Agile Working Is The New Reality. Are You Ready?

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on March 26, 2020
Your Guide to Success With Activity-Based Working

Forward-thinking business leaders have seen the value of agile working for years. Now, with many regions requiring all but essential employees to work from home to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, agile practices have quickly evolved from trend to necessity.

Right now, your workforce may be primarily or even entirely remote, but when your office reopens, there’s a good chance at least some employees will continue to work at home more often. Rather than worrying about an office half-empty, you can see it as an office half-full—an opportunity to make the workplace better for everyone, even if they aren’t there every day.

If you’re thinking about making a more permanent transition to agile working, here are five employee concerns you’ll want to consider first.

What Is Agile Working?

Advanced Workplace Associates, a UK consulting group, has been helping organizations transition to agile working for the past three decades. They define agile working as “a spectrum of working arrangements that enable people to work when, how and where they like.”

Embracing agile working doesn’t just mean establishing an open-office floor plan or giving employees the option to work remotely. It requires employers to expand their definition of the workplace itself. They must recognize that it’s more than simply a physical location—it’s an ecosystem of employees connected by technology.

Successfully transitioning to agile working is fundamentally about good change management. It requires several key elements, including:

  • An activity-based workplace design that allows employees to work where they work best
  • Agile policies that provide guidance for where, when and how work happens
  • Management that supports and builds trust with employees
  • Agile workplace technology that makes it easy for employees to work anywhere

An agile work environment is flexible and can be easily adapted to meet the needs of the workforce. Examples of agile working include:

  • Activity-based working (ABW): Employees can select from a variety workspaces (such as private rooms, conference rooms and collaborative areas) and are invited to move freely between them throughout the day.
  • Hot desking: Employees choose from a set of unassigned workstations that are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are encouraged to regularly select different locations to encourage collaboration.
  • Hoteling: While similar to hot desking in that employees choose from a pool of available workstations, office hoteling requires employees to reserve a workspace prior to arriving at the office.

Agile working empowers employees by giving them access to the spaces, policies and technologies they need to collaborate with their colleagues, no matter where they’re working.

However, employers who take the wrong approach to implementing an agile work environment risk creating a poor employee experience that inhibits productivity and engagement instead of supporting it. Here are five employee concerns you need to address if you want to succeed with agile working.

5 Questions Employees Will Have About Agile Working

Where will I put my belongings?

By eliminating assigned desks, you’re encouraging employees to be more active throughout the day. This creates more opportunities for spontaneous conversation and collaboration, which contribute to a positive workplace experience. However, eliminating assigned seating also means employees won’t have a dedicated desk to stash their belongings in during the day.

The Solution: Intelligent Lockers

Intelligent lockers are customizable electronic locker systems that employees can use to securely store their belongings, like backpacks, coats or gym bags. They’re perfect for agile work environments because they can be reserved, assigned and reassigned by any employee throughout the day. Because intelligent locker systems are customizable and modular, they can be configured and reconfigured to meet the changing needs of your organization.

How will I find a place to sit?

Not everyone arrives at the workplace at the same time every day. In agile work environments (particularly those with hot desking, which is first-come, first-served), employees who tend to start their days a little later won’t have access to as many workspace options as employees who arrive earlier. Additionally, if a traditionally early bird employee has a commitment that prevents them from coming in until after their usual arrival time, they may find their preferred area of the office already occupied. Failing to account for these scenarios means employees will have to spend valuable time searching for an available workstation.

The Solution: Digital Signage and Room Reservation Software

Digital signage is a self-service technology that allows employees to view interactive maps of the workplace. When integrated with room reservation software, digital signage can be used by employees to find and instantly reserve available workspaces. Employers can install these digital displays at the entrance so employees can find and book a workstation as soon as they arrive. Plus, room reservation software can be connected to Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to ensure the status of workspaces is always up-to-date.

How will I find people on my team?

The average employee attends three meetings every day, so it’s entirely possible for two people who need to catch up quickly about an important matter to repeatedly miss opportunities to connect. In a traditional office environment, employees can at least leave important messages or mail on their colleague’s desk. In an agile work environment, the lack of permanent seating and permanent neighbors makes this more challenging.

The Solution: Wayfinding Kiosks

Wayfinding kiosks are a specific type of digital signage that leverages integrations with your employee directory, room reservation software and IoT sensors to make it easy for employees to find their coworkers. They can search for their colleagues by name and easily find where they are working that day, along with directions to get there. This is especially helpful for organizations with multiple floors or buildings. As an added bonus, visitors and guests can use wayfinding kiosks to help them find employees, too.

How can I minimize distractions?

One of the primary goals of agile working is to foster greater collaboration by breaking down barriers between employees and departments. However, because it makes everyone more accessible, it can also add to the interruptions and distractions your workforce experiences throughout the day.

Research shows the average employee in the modern workplace is interrupted every 12 minutes, and it takes them 23 minutes to refocus on their work each time.

For extroverted employees who thrive in energetic, boisterous settings, this may not be a significant problem. For introverted employees who prefer a quieter, more low-key environment, it can have a big impact on productivity.

The Solution: Thoughtful Office Design

Controlling office noise requires making careful, deliberate decisions about all aspects of your office design. First, ensure you have plenty of designated quiet areas for employees to engage in deep work. Make sure these spaces aren’t located too close to high-traffic areas such as the kitchen, huddle zones or conference rooms. Investing in acoustic furniture, which is constructed with particular dimensions and fabrics specifically to reduce office noise, can also help you create a quieter environment. Consider other options, such as wall panels, baffles and flooring designed to minimize sound, too.

How long will it take to get set up every day?

One common concern employees have about agile working is the time it will take them to get set up each day. They like having their own monitor, their own seat and familiar surroundings. Making all your office equipment uniform and interchangeable, and training employees on how to adjust items will ease this concern. Encouraging employees to keep shared desk spaces clean by wiping them down after each use, and keeping personal belongings to a minimum, will also make desk sharing easier.

The Solution: Employee Experience (EX) App

An employee experience (EX) app is powered by your organization’s integrated workplace management system (IWMS) and provides employees with a user-friendly way to submit and track service requests. Instead of having to make do without important technology or waste time looking for another workstation, employees can enter a maintenance request with detailed notes about the problem and even include photos to help make it easier for the service technician to fix the issue with just a few taps on their mobile device.

Adopt Agile Practices That Work For Everyone

The evolution of agile working is something we’ve seen for years, but recent events have made it all but inevitable. In many ways, this is a positive change for workplace leaders and employees. Agile working improves space utilization, giving workplace leaders greater flexibility in their approach to real estate. Rather than locking in another five-, 10- or 15-year lease, they can make better use of their existing office space.

Meanwhile, employees enjoy the flexibility of being able to choose whether they work remotely or in the office, depending on the work they’re doing on a given day.

The most effective way to get employees on board with the transition to agile working is to be consistent, transparent and lead by example. Proactively share your organization’s reasons for moving to an agile work environment and listen to your employees’ concerns. Communicate frequently and ask for feedback as you move into this new reality. Make sure you have the right workplace technology in place to make this transition easier for everyone. That includes technology that allows employees to find people and places and reserve space, no matter where they’re working.

Most importantly, demonstrate your enthusiasm for the change so employees feel confident trusting in the company’s vision.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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