Moving to an Agile Work Environment:
3 Challenges & Strategies
In the first two installments in our series about the agile work environment, we gave you a sneak peek into some exciting new spaces in Australia and the US and addressed how organizations benefit from this new way of working. Then we looked at how to tell if your organization is ready for an agile work environment, and some essential strategies to making the move successful. In case you missed the first two articles, see:
This week, we will address some of the common challenges that companies face when making the move to an agile work environment, as well as tips for overcoming those hurdles to ensure you achieve your goals.
Moving to an Agile Work Environment: 3 Challenges & Strategies
1. Easing Employees’ Anxiety and Resistance
There is no denying the fact that moving your organization to an agile work environment from a traditional fixed-seating office model requires a cultural change on a massive scale. You are asking your employees who will work in the new space to change their ingrained daily habits and give up the comfort zone of their personal work space. It’s no surprise that people are going to be concerned about losing their private offices and even where they will keep their personal items.
What your employees don’t realize yet is everything they stand to gain from an agile work environment. And it’s your job not only to give them more than you take away (see challenge #2), but also to communicate that information effectively. Ideally, that can involve a bit of show-and-tell to drive the point home.
Engage early and often. Don’t treat the plans for the new agile work environment as top-secret project. Involve employees from every business unit and every function within the organization as early as possible. This strategy not only helps you with gathering team requirements and effective planning, but also allows employees to get excited about cool features they will enjoy in the new setting.
Enlist champions. You know who they are: the people in your organization who always know what’s going on and talk to everyone. They are the ones you need on your side, so ask for their advice and input in the early planning stages. When you win them over by demonstrating the upsides to the agile work environment, you have evangelists who will convince even the most stubborn doubters to at least keep an open mind.
Organize a trial floor. If telling alone fails, you need to show people what they stand to gain. Set up a pilot floor in advance and allow teams to try it out for a couple of weeks. You will be amazed at how quickly people are converted and begin asking when they will get the new space.
Implement technology to discourage “squatters.” That’s a term for people who stake out a desk for the day in an agile work environment, leaving their things and then going off for a full day of meetings without actually using the space. Another issue: people camp out in conference rooms and use them as their new office.
Discourage both of these behaviors with technology that tracks the identity of the person(s) using each space and even if they are actively working on their computers. Hint: check out Serraview Live to see how technology can help.
You should also make sure to include enough private areas for phone calls (sometimes called “phone booths”) to discourage using conference rooms for this purpose.
2. Driving Cultural Change With Good Workplace Design
Dealing with employees’ resistance to losing their desks is challenging enough, but to truly get the most benefit from an agile work environment, you need to think bigger. Make sure you are creating the best environment for a corporate culture that supports innovation. Also, you don’t want to slow people down by impeding their productivity as they adjust to the new environment. That means you need to have accurate data to plan for a productive new environment, and you must educate people about thinking and working differently.
Gather utilization data in advance. At least 6 to 12 months before the move to an agile work environment, implement a space planning and workplace utilization measurement system to get accurate data about how much space is currently being used by each business unit. That information helps you decide on the appropriate ratio of people to desks for each team. For example, support teams with more people in the office might need 1 desk for every to 1.1 people, but sales teams who are on the road might be fine with 1 desk for every 1.5 people.
To learn more about technology for collecting utilization data, read our helpful guide to Measuring Workplace Utilization.
Choosing the right workplace management technology can be a big challenge in itself, since there are so many competing systems that are very different. To learn more about honing in on the most important evaluation criteria, read this informative guide: 5 Critical Comparison Points for Workplace Management Software.
Design appropriate neighborhoods. In most cases, an agile work environment will consist of neighborhoods (also called “home zones”) designed for each business unit. Gather profiles with the working styles of each team and provide sufficient space for the types of tasks they need to accomplish. Be sure to create secure areas for teams that require privacy, and plan for any teams that need to be separated due to their work functions. Provide sufficient breakout space to support collaboration and project work. Shared spaces can include comfortable couches as well as areas for play and relaxation. Once they learn about these new features of the agile work environment, most employees will happily give up their cubicle and desk.
Don’t forget about storage. Different teams have varying needs for storage in an agile work environment, so gathering this information in advance helps with planning sufficient locker and electronic storage space. During the planning stage is the time to help teams reduce paper storage. Also, decide whether you want storage space near the team’s neighborhood or in a different location to encourage mobility.
Make the change easy and seamless. Don’t fuel those anxieties by making it time-consuming or cumbersome for people to find a place to work or to find colleagues. Invest in kiosks and wayfinding systems that make it quick and easy to get to work. Also, don’t require people to reserve desks in advance; that forces people to decide what they will be doing on a given day too far ahead. Especially when you are driving a collaborative culture that promotes innovation, employees need to be able to adjust their daily tasks as needed in an agile work environment without worrying about if they have the right space reserved.
Plan for the future. While you are encouraging your teams to work together on effective strategies for your company’s future, don’t forget to build the same thinking into your plans for the agile work environment. Gather data and work out which teams will grow and consolidate over time, and incorporate that information into your ratios and neighborhood designs.
Educate managers. In the old-school office environment, managers can get into the habit of evaluating employees based on how many hours they spend sitting at their desk. In the agile work environment, it’s necessary to change that way of thinking since managers won’t be able to easily monitor where people are. Instead, teach them to look beyond “presenteeism” and to evaluate people’s productivity and contribution to the team.
3. Managing Impact on Employees’ Health and Safety
In many industries where employers are competing to attract the best new talent, many are differentiating themselves by offering health and well-being programs to employees. Implementing an agile work environment is a perfect opportunity to consider the effect of the workplace on employee health.
Offer furniture that cuts down sitting time. It’s no secret that sitting all day is bad for our health, so give people the option to use sit-to-stand desks or even treadmill desks to stay healthier. Also, providing attractive breakout space encourages people to stand and move around when working in a group, rather than sitting around a conference room table. Another important option in an agile work environment is offering ergonomic furniture that adjusts so that people of different sizes can use it safely and comfortably.
Consider providing healthier food options. Replace soda and candy machines with fresh fruit to give employees a boost of energy without the sugar crash and all those empty calories.
Provide education. Simply installing the new furniture and putting fruit in the kitchen is not enough to make a real impact. Provide employee health education programs that help them make changes in their daily habits that can lead to significant improvements in their health and happiness in the new agile work environment.