Work environments are changing rapidly. In line with rising real-estate costs, more and more companies are making the decision to move away from traditional work environments in which employees are assigned specific desks, instead opting for a more flexible and agile approach to workplace design. But what exactly is an ‘agile’ work environment, and would it be suitable for your organization?
An agile work environment is one which places emphasis upon the activity, rather than the location it is carried out. It incorporates the use of shared working spaces that workers can utilize as and when they need to. This freedom and flexibility allow workers to select the work environment that best suits the task they’re performing.
If you’re considering implementing an agile work environment within your organization, we’ve got you covered with 12 handy tips on how to make it a success.
1. Assess Your Current Space Utilization
Research suggests that in an average office building, as much as 40% of assigned desk-space is unused at any given point. If you have 100 employees each with an assigned desk, at any point, some of those employees will be on vacation, some will be off sick, and some will be in meetings throughout the course of the day, leaving many desks unused.
Start collecting this information within your own office before you consider shifting to an agile work environment; you’ll be able to see how much of your space is currently being utilized on a daily basis, which will allow you to make informed decisions on what your ratios of workspace to employees will be.
2. Start Small
Shifting from a traditional office layout to an agile working environment is a huge undertaking; don’t try to implement it overnight. It’s more than just a change in furniture. It will require a complete cultural shift for your employees, some of whom may find the thought of such drastic change unsettling. Break them in gently by setting up a trial floor, and allowing them to try out the new setup to show them what the benefits will be before conducting a business-wide rollout.
3. Recruit Champions for Your Cause
The changes you’re considering are huge, which means that you’ll likely encounter resistance from groups of your employees. Some may take offense at being removed from the corner office which they’ve been in for years, others may be unhappy because they have family photos at their desk. To try and ease the anxiety and resistance, try to recruit a selection of employees to champion your cause. These should be the employees who talk to EVERYBODY. If you can get them on your side by demonstrating the value that agile working can bring, they can help you by convincing some of the skeptics in the ranks.
4. Engage, Engage, then Engage Some More
Nothing will increase resistance to change more than you trying to keep the change a secret. Engaging your employees from the get-go is much more likely to bring them around to your way of thinking. Sell it to them by telling them what’s in for them; people are much more likely to keep an open mind when it comes to trying to implement cultural changes if they understand what they stand to gain.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is such a thing as too much communication. Most attempts to implement cultural change within organizations fail due to a lack of communication. If you think you’ve engaged your employees well enough, you’re probably wrong, so engage them some more.
5. Make Sure Your Technology Is up to the Task
Imagine it’s your first day of working in your new shared working space. You grab your laptop and sit down to work in a quiet corner of the office, only to find that the Wi-Fi signal barely reaches you and you’re unable to connect to the cloud to access your files.
Avoid this pitfall by making sure your IT infrastructure can handle the workload of employees working all over the place. If people are working remotely, or from various locations in a single day, they need to be able to connect quickly and easily to avoid wasted time spent trying to get set up for the day.
6. Plan for the Future
At the rate that business is evolving, it’s possible that the changes you make today will be redundant a year from now. When planning your agile workspace, it’s important that you consider what the future of your organization looks like. If you can, find out any information on how your workforce might expand or consolidate over the coming months or years, and consider incorporating this information into your designs.
7. ‘Agile Workers’ Still Need Rules
One of the benefits of agile working is that it gives your employees a sense of autonomy, in that they’re being trusted to get on with their tasks in whatever fashion they deem fit. But this doesn’t mean the office should be completely devoid of rules or structure. Those who are resistant to change may try to circumvent the system by getting into work early and setting up at a desk of their choice, before proceeding to be in meetings all day. Make use of technology to keep track of who is situated where and how active they are. If they’re not, then they’re taking up space that could be used more effectively by another employee. Establish rules so that your employees understand that ‘squatting’ in a single location all day if they’re not actively using it is not acceptable.
8. Provide Variety to Suit a Range of Activities
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to creating an agile work environment. On a daily basis, it’s likely that your employees carry out a wide range of tasks. Some employees will require quiet spaces in which they can work alone, others will need to collaborate in groups, host meetings, or make phone calls. It’s important that you design the workspaces to fit the tasks, instead of trying to make the tasks fit the workspaces you’ve designed.
9. Provide Training
A switch to an agile work environment is usually accompanied by incorporating new technology, which is designed to enable employees to get online easily from wherever they happen to be working. Whether it’s a workspace management system allowing people to reserve workspaces, or the ability to seamlessly work from home, it’s important that you provide your employees with the training they need to make use of these systems quickly and efficiently. This will minimize downtime when employees are transitioning from one workspace to another.
10. Invest in Security and Storage
With increased movement, it’s possible that concerns will be raised regarding the safety of personal belongings. Provide a solution such as electronic lockers to alleviate these concerns, and enable employees to store laptops and other items securely when they’re not in use. It’s important that you incorporate a range of size options for storage spaces – you don’t want to install lockers that are only big enough to fit a laptop if a quarter of your workforce cycles to work and needs somewhere to store their bicycle helmet.
11. Ask for Feedback
Your employees are the ones who will be utilizing your new office space, so who better to provide feedback? They will be able to tell you what’s working, but more importantly, they’ll be able to tell you what isn’t working. Either way, listening to feedback can provide a huge boost to morale and lead to higher levels of engagement from your employees – which is critical to implementing cultural changes.
12. Incorporate a Change in Management Style
Agile working means a total shift in the way employees go about their work. As a result, this requires your management team to adjust to this new way of working. Productivity can no longer be scored by the number of hours employees spend at their desks. Instead, managers will have to come up with new ways of evaluating employee performance.
While agile work environments are designed to encourage employee autonomy, it’s more important than ever for managers to find the balance between autonomous working, maintaining communication, and establishing explicit expectations for what employees are expected to achieve.
An agile work environment has many advantages and can be a positive thing if implemented correctly. While an agile work environment might suit the needs of your company, these guidelines are set in place so that your company is successful in switching to this kind of work environment.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.