The working world has changed and the offices of days gone by simply don't cut it anymore. The newly conceived agile workspace has transformed the modern office beyond recognition. And the truth is, it had to happen. Offices have evolved over the last few decades and we simply don't work the same way anymore.
The typing pools and compact cubicle hell of the 1970s are soon to be fully replaced by agile workspace furniture and design principles.
It's now also time for the negatives of the open plan office to bite the dust too.
Where Did the Open Plan Office Go Wrong?
Open-plan has actually been with us since the 1950s, but it became the norm in the last two decades. It even got to the vaguely ridiculous point where managers were removing their doors with screwdrivers to show just how approachable they were after reading one too many leadership books.
Tech giants championed the open plan office and even Google went that route together with 70% of the country. Facebook took the extravagant and slightly farcical step of employing renowned architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open-plan office in the world at that point with room for 3000 engineers.
The only problem was that open plan, like the cubicles, just didn't work. In 2015 The Washington Post argued that offices without walls were actually destroying the American workplace. Subsequent research into open plan offices backed this up.
Creativity, collaboration, and productivity were meant to go through the roof. Instead, it largely fell through the floor. Problems caused by distractions, both visual and audible, doubled under the open plan regime.
Various studies concluded that privacy is an essential part of the working process, but so is communication. Removing the last vestiges of privacy made everyone feel good for a while, but the effects on productivity, morale, and even the spread of disease within the workplace knocked out any of the advantages.
Open communication and bosses being able to keep a closer eye on their staff were attractive reasons for pulling down the dividing walls, but the only thing that really matters in the workplace is the work itself. That was suffering.
So, we tried open plan and it just didn't work. It's time for a new answer, then, and the agile work environment might just be what you're looking for.
Benefits of the Agile Workspace
An agile workspace is a blend of creativity and science. At its best, an agile workspace is space efficient, vibrant and productive, but there isn't a simple formula. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and there simply isn't one layout that works for everyone, or even one office, the whole time.
Simply put, an agile workspace is set up to get the job done. There is no place for status or rank in an agile workspace and you have to leave your ego at the door. There are no assigned desks and no obvious hierarchy in this modern environment. It's all process-based and it's all about the workflow.
A truly agile workspace can even evolve and adapt. It will change to suit your needs and some offices change their layout for each and every project. Most opt for a more permanent set-up that means you're not constantly rearranging the office furniture, but the key is to strike the right balance of private workspace and collaborative areas.
It will put the right people together, with just the right amount of communication, without going all open-plan and turning the place into a zoo.
Studies Show Agile Workspaces Are Taking Over
By 2020, analysts Mitie estimate that 70% of workplaces will be agile and vast amounts of workers won't come to the office at all. Instead, they will drop in for essential face-to-face communication and project meetings, but they will largely work from home.
It's a concept that's built around technology. Cloud computing and laptops mean that we don't need a desktop and our own space anymore. We can log in from anywhere and work, so the traditional concept of the workplace really did have to come in for a radical overhaul.
So, how do you equip a workplace like this?
When you set up an agile workspace then it's important to plan for the company you want to be, rather than the company you are right now. Consider remote workers and how much of your activity actually needs to happen 'in-house'.
Remote work has long been touted as a solution for forward-thinking companies, but the technology just wasn't there to support it. Now, with mobile devices getting smarter than ever and Cloud computing gaining traction, you might find you really don't need that many people in the office on a daily basis.
That will inevitably have an impact on your office design. Cellphone giant O2 in the UK found it could accommodate 2,500 staff with just 550 desks when it introduced a raft of changes and encouraged its staff to work at home. Productivity went up, too, so think long and hard about the way you want to work before you start to plan your advanced new office environment.
You need five basic areas:
1. An Open Office
We learned the hard way that total open-plan offices are the death knell for productivity. But open-plan areas are an essential part of the agile workspace. Why? They are space efficient and foster increased levels of face-to-face communication, which is essential for project teams.
Open plan has also shown to work for administration teams, which need to talk constantly. When it comes to your rock stars, though, the open plan area simply won't work all the time. It can be a distracting environment and your conceptual thinkers need to be able to step away from the bullpen.
2. Quiet Zones with The Right Agile Workspace Furniture
Sometimes the talking needs to stop and your staff need to focus. They shouldn't have to put in headphones and adopt a surly expression for the rest of the staff to leave them alone.
Quiet areas are where the magic happens and they're just as important as the open plan area. There are levels of quiet zones, though, from separate offices through to cubicles in a secluded area of the office. Your budget and floor space will dictate your choices here, but there are creative solutions that you might want to consider.
You can enforce a strict rule about taking and making phone calls in the quiet zone, but that can get a little draconian. One option is to install office phone booth furniture like the Comfort Booth, which is a silent haven fitted with noise insulation that provides a place to take and make calls without disrupting co-workers.
This simple addition can change the whole dynamic of the office as individuals who ignore the phone call rule, by choice or necessity, can be shepherded into the booth.
3. Overflow Area
In the modern workforce, most companies have staff who go out on the road, work from home and simply aren't in the office on a full-time basis. Unused space is wasted space and the old concept of a full-time workstation for a part-time employee is bad business.
In the agile work environment then assigned desks have been consigned to history anyway, but you do need to have space for those rare occasions when all hands land on deck. A simple, open-plan desk space that can accommodate spikes in office occupancy can be a lifesaver on those occasions.
Place it in a quieter zone and it can also provide a sanctuary for teams working on projects that need to speak to each other and nobody else. These workstations are generally smaller, however, and might not be suitable for extended, focused work.
4. Agile Workspace Furniture for Breakout Zones
Breakout zones tend to be less formal than the open plan area and they're an environment that's great for low-key meetings, creative collaboration and just giving people a break. This can also be an area for staff to eat in peace, but don't put the coffee machine in there or you run the risk of ruining meetings.
There is an alternative if you have space to play with. An Executive Booth offers total privacy and an oasis of calm where two people can lock themselves away for private discussions. It's a novel approach, and you can also use the booth as a stress-busting private space to gather your thoughts before diving back into the fray,
5. Resources and Agile Workspace Furniture
You have to make space for your copiers, printers, and storage areas. This is a noisy area, so it makes sense to place it near the open plan or breakout zones, but well away from your quiet zones. This is never going to be the best-looking part of your workspace, but it is a great place to keep everything from your files through to food vending machines.
Of course, you can follow in Google's footsteps and have a games room, chillout areas, agile workspace furniture and an in-house masseuse (really, they did that).
But these are the basic building blocks that will help you build your agile work environment and embrace the new philosophy of office design.
It's new, it's exciting and an agile work environment really could send your communication and productivity through the roof.
Get in touch with Zenbooth to learn more about their portable office phone booths, and how they can help you attain the agile office you desire.