When we hear the term ‘agile work environment,’ what usually comes to mind is hot-desking, working from home, or remote work.
However, agile working is all that and providing a unique office layout. It’s about giving workers the freedom and ability to perform their roles in the most appropriate place and time.
Agile work allows for choice and flexibility in terms of where and when tasks are done, as long as work is delivered within reasonable timelines.
The principle behind agile working is that team members are adults – meaning they are mature, responsible, and trustworthy enough to be expected to perform their duties without much or any prodding.
It’s more about encouraging or guiding staff to act responsibly on their own volition.
The beginnings of agile work environments
Our familiarity with stress and the ever-present need to attain a work-life balance is one of the factors that has led to the evolution of the traditional, nine-to-five in-office work arrangement.
The introduction of the proverbially demanding millennial generation into the workplace has forced the hand of employers wanting to attract and keep talented new workers within their ranks.
Moreover, our experience with the last global financial crisis (GFC) has shown us how volatile and fragile the economy is, how interconnected we are, and how everything can easily break down in one single fall.
Although a lot of companies closed or were forced to scale down operations during the GFC, everyone learned a valuable lesson – the need to be agile and have a resilient workforce.
Additionally, numerous technological innovations have paved the way for new concepts and perspectives into how, where, and when a business can be run.
Technology has also given companies, especially startups, the opportunity to tap into digital workspaces and access talent from all over the world.
So really, necessity is the mother of invention – and agile work environments are proof of this.
Types of agile work setups
To maximize the advantages of agile work, there are different arrangements that you can implement or integrate:
- Flexible working: This provides team members opportunities to work anywhere they want within the office. It can be at a community table, a comfortable chair, or an office booth – as long as the work gets done. It can also involve allowing flexible work hours outside the traditional nine-to-five arrangement.
- Hot-desking or desk sharing: In this setup, no one team member is given a permanent or fixed workstation. Rather, workspaces are allocated by team and meant to be shared or used on first-come, first-served basis.
- Mobile working: Employees who need to work remotely most of the time and work in an office location at other times can avail themselves of this arrangement. So, it can be a combination of flexible and remote working (below).
- Remote working, teleworking, or telecommuting: People who work away from a traditional office, who work from home part of the time, or who need to work from a client site belong in this category. Remote workers, field workers, and digital nomads are similarly classified.
- Home working: People who work from home full-time or need to do so because of the nature of the task at hand belong to this category. It’s also a form of remote working.
Benefits of Agile Work Environments
Agile working has flourished through the years because there are benefits inherent in such an arrangement.
1. Maximizing space
One of the biggest expenses of small to mid-sized companies is commercial or office rent, second only to salaries.
So, even if you have limited space, you can make it work for you by applying agile work principles. Hot-desking, for example, can be used to accommodate team members do not necessarily stay in the office at the same time.
Moreover, by taking into account the nature of various office tasks, you may find that there are specific roles that do not require a permanent desk space.
You can then furnish the office with flexible seating options that different team members can use when they need to.
You can also look into tasks that can be done remotely by some team members. This way, you can come up with special arrangements for full-time remote work, or telecommuting.
2. Improving engagement
By allowing for flexibility and personalizing the work experience of team members, you also make them feel that you care for their well being.
Giving them the option to work in a shared space such as a community table, or in a Zenbooth, for example, makes them feel valued, thereby increasing their level of engagement.
A Zenbooth is a prefabricated booth designed for workers who require privacy to take a phone call or to do their work in peace.
Different models can house one, two, and four to six persons. They are perfectly fitted to facilitate work productivity and efficiency and can be installed anywhere, as they have minimal space requirements.
This makes them a perfect addition in agile work environments.
3. Developing trust, transparency, and openness
If you treat your staff like adults, you hold them accountable for their work.
In agile working, you give them control over when and where they perform their tasks – an indicator of confidence and trust.
Good employees respond in kind. They will work harder to ensure they keep your trust. The focus here is not on how many hours people put in, but in the quality of the work they churn out, as well as their overall contribution to the company.
4. Boosting employee morale
There’s nothing like knowing one is free to choose a preferred work setup. Team members feel they are valued and have a say in the way they perform their jobs.
This increases job satisfaction and fosters loyalty toward the company.
It also translates into lower attrition levels, higher engagement, a reduction in tardiness and absenteeism, and productivity that directly impacts the company bottom line.
5. Increased cost savings
The traditional office environment required that employers heavily invest in not only the place of work, but also in furniture, office supplies, equipment and utilities.
They might also have to hire cleaners and cafeteria workers. Having an agile work environment means using communal space part of the time, and partly using private spaces.
There's no need to invest in a private office or cubicle for every employee.
6. Facilitating better communication
Fexible workspaces can improve communication and interactions between colleagues and even with management. When you have intimate spaces set aside for private meetings, staff are more confident in scheduling 1v1 time.
Ironically, digital workspaces where people hardly ever see each other can have improvements communication, as people are usually more open or free in their expression when they are speaking to someone who is far away.
Also, messages tend to be clearer and goal-oriented as misunderstandings or miscommunication happen more frequently when things are not written down, as they are in online chat.
7. Promoting movement
Staying seated in one place is stressful and brings with it a host of health issues. Aside from causing chronic back pain, headaches, cardiovascular conditions & weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle can also be dull and unexciting.
Agile work environments encourage people to move about or transfer from one work area to another.
Outside meeting rooms and decompression zones also give team members a much-needed respite from simply being glued all day to their seat.
8. Encouraging individuality
Hot-desking, telecommuting and other forms of agile work setups provide opportunities for customization.
There are workers who prefer a bit of noise or music while working. There are also those who prefer to work in isolation or in silence.
Some team members may want a standing desk or a smart desk. Others can decorate collaboration areas to make them feel more inspiring.
Agile work environments allow numerous ways people can show their personalities.
9. Reducing clutter
Typical workplaces and office environments are usually cluttered with files, papers - all sorts of documents. Some of which may not even be in use.
This not only makes the space look crowded and uninviting; it also leads to the accumulation of dust and other allergens.
Agile work settings find it easier to avoid this as no one space is attached to a single person who can start accumulating ‘stuff.’
Working the agile way
For companies that have successfully implemented agile offices, there’s simply no going back. It’s a world away from the rigid traditional workplace.
Moreover, the improvements in productivity and quality associated with agile offices are quite commonplace. And the way it puts the value of the person before the work is something that resonates with each one of us.