Agile Workspace Design: Keeping it Agile During an Office Fit-out

Far from just being the latest buzzword, agile working has arrived, according to global research. In the sixth part of our fit-out series, here’s what you need to know about agile when redesigning or relocating your office. 

We’ve already written about the origins of the term agile workspace and offered seven ways to master agile design. In this article we see how agile has come of age, we look at what makes an agile workspace and marvel at some of the world’s top agile designs.

Agile “more accepted” globally

The term ‘agile’ has been used in office design for around a decade. But now it’s finally come of age thanks to the EMEA Fit-Out Cost Guide(2017/18) from commercial real estate services and investment firm, CBRE, which compares pricing in 64 cities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

CBRE makes the point of mentioning the switch from “traditional” to “agile” by including a comparisonbetween the two layouts “to better align with current workplace trends.” It adds that agile workspaces are finally “becoming more accepted”.

It says: “Linked to this rise in flexible working is a growing interest in the use of shared workplaces such as serviced offices and co-working spaces; 41% of occupiers surveyed expected to have moderate or substantial use of shared space within the next three years (compared with 24% who currently use shared space).” 

This shows the agile concept has truly arrived.

Agile 101

By definition, and the history of the term, agile design gives any organisation the flexibilityto handle change, experiment and innovate. Agile workspaces improve employee wellbeing, encourage collaborationand build a sense of community. As a result,they enhance the workplace experience, boost employee engagement and increase productivity.

Agile design can reduce real estate portfolios, running costs, absenteeism and attrition. Like the agile working methodology, they enable quicker meetings and healthier social interaction. They encourage self-governance (where allowed), affording brilliant people more freedom to do amazing things.

CBRE says the agile model might be realised in factors including “increased collaboration and knowledge sharing, the reduced cost of churn (moving people rather than partitions), the capacity to accommodate an increased headcount in the same space and the ability to re-use the predominantly furniture-based work environment in the event of a future relocation.” 

Those are pretty powerful features and benefits.

What’s in an agile office?

Agile design is a concept that future-proofs your workplace, allowing you to flex as you evolve. 

An agile workplace features mixed-use areas with a variety of levels, workspaces and settings, including areas for breakout, community and hospitality. To improve efficient use of the office footprint, rarely used space like meeting rooms are replaced with impromptu meeting areas and hot-desking areas can be introduced. Even bespoke furniture like desks (and walls) on wheels, and writable surfaces — like the Google Garage—can be rolled into the mix.

At Rhino, we use the philosophy of four zones: focus, collaboration, social and learning/meeting. This infographic, from online news publication,, suggests five zones — breakout, quiet, open plan, resources, touchdown — as well spelling out the pros and cons of each.

Options, collisions and shared space

For Rhino’s head of business development, Hannah Floyd, agile is about providing flexibility for employees to choose how, where and when they work best. “It’s a design which creates casual collisions and breaks down barriers between departments by increasing mobility within the office,” she says.

CBRE says: “The agile workplace supports the principle of space and facilities being shared rather than owned by teams or individuals and provided on the basis of need rather than status.

“There are no private offices in the agile workplace but there is instead a rich variety of alternative work settings, such as team-tables, soft seating areas, ‘touch down’ benches and focus booths.”

Agile in action

Here’s a 2017 case study, by the Work Design Magazine, for aerospace giant, Airbus, in France. The main goal for the 31,000-sq-ft space (called Le Garage) was to accelerate technology development by immersing the company’s tech talent in a ”flexible, dynamic, open space that breaks down silos and hierarchical notions of seniority.” Desk-based workspaces can switch to physical workshop spaces. It includes open plan work zones, town-hall-style seating, writeable surfaces and integrated TV screens, along with meeting and quiet rooms and collaborative breakout areas. 

Microsoft Amsterdam’s office went for the egalitarian approach, according to onlineresource, Office Snapshots. By getting rid of private offices, the tech giant reduced its real estate costs by 30%.

In the same article, a design for materials science company, WL Gore, offers employees a variety of workspaces so they can work at their best within their own flexible schedule — as long as the work gets completed.

This Indesignlive article offers five agile workspace designs (with high quality images), from Australian businesses. REA Group Melbourne (digital marketing), for example, opted for a design which “unshackles” it from “the constraints of legacy technologies and workspaces.” The design helps to “better support their collaborative and agile way of working” which includes working on custom-designed agile walls.

“The design of different spaces, nooks and crannies near a central marketplace and main street was a strategy to ‘multiply random bump-in factors and interaction between neighbourhoods,’” it says.

A break from “rigid cubicles of old”

In the same article, agile training specialist, Cprime, describes agiledesign as “a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation; a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability.In terms of design practicalities, this means open spaces, self-driven workers, and a moveable or relaxed environment compared to the rigid forms of the cubicles of old.”

Agile workspace design has been known by many other names, from smart working to activity-based design and flexible offices. It’s been slowly evolving for the last decade or so. And it’s long overdue, according to CBRE: “the ‘traditional’ office has changed little since the early 1980s, apart from the technology now in use”.

The 1980s was the heyday of the cubicle farmsand a continuation of the open plan design from the late 19thCentury, the office landscape system of the 1950s and the more recent action office.

At last we have a new way to design offices. It’s a design that works and one that’s perfectly aligned with today’s culture. Isn’t it about time to change your work environment?

For a step-by-step process that takes you through the whole office fit-out project and helps you avoid all five pitfalls, order a copy of our Fit-out Guide, a comprehensive handbook for creating a new workspace (whether it’s a refurb or a relocation).

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