What is an Agile Work Environment?

Imagine opening the door to your business and seeing something amazing. Every inch of the office is brightly lit and free from clutter; your employees look full of life, whether they’re hunched over keyboards with headphones in or chattering excitedly in front of a whiteboard; there’s a tangible buzz about the space. Welcome to the Agile work environment.

What is Agile Working?

So symbiotic is the relationship between the Agile working methodology and Agile working environments, it’s impossible to talk about one without acknowledging the other. We’ll try to keep it short and simple though.

Essentially, the Agile methodology was a response to changes in the software industry that mean bugs now need to be fixed faster and more frequently. Software companies realised that rather than one big team racing to get a product ready for launch, they needed lots of small teams ready to fix individual bugs as they popped up.

The Agile way of working required employees to operate with more autonomy and more creative freedom over how they worked, without spools of red tape or authoritarian oversight blocking progress. It didn’t take long for Agile to spread to other industries.

Agile working environments are simply workspaces that are optimised to empower your staff to deliver to their strengths, drive results and encourage greater creativity, as well as increasing collaboration within your teams. They’re a far cry from the rigid offices of the past, free from isolated cubicles or endless rows of desks that are designed to reinforce hierarchy rather than hygge.

What Does an Agile Work Environment Look Like?

One of the great things about an Agile work environment is how flexible it is. The reality is an Agile office can be whatever you want it to be and look however you want it to look. All that matters is that it creates a workspace that empowers your employees to do their job more effectively.

Download our ebook to learn more about how an Agile working environment could  increase productivity within your organisation

If your staff are genuinely happier and work better in cramped cubicles, you should provide cubicles, and there are many businesses that thrive because of the many quiet areas that enable people to work distraction-free. However, you should also be making plenty of space for collaboration too.

This individuality is why one of the first steps of any fit-out (the industry term for an office makeover) should be a workplace consultancy. This will help you understand what you and your staff need from an Agile work environment. You’ll need to consider:

  • What is the workspace actually used for?
  • How much space do we really need?
  • What does a typical workflow look like?
  • What working practices do we want to encourage?
  • What do people do and where do they do it?
  • How easy is it for people to move around and collaborate?
  • How can we create better communication within the business?
  • What equipment or resources do employees need?

That’s not to say there aren’t common elements found across the vast number of Agile work environments. Agile offices promote more balance between achieving results and being creative as a team – so they’re often cosy, communal and hyper-connected. It’s not unusual to find areas dedicated to visual project management, from whiteboards to walls covered in Post-Its.

Nearly all include plenty of collaborative spaces that encourage communication and you’ll often find board games or leftover frippery from an office event, nestled among the meeting equipment. These are spaces created for people to find a better work-life balance and are as much about relaxing after work, as they are the 9-5 grind.

Why Do You Need an Agile Work Environment?

The truth is you don’t need an Agile work environment.

You need employees; you likely need a decent connection to the internet; you probably need certain equipment; you definitely need a fire exit. However, an Agile work environment brings these elements together in a way that gets the very best out them. It's the alchemical process that transforms a fruitful organisation into something much more than the sum of its parts.

You might not need an Agile office, but developing one is an effective strategy if you're ready to take your business to the next level.  

It’s hardly surprising then, that a 2016 study by strategic outsourcing and energy services company Mitie found that, based on interviews with senior property and facilities directors, more than 70% of UK offices will be Agile work environments by 2020.

And this isn’t a rush for the next “must-have” money-spinning system, an Agile work environment is simply an investment in a way of working that’s proven to deliver real-world results for businesses.

Reducing real estate and running costs

One of the biggest overheads any organisation accrues is office space, yet, our research shows desk occupation is now rarely over 50%. And meeting rooms are being used even less than that.

The Mitie study we referenced predicted that by 2020 the need for commercial office space in the UK will be half that of 2010 and 60% of staff will spend more time working out of the office than in it.

It’s no surprise then, that optimising for an agile work environment and creating smarter working practices can save you significant amounts of money on real estate – we regularly help our clients reduce office cost by between 15% – 35%.

Increased Productivity

Our research also shows that Agile work environments can improve productivity by up to 12%. Unsurprisingly, if you empower employees to work more effectively, that’s exactly what they do. In fact, 61% of executives surveyed in the 12th Annual State of Agile Report said they’d increased productivity by developing an Agile workspace.

Attracting and Retaining Talent

Better results go hand-in-hand with recruiting the best talent, but workers today have more choice over who they work for than ever before. And now they don’t just want Agile work opportunities, they expect them – with 61% of the workforce expecting to choose an Agile position by 2019.

By making your office a desirable place to work you’ll keep your team together and improve morale.

Improved Collaboration

When provided with space to collaborate without worrying about interrupting other employees, your team become more comfortable generating ideas together. Additionally, when creating an Agile work environment, you often become aware of new tools required for greater collaboration.

Better Employee Wellbeing

Making your office a better place to work obviously provides numerous benefits to employees. And, among other things, an Agile work environment has been shown to improve staff wellbeing, increase employees’ sense of achievement and help them find a better work/life balance.

In fact, when O2 decided to run a pilot scheme for their potential Agile work environment, it resulted in 48% of their employees feeling less stressed about work.

An Agile work environment isn’t vital to successfully implementing Agile methodology within your organisation. However, it doubtlessly helps if your employees are set up in a workspace designed to facilitate more effective ways of working.

For some organisations, a complete redesign and refurbishment your offices can help create entirely new ways of working that empowers employees to be more effective and efficient. Developing an Agile work environment doesn't need to be such an expansive process though and many of our clients have achieved significant productivity gains using less obtrusive techniques – for example, considering whether your office furniture is arranged optimally or turning a seldom-used office into a collaborative space. 

What’s most important is understanding that creating an Agile work environment is not a one-size-fits-all process. First, you need to consider what the Agile methodology means to your business and find out what your employees need to be able to work more effectively.

One mistake you can’t afford to make is being resistant to change. While you might originally have set out with the expectation that your designers should sit together, you might quickly discover that actually you need people working on the same sprint sharing a desk to improve communication.

Instead you’ll need to be open minded when your employees communicate tweaks and adjustments that could help them work more effectively.

Click here to download our special report on Agile offices to learn more about how an Agile working environment could improve productivity and increase employee morale within your organisation.

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