couple of overstuffed bean bags, a wall of couches, or a bar with barstools. Modular furniture that can be occasionally rearranged is ideal. These areas promote social encounters that bring employees together.

Quiet zones

Quiet zones offer an escape for employees who are easily distracted or just need a place to themselves for a moment. A quiet zone can consist of a completely enclosed space such as a booth, or a partitioned desk similar to the dreaded cubicle; although, as a quiet zone in a busy open office, a cubicle can offer blissful solitude. These small enclaves provide the privacy needed for deep concentration.

Huddle rooms

Huddle rooms are small meeting rooms or spaces suitable for two to four employees. Sometimes outfitted with video conferencing capabilities, huddle rooms work well for spontaneous brainstorming or catch-up meetings. As opposed to large formal conference rooms that must be scheduled well in advance, huddle rooms are informal environments that remain absent from the reservation calendar.

One of several common areas at the Software Advice office in Austin, Texas

One of several common areas at the Software Advice office in Austin, Texas

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3. Forget fluorescent, natural light is effervescent

A recent survey indicated that natural lighting and outdoor views are employees’ most wanted office perks. It’s also good for their health; research indicates that employees who work in naturally lit offices show an 84 percent reduction in eye strain, blurred vision, and headaches.

Unfortunately, natural light is often reserved only for upper management.

Agile workplace design democratizes natural light and outdoor views by redesigning the floor plan to place common areas near windows whenever possible. Employees are naturally drawn to these areas, making chance encounters and impromptu collaboration more likely. The use of bright wall colors and glass partitions (rather than solid walls as in cubicles) can enhance the natural light in any office, making sure that all employees shine.

4. Remote work enhances the agile workplace

The work week has morphed from a rigid 9-to-5 grind into an outcome-based model that allows employees to get stuff done in coordination with the events of their life. Increasingly, businesses put less emphasis on exactly when or where work gets done, just so long as it gets done.

Remote work policies are very popular with employees. A recent study revealed that the three primary advantages of remote work voiced by employees are increased freedom, flexibility, and productivity.

Remote work is also gaining popularity with employers because of cost savings. According to Gartner, by 2021, the increased number of remote workers will allow organizations to host 40 percent more employees in the same amount of space they use today (report available to clients).

This is because flexible schedules and remote work policies free up desks and allow more efficient use of existing space.

For example, consider an office of 50 employees that offers two shifts:

  • 4 days | 10 hours per day | 1 day working remotely

  • 5 days | 8 hours per day | 2 days working remotely

Combined with a hot desking model, this scenario could be scheduled so that only 30 out of 50 employees would be in the office on any given day, reducing the need for desks by 40 percent. That means less room needed for desks, more space available for common areas.

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Policy and technology bring it all together

For remote work policies and agile workplace design to be successful, IT must supply the right technology. This includes laptops preconfigured with a secure VPN and connection to the company Wi-Fi. The business must also develop formal policies governing the ways in which employees may access company data and through which devices; these factors are typically covered by AUP, BYOD, and remote work policies.

Another crucial step is the adoption of cloud-based software that makes distance irrelevant. Whether working from the office, a coffee shop, or the other side of the world, all team members must be able to access company data, share ideas, and collaborate in the same digital environment.

This can be accomplished with cloud-based project management tools that facilitate communication, activity tracking, and time-management. For example, collaboration software Samepage includes features such as task lists, real-time document co-authoring, group video chat, scheduling, and more in a single application.

Project management software Samepage

Project management software Samepage (Source)

Flexible schedules and remote work policies free up desk space and allow companies to make better use of their space. Switching to laptops running cloud-based software allows employees to get their work done wherever they choose.

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Next steps

The transition to an agile workplace should be a thoughtful and deliberate process. Gen Zers and millennials are already mobile and will take to an agile office much faster than Gen Xers or baby boomers who are more accustomed to conventional office designs.

Employee buy-in can be eased by explaining exactly what’s in it for them and how it benefits the organization as a whole. The introduction of popular policies such as remote work can offset potentially polarizing ideas such as hot desking.

Seek feedback and find solutions to concerns. For example, employees who are anxious about losing personal space might be comforted by the introduction of lockers in the common areas where they can store belongings.

Workplace design is changing the way we view work. Employee hierarchies are being knocked on their sides as managers work side by side with direct reports. Rather than spending an entire career seeking a corner office with a view, agile workplace design gives employees a new workspace every day and a window view anytime they want.

Infographic on Agile workplace design

This article is part of an ongoing series about the business value of IT

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The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

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