The traditional office setting is dying. The modern workplace demands a new way of working: ‘agile working’. A new functionality that to a large degree hands control to the employee. However, agile working won’t just happen unless it is implemented as part of a carefully considered strategy. The potential application for that methodology is broad which invariably means that a business can manifest its own interpretation of what it means to ‘go agile’.
In an article called what does the agile work environment look like? Ian Morley highlights why so many organisations are moving to agile working, “In the typical corporate office, as much as 60 percent or more of desks sit unused every day.”
In the first of a three-part series, we explore this by asking the question, are organisations as agile as they think.
In our experience
Established in 2003, Hotbox creates agile worktools for the global workspace. So, of course we are advocates for agile working. However, our experience of working with organisations and implementors of agile working all over the world has provided us with a unique insight into the highs and lows of business transformation. As with many things in life, success comes from proper understanding, implementation and hard work. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy”.
So, in simplistic terms what is agile working and how can you ensure that you avoid the pitfalls by correctly implementing the method? We asked leading workplace change consultant Colin Stuart and CEO of Baker Stuart for his thoughts:
“The bottom line is what is agile working? That’s the key. In an agile workplace an employee should have the freedom to choose their preferred environment for a specific task,” explains Colin. “Agile working is all about creating the environment that suits the tasks that people are doing. So, if you are quiet working you need an environment that is suitable for doing quiet work. If you are collaborating you need an environment that is suitable for collaborative work.”
Misinterpreting what agile working means and not developing an all-round solution is the most common reason agile working is not as effective as it could be. “The problem is, some people think agile working is just hot-desking, and hot-desking in its own right can be very dangerous. It can drive morale down and it can be very battery chicken in effect if it’s not done right,” Colin adds.
“One of the most common frustrations after an agile working environment has been implemented is not being able to sit near your colleagues,” explains Colin.
Colin goes on to suggest a way to address this problem. “I’m not an advocate of allocating desks to teams because that can become very territorial, but allocating a neighbourhood and allocating teams to a neighbourhood where they share the space with like-minded teams that they work together with regularly really works. They have the flexibility to collaborate, but they then also have a bit of a home,” Colin suggests.
The right tools for agile working
As the adoption of agile working spreads across the world, so too does the demand for specific tools that complement the new way of working. We at Hotbox often find that when an organisation moves from a traditional office setting to an agile workspace the employees are not given everything that they need. More crucially they are not able to move easily around the agile workspace.
Jamie Rothwell, Managing Director at Hotbox, begins by alluding to the missing link when an organisation makes the transition to an agile workplace. “Employees have a real strength of conviction for having their own space and they like to make their space their own,” says Jamie. “So, if we’re looking at an agile workspace it’s vital to consider the human element. How do you make any space your own while still allowing people to get up and move around so they can work anywhere in a snap?!”
In his opinion organisations must give employees the right tools to move around in an agile working environment. Too many organisations have said, “Well here’s some lockers, here’s some desks, there’s some breakout zones, good luck, off you go and get on with work,” explains Jamie. “However, if employees can’t move around then it’s not an agile space. So, you have to provide employees with the tools to be able to pick up and move to those spaces for them to work at.”
“We’ve been to see organisations where they have bench desking down one side of the office and on the other side they’ve got a breakout coffee area. However, all the employees are hunched around the bench desking with two or three at the desk because they’ve got no way of moving their things to the other collaborative areas,” Jamie adds.
This is the key in Jamie’s experience to a successful agile working environment for both business owners and employees. “If it’s already taken employees three or four trips to get their work things from the locker to a workspace they’re dammed if they’re going to move again because it’s just too much hassle. So, an organisation has spent all this money on this great space and then everybody’s huddled in one area because they can’t move around. It’s about providing the right tools. The literal part of that is a Hotbox because that is actually the key to being agile, to be able to move around and take your work things around with you,” explains Jamie.
Agile working doesn’t work unless you implement the new way of working correctly and with consideration.
Implementing agile working should be a bespoke, problem-solving exercise. To avoid the pitfalls that other organisations have encountered, business owners should seek out the right advice from workplace experts and employees need to be given the right tools for agile working.
Next week in, Are You As Agile As You Think? – Part 2, we will discuss why employers need to trust their staff for agile working to be successful and why it is essential to include your employees in the process of transitioning to agile working.