Agile Working – What Does It All Mean?
The UK’s largest employer, the NHS, offers the following definition of what ‘agile working’ is:
Agile working is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints.
Agile working is a popular topic, and has been for some time now, as more and more companies make the decision to adopt an agile approach with their workforces. The movement, initially favoured by the more progressive tech and innovation companies, has become increasingly mainstream with employers identifying the beneficial effects on their teams .
It can be difficult however for an organisation exploring the ways in which they can become more agile. One of the initial concerns is often around understanding the differences between ‘flexible working’ and ‘agile working’. Although not confirmed, it is commonly considered that ‘flexible working’ is where the employee is able to negotiate their hours in order to establish a more successful work life balance. Therefore, considered as an advantage to the employee, over a direct benefit to the employer. ‘Agile working’ however is more balanced, with benefits to the employee in terms of easier managing of work life balance, reduced costs and increased socialisation.The benefits to the organisation are also quantifiable. Some can, but not always, include one or more of the following:
- Increased productivity and efficiency
- A more engaged and motivated workforce
- Reduced costs including: building costs, travel, employee cover
- Increased innovation
- Reduction in company carbon footprint
- Increase in attracting and retaining high quality talent
- Reduced absenteeism and staff turnover
How to get agile
There are many different factors that influence an agile working approach from tech, to working patterns and workspace design. As our expertise lies in corporate interiors, for the benefit of this article, we’ll focus on what we know best –workspace design.
Agile working is based on the concept that work is something we do, rather than somewhere we go. The days of working strict Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm patterns are largely a thing of the past. As our world and businesses become ever-more connected, our standard working hours are stretched and flexed in different directions to accommodate this. Organisations are constantly on the look out for how to reduce the cost implications of this also. For example, innovation in technology has enabled us to reduce the need for face-to-face meetings, resulting in reduced costs in local and international travel. Also the cost of wasted employee time is reduced as they’re spending less time off-grid on long haul flights, or stuck in traffic. However, with employees spending more time in the workspace – wherever that might be – it’s important to facilitate their increasing range of needs accordingly.
If, for example, an employee is hosting a video conference with contacts in international offices (as a means to avoid time out/travel costs) then they would benefit from having a space available to them that makes that more comfortable and easier to enable.
We are social creatures.
We are by far the most social creatures on the planet. Research shows that we need a good 6 hours worth of socialising in our day to improve our sense of wellbeing. That’s not even just for the most outgoing of us. Introverts also need at least 5 hours a day of socialising for wellbeing.
An increasing number of us are working remotely at least part of the time – over 4 million people in the UK alone. Employers still need to ensure the wellbeing needs of their workforce, both in and out of the office, are being met. For the time employees are in situ in the office, smart workspace design plays a huge role in supporting their wellbeing needs.
Ideas for creating agile working spaces
Email and internal messaging services have certainly increased productivity within the workplace. However, enabling colleagues to have more face-to-face time within the workplace helps to increase productivity. Not only does it provide the all-important socialisation time, but also improves knowledge-sharing, brainstorming and innovation. Providing your workforce with designated ‘away from desk’ spaces that encourage them to meet and engage over work/social issues ultimately improves morale and productivity.
We know that social dynamics can, and do have a large impact on productivity within a workplace. There’s no denying friendships at work do have both pros and cons. However, most importantly, studies show that multiplex relationships at work, where workers start off as colleagues but develop the relationships into friendships, have the effect of increasing performance. Whatever the cons of colleague relationships developing into friendships at work, they are lesser than the proven benefits.
Social spaces can and often do get utilised as collaborative spaces by employees, however they shouldn’t be designed as such. Organisations need to be sensitive to the notion that their workspace can’t all be focused on work. If you wish for your workforce to be at ease, engaged and happier in the workplace they need to feel there’s a space for them to relax and take their mind off work for a short while. Our most recent #PerfectPartners Wellbeing, are experts in supporting the design of social spaces by providing tools to help revive and revitalise employees during their down time.
Yes, we are social creatures, but for some of us when we have important work to focus on, or a deadline to hit we find it easier to concentrate in isolation. The modern day open-plan, flat hierarchy style of workspace is fantastic for encouraging knowledge-sharing and collaboration. However, it’s often not conducive to providing a quiet space in which to focus, have private conversations or work on sensitive documents/materials. As much as it’s a benefit to be social at work, it’s also imperative to provide some space for people to hide away when they need to.
In architectural terms transition spaces have historically been designed to link outdoor and indoor spaces. With the increased use of ‘zoning’ in interior design these days, often transition spaces can occur within the same environment but used as a way to signal the boundaries between zones. These can take the form of a corridor, and atrium, a social space or simply a space with less features/furnishings.
Although not traditionally thought of as typically productive spaces, transition spaces can provide much needed areas for collaboration, socialising or isolation if space itself is hard to come by. For many organisations, the space already exists, it’s just about smart thinking to turn it into an area that supports an agile working approach.
If you have any questions about creating #InspiringSpaces that support agile working then don’t hesitate to contact us on 01452 341 502.