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    The Agile Work Environment Is Replacing Assigned Seats. Are You Ready?

    Elizabeth Dukes

    You’ve probably heard the term ”agile work environment” tossed around at facility management conferences, but could you define exactly what it means?

    No one can say for certain what the future holds, but an agile work environment ensures you’ll be ready for it.

    Here’s what an agile work environment looks like and why it’s more than just a buzz-phrase.

    Elements of An Agile Work Environment

    Agile working means letting go of the traditional office space and embracing a completely different paradigm. It starts by viewing work as a dynamic set of activities instead of a fixed location. From there, it’s ensuring you have the right space, policies and technology to support this new way of working.

    Specifically, that means:

    • Having the right mix of quiet, private space and collaborative space (also known as activity-based working, or ABW)
    • Having a workplace design that can easily be adjusted as your workforce changes
    • Implementing policies that give employees the freedom and flexibility to work where they can be most productive (such as a remote work policy)
    • Having workplace technology that keeps employees connected to the people, places and resources they need

    The three most popular agile environment options are activity-based working (ABW), office hoteling and hot desking. While all these strategies eliminate assigned desks, each one does it a bit differently.

    In an activity-based working (ABW) environment, employees can reserve rooms, equipment and even work spaces throughout the day, often moving from one place to another as their activities change.

    Office hoteling is a bit more rigid—employees reserve a workspace before they arrive and stay there for the day. In an office that uses hot desking, there are a set number of unassigned workstations available to any member of the workforce on a first-come, first-served basis. When employees arrive at the office, they select an unoccupied desk where they’ll spend their day.

    The Benefits of an Agile Work Environment

    Although the majority of workplaces still have assigned seating, that’s changing fast as executives adapt to the needs of the hyper-connected, mobile workforce.

    In a 2018 CBRE survey, 52 percent of executives said they planned to implement some level of unassigned seating within the next three years.

    This more agile work environment has many benefits, including:

    • Reducing real estate costs and facility management costs
    • Making it easier to accommodate contract workers, consultants and new hires as companies grow
    • Better collaboration and greater employee productivity
    • Contributing to a more positive employee experience, which improves recruitment and retention

    Ultimately, agile working creates an environment that allows employees to be as productive as possible. Sometimes that means having ample opportunities to bounce ideas off their coworkers; other times, it’s being able to work quietly without interruptions.

    Having greater control over their work environment improves employee satisfaction. And happier employees tend to provide better customer service, resulting in longer client relationships and more reliable revenue streams.

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    How to Successfully Implement an Agile Work Environment

    Implementing an agile work environment isn’t a change that’s going to happen overnight.

    Don’t be surprised if you run into some resistance, especially if you’re going to eliminate assigned seats. People can become attached to familiar spaces, but the bigger issue is often that they fear the unknown. They’re afraid of losing their connection to the colleagues they’re used to sitting next to every day. They might be afraid of losing face time with their manager (or losing accountability, if they’re managing others they don’t see as often.)

    Here are a few tips for successfully implementing an agile work environment:

    • Be open and honest about why your organization is making the change, what’s in it for employees and what challenges you’ll need to overcome.
    • Start small. Rather than tearing down all your cubicles at once and declaring the end of assigned seats, try reorganizing workstations into department “clusters” and setting up designated areas for collaboration.
    • Keep an open line of communication between the facility management, IT and HR departments.
    • Make sure employees have an easy way to find people and places, reserve space, request service and stay connected to the tools they need to do their jobs, no matter where they happen to be working.

    Recognizing the need to help employees navigate a more agile work environment, 59 percent of executives who responded to the CBRE survey said they plan to implement mobile apps that enhance the employee experience.

    Having an employee experience app can help ease the transition.

    Shifting to an agile work environment may be an adjustment at first, but the potential to reduce costs and improve productivity make it well worth the effort.

    The global marketplace is changing faster than most of us can keep up. Thanks to technology, the jobs of today will almost certainly be done differently tomorrow, and some may not even exist at all. Other jobs we haven’t even thought of yet may take their place.

    An agile work environment ensures your company will be ready, no matter what happens next.

    Elizabeth Dukes

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Elizabeth Dukes

    Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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