In the corporate workplace community, the agile work environment has become a hot topic of conversation. If you have attended workplace and facilities industry events over the past few years, such as IFMA World Workplace, CoreNet Global Summit, CoRETECH or WORKTECH, you have certainly become aware of the movement. But what exactly does it mean and why are more and more progressive companies moving in that direction?
What is an agile work environment?
Adopting an agile work environment is all about optimizing the use of space by adopting a non-assigned seating model.
It means transitioning from dedicated workstations for each employee to shared spaces that workers use as needed. Considering that as much as 60 percent of traditional office space is unused on any given day, the agile work environment provides the means for an organization to optimize the utilization of workplace and reduce cost, often by as much as 20 percent or more.
Many companies take this idea to the next level by moving to activity based working (ABW) at the same time as they implement the agile work environment. ABW gives people the freedom to choose the type of space they want to work in based upon the type of work they need to do that day. ABW spaces are designed for efficiency, productivity and collaboration. These spaces are conducive to creative thinking and stimulating ideas because they provide comfortable areas for people to interact.
A sneak peek at the agile work environment and ABW in forward-thinking organizations
The implementation of the agile work environment and ABW is growing fast in the US, yet organizations in Australia and New Zealand began the transition several years back and are far ahead of the curve.
To get an idea what the agile work environment with ABW could look like for your company, take a look at these exciting new work spaces currently being used by Commonwealth Bank, ASB Bank, and Atlassian:
Here are a couple of implementations of the agile work environment and ABW by forward-thinking US companies:
How organizations benefit from this new way of working
It’s no secret that real estate is one of the highest costs faced by corporations, typically second only to the cost of labor. So naturally your ears perk up when you begin hearing how much some of these forward-thinking organizations are saving on real estate cost with the agile work environment. That’s because in the typical corporate office, as much as 60 percent or more of desks sit unused every day. Moving to more flexible shared space allows you to optimize the use of space and accommodate more people in fewer square feet.
Yet there is even more to be gained by moving to an agile work environment than saving money:
Attracting and keeping talented employees. In many industries, there are not enough skilled and talented people to go around. Attracting the best talent has become like a competitive sport. The cool features of the agile work environment with ABW, such as comfortable furniture, collaborative work spaces and recreation areas and can be the thing that tips the scale in your favor for top candidates.
A collaborative culture produces better ideas. When teams are given the space to truly work collaboratively, the spike in creative thinking and innovation can be astounding. If your organization’s idea generation needs a kick-start and you’re looking to build a corporate culture that supports innovation, it may be time to think about the agile work environment and ABW.
Employee satisfaction increases productivity. Here’s another well-known fact: happier employees work harder, are more engaged in their tasks, and produce better results. Even though some people will be resistant to moving to shared workspaces initially, in the end they are happier in an agile work environment. After all, they’re only losing a desk and they gain so much more: spaces that are better suited for the work they do, a more social environment where they can connect with others, not to mention cool lounges, recreation areas and kitchens.
Anticipate some challenges
It’s a fact: moving to an agile work environment is a massive cultural change for an organization. That’s exciting, but it does present certain challenges. You are asking people to change their ingrained habits. You should expect to encounter resistance from some employees who need privacy for their work, those who feel that their status is undermined by losing their corner office, and even questions about where they will keep their personal items.
The good news is, there are proven strategies that can go a long way toward easing the transition and making your employees not only advocates, but champions for this new way of working.
One general principle to keep in mind is that you must enable rather than inhibit your employees in doing their jobs. Marcelo Romano, Director of Real Estate and Site Development at CoreTech 2015 noted: “Our business depends upon the continuation of Moore’s Law. The worst thing we can do is inhibit that with poor real estate decisions.”
One way to make it seamless and easy for employees to get their work done in an agile work environment is to reinvest your savings from optimization in building a better work environment. Retrofit your buildings with ABW furniture and fittings that support collaboration.
Technology helps you get the most from an agile work environment
When you make any large corporate investment, you want to do everything you can to get the most bang for your buck, and also to realize that ROI as quickly as possible. When it comes to moving to an agile work environment, that means taking advantage of the latest technology to measure utilization of space and help you manage and optimize how people use your workplace. Utilization data is also essential for providing location services (often called wayfinding tools) that make it simple for people to find a space to work and to find where colleagues are working.
Here are some that you need to know about when planning a new agile work environment:
Badge swipe data
Badge or card swipes allow you to collect utilization information from data captured by the security system that grants access to a building and sometimes a floor. This is often the simplest way to begin tracking utilization data since the technology is already in place. Marrying this data with other workplace information will produce a good understanding of utilization at higher levels.
Manual audits are a thing of the past: time consuming, expensive, and prone to human error. Today’s forward-thinking companies are turning to sensor technology that captures space utilization data at various levels of precision for the agile work environment.
Low energy Bluetooth (such as iBeacon): These solutions use existing smart phone technology to provide much more accurate indoor positioning than traditional Wi-Fi. This technology can capture utilization across a space and improve the reliability of location services information.
Lighting sensors: Smart lighting is quite popular for both new buildings and renovations, because it helps reduce environmental impact and save money on power. The lights have motion sensors that detect occupancy and control the lights throughout the day. Often the solutions have a back end that can collect utilization data.
Desk sensors: Tracking utilization using sensors installed in each space (desk, room, breakout space, etc.) provides precise results at an anonymous level. A deeper understanding of how teams are working can be achieved by pairing the utilization data with allocation data.
For more information about technology used to collect utilization data, get your copy of this informative guide to Measuring Workplace Utilization.
Workplace management software
Even before you begin the process of moving to an agile work environment, implementing workplace management software helps you earn the trust of your business units and also helps you gather the data you need to make the move. Having accurate data also allows you to build a compelling business case for transitioning to an agile work environment.
The right workplace management tool gives you access to all of your workplace data in one place, and makes it simple for your workplace team to manage. Look for these important features that support not only the workplace team but also employees in the agile work environment:
- Easy-to-use interactive wayfinding on touch screen kiosks and on employees’ mobile devices
- Streamlined data collection and communication for stress-free management of the move to a new environment
- Integration with many sources of occupancy tracking data
- Analytics including visual dashboards, interactive charts, and floor plans that make it easy to monitor and analyze your workplace utilization
Here is the difficult part: the workplace management software solutions on the market differ significantly in their scope, design, technology, and ease of implementation. These factors can greatly affect the value you can expect to gain from using the tool, as well as how quickly you can realize better space utilization and ultimately millions in cost savings with an agile work environment.