Understanding the agile work environment

4 September 2020

With the change in the nature of our work, the nature of the workplace has transformed too. Advancements in technology have allowed for employees to be productive without being restricted to a rigid or 'traditional' workspace. 

The agile workspace of today tries to create an environment that offers employees the freedom and flexibility to work as they choose to within the office. It also allows for the choice to work remotely. By approaching work as an activity rather than a place, the emphasis is more on productivity and eliminating any barriers to achieving objectives.

What does an agile workspace look like?

Frank Gafa black and white portrait photo

“An agile work environment allows workers to utilise different spaces during the work day rather than being at a single desk,” said Frank Gafa (BA ’15), Monash University Branch Organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

“This can take many forms with hot-desking being the most common. For example, when I worked at Deakin University, I often switched between working at the same desk at one of their campuses, while I hot-desked at other times, and even liked working at a café at times, in between meetings.”

Apart from hot-desking and working from outside the office, there are other components to creating an agile workplace.  According to Allwork.Space, an online publication focusing on flexible workspaces, these include:

  • An open floor plan – To allow for easy collaboration between employees, efficient use of office space.
  • Breakout areas – To foster creativity beyond the confines of a typical conference room. They allow space to eat, relax, and have ad-hoc brainstorm sessions.
  • Quiet zones – Hot spots for focused projects, on-demand concentration, or confidential conversations.
  • Touchdown areas – For overflow workers to utilise, especially if they’re only in the office periodically. Used for short tasks, like answering email or knocking out quick assignments.
  • Easy access to resources – Employees should have access to physical documentation, equipment, supplies, printers, and copiers when needed.

Benefits to Agile

An agile workspace allows employees to choose the type of work spaces that are suited to their working style. This can lead to greater satisfaction levels as employees feel empowered and valued. For a company, this can translate to improved productivity and improved employee retention levels.

Optimal use of floor space compared to the conventional office, brings cost savings for the business. The open layout and work culture, with the use of technology, can lead to improved communication, collaboration and creative problem-solving. Recent workspace research by the Manpower Group showed 79 per cent of employees preferred an agile workspace, with this number even higher among younger workers.

Frank notes that agile working is beneficial where individual needs are considered and workers are involved in decision making.

“It is not suitable for all workers. Hot-desking and choosing between private and communal spaces is beneficial when it is appropriate for the work being done. Working from home has benefits for people in large cities who have to travel long hours. It also allows people with families to spend more quality time with children and spouses.”

Role of technology

Technology is almost integral to the agile work environment, especially when hot-desking, working on multiple sites and working from home.

“Staff need to have access to their own laptop as they change workspaces,” said Frank. “There is also a need for strong IT infrastructure so that files and work can be stored in a secure cloud based system for easy access when working in different spaces.

“There needs to be investment in technologies like video conferencing and collaborative tools that allow multiple people connect and work together with their fellow workers.”

With the shift to remote working due to the current pandemic, Frank feels it will have to be carefully considered in a post-COVID world.

“While some people are more productive with changing work spaces, like home offices, there are still staff who work best in a traditional working environment. These preferences have to be balanced in any post COVID-19 workplace.”

As we continue to adjust to the ‘new normal’, many workplaces across industries are moving away from traditional offices, fixed hours and work stations. With employees preferring the flexibility to work remotely – especially in the current times – agile work environments might well be here to stay. Though it is crucial for organisations to consider if their people and processes are ready to make the shift from ‘traditional’ to ‘agile’.

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