This blog post shares proven strategies and advice for increasing collaboration within the agile workplace, from workplace change management expert Caroline Boyce of Lend Lease.
It has become increasingly challenging for companies to be innovative in the global economy, yet that’s what is needed to gain or retain a competitive edge. So how can companies generate new and better ideas and execute them successfully?
By encouraging employees to work collaboratively.
According to salesforce.com, 97 percent of workers believe that a lack of team alignment directly impacts the outcome of a project, and 86 percent cite lack of collaboration and poor communication for workplace failures. Companies are realizing that encouraging collaboration in the workplace leads to better outcomes and ultimately a healthier bottom line.
That’s one of the appeals of the modern agile workplace: it’s designed to encourage more collaboration between people who might not work together otherwise.
Related article: Why ABW Is A Better Alternative to Open Office Design
In these new flexible work spaces, people choose their seat each day based on the work they need to do or who they need to work with, rather than sitting at an assigned desk each day. The changing day-to-day environment creates more interaction. And the agile workplace includes more casual meeting areas designed for impromptu group work sessions.
The well-designed agile workspace is an improvement over open-plan since it also provides the equally important spaces for quiet and focus in addition to spaces for collaboration.
It’s certainly true that the cost savings associated with moving to an agile workplace make them an attractive option for streamlining corporate real estate portfolios. Yet the touted collaboration benefits are an equally attractive prospect for a company that wants to overhaul its workplace culture.
It sounds like an easy fix: build an agile workplace, and people will collaborate more. Especially when you also stand to save millions by reducing corporate footprint in the process. However, it’s important to realize that you can’t rely on any workspace design alone to do the job of changing an organization’s culture.
Related article: Top 3 Challenges of Moving to an Agile Work Environment
The “if you build it they will come” mentality may be overly optimistic. People moving to a totally new way of working need encouragement and education to understand and buy into the new concept, and to change their behavior accordingly.
“You can design an intuitive agile workplace with all kinds of great opportunities for collaboration, but that’s not enough to make organic change happen,” says Caroline Boyce, a workspace change management expert with Lend Lease. “People may be opposed to collaboration for a variety of reasons. There needs to be intervention to encourage the business to shift in that direction.”
Here are 8 of Caroline’s proven change management strategies that can help employees adapt to a new agile workplace and begin to collaborate more effectively.
8 agile workplace strategies that promote collaboration
1. Education for both employees and management
Employees moving to an agile workplace for the first time need a great deal of support both before and after the move. People will have lots of anxiety about the change early on, so plenty of communication is essential to easing their fears and addressing concerns.
Everyone wants to know what the new agile workplace will be like, how they will find their way around and find other people, and where they will keep their belongings and work materials. It’s helpful to show and tell as much as possible and as soon as you can:
- Share floor plans of the new space.
- Show off wayfinding tools that employees can use to find a desk, a co-worker, or a meeting space.
- Show them what locker spaces look like and where they are located.
Managers will need even more education to adapt to the new work model. For example, show them how to judge people’s productivity by their performance instead of by how many hours they sit at a desk.
2. Enlist management role models
When executive leaders practice working in the same way as everyone else, it sends an important message to employees about the organization’s commitment to the new agile workplace strategy. When leaders choose to work in an open plan area instead of a private office, they also have the opportunity to see and hear first-hand what’s happening, and to participate in collaborative efforts.
3. Recruit the right champions
In addition to managers, it’s important to find champions throughout the organization who can encourage others and act as evangelists for the new way of working.
Every business unit has extroverts who thrive on working in a team environment and can’t wait to move to the new agile workplace and do away with formal meeting processes. Get those people on the team and involved in the planning process. If possible, invite them to participate in a pilot program, then ask them to spread the word about their experience.
As the transition happens, those champions will be the people creating opportunities to collaborate with others. Little by little, new behaviors become routine and people find themselves working together more often and with better results.
4. Help people get to know one another
In a traditional office setting, people sit near the same co-workers every day. In the agile workplace with non-assigned seating, employees sit near someone new each day. At first, they may be less reluctant to reach out to someone they don’t know and ask a question or ask for input on a work project.
“When people don’t even know each other, they are reluctant to confront someone about how they are using the space, let alone start a conversation about a work project,” says Caroline.
Solve that problem by creating more opportunities for employees to get to know each other, such as group lunches and social gatherings. That’s another great reason to include some fun features in your office design, like great kitchens, cafes, workout spaces and relaxation areas: these all encourage people to meet other employees that they would not otherwise interact with.
5. Challenge ingrained behaviors
Some corporate “habits” are downright contrary to collaboration, such as the tendency to schedule all meetings weeks in advance. Break down these behaviors with education and with top-down modeling. Instead, encourage practices like incorporating brainstorming into each project.
6. Build collaboration into performance measurement
Work with HR to identify ways that managers can assess an employee’s collaborative performance. When they know they are getting credit for their ideas and their contribution to a team effort, people are much more likely to get on the collaboration bandwagon.
7. Build on the culture you already have
What’s important and influential in your current culture? Try to find a way to leverage that and educate people on how collaborating in the new agile workplace can help them achieve their goals.
“Look at the drivers in the business and what the current climate is like, and complement those existing strategies so it doesn’t feel like you’re reinventing the wheel,” says Boyce.
8. Make your agile workplace design work for employees
It’s true that the right agile workplace design may not be enough to drive collaboration on its own. However, if you get the design wrong, that can certainly be enough to prevent people from working together. In fact, you can even hurt productivity when you don’t provide the right mix of work spaces and people-to-seats ratios needed by each team.
Here are some strategies to make sure you get it right:
- Take the time to get to know how people work and what they need. That means not only asking business units what they need in the agile workplace, but also spending time observing how they work and who they work with.
- Research industry & competitive trends, and look for guidance from experts in designing the agile workplace. “This helps you go above and beyond to provide improvements that employees don’t even know they want yet,” says Caroline.
- Implement technology that provides a source of accurate data to help you make better decisions. Technology such as occupancy sensors and modern workplace management software help you learn how space is used in reality as opposed to on paper. That data can also power wayfinding tools that enhance employees’ experience with the agile workplace.
Choosing the right technology to power your move to the agile workplace can be complex. It’s essential to choose not only the right tools, but also ones that can be integrated to get the most benefit from the data.