Blog: Designing the agile workplace

Allan Wood of Optima explains the benefits of the agile workplace.

A happy and comfortable employee will be at their most productive when their working environment has been designed to be inclusive and collaborative. Gone are the days when the workplace was simply made up of a desk, a conference room and private offices; the agile working environment is fast becoming the new norm. Research by Mitie found that by 2020 more than 70 percent of UK offices will be agile workspaces, so it’s clearly here to stay.

 The agile way of working is greatly aided by mobile technology which lets employees and businesses make better choices as to when, where and how they work – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. People don’t necessarily want to do all their work at a desk, they would rather make their own decision about the most suitable work setting for them to complete their work. This puts the onus on staff and it also provides greater freedom for a business as they can expand or contract without costly alterations to the physical structure of the office space.

The agile workspace is about creating multiple settings in the working environment for the different ways in which we work. This way of working should optimise staff performance and deliver a more productive working environment. It helps to foster new ideas and encourages communication across different departments. The likes of forward thinking companies such as Google and Facebook think more open, collaborative and flexible office environments are the way forward.

As well as the creation of an efficient and optimal working environment, the agile workspace offers a number of other benefits. In a competitive world, the best staff are attracted and retained when companies create more stimulating workplaces. Companies are also ready for any change and can ensure they don’t waste money on space that is under-utilised.

Workplace zones

The design of the agile workspace isn’t simply about hot-desking and saving businesses money; it will include the creation of a number of different spaces for staff to work, whether it’s in a collaborative bench space, a breakout space with soft seating for brainstorms or relaxing, or a touchdown space which people passing through can use as a base to log-on and recharge. Each space requires choice to suit the different tasks employees undertake.

Whilst the benefits of encouraging collaborative working is clear, there is also the need to provide quiet spaces. If the focus is on gathering places rather than areas for quiet work, staff can think their privacy is compromised, especially if their work requires focus and a great deal of concentration.

When designing the layout of an office, it’s imperative to get the balance right between the collaborative and open agile spaces and the more enclosed quieter areas which give people their own territory. Glass office partitioning enables a design team to create a layout that provides privacy without compromising an agile working agenda. The use of glass partitioning, which offers exceptional acoustic performance, gives the designer the tools to create secure areas which can be used for sensitive or confidential discussions.

Furthermore, full height glazed partitions can be used to create small booths or informal meeting rooms. There are also opportunities to create informal gathering spaces where an agile workforce can meet, socialise and collaborate. If there are changes to a business, the agile workspace can accommodate this, which in turn reduces the cost implications for alterations.

Of course, while design plays a big part in the agile work environment, well integrated and reliable technology, which supports mobility and interactivity is also an intrinsic element. We are no longer chained to a desktop workstation. It’s possible to work anywhere with the right technology, so in the agile workplace, fixed technology is a thing of the past.

The world is getting smaller and people are more agile in the way they work, live and communicate. This needs to be reflected in the modern 21st century office and has potential to reap dividends in the workplace. Agile working isn’t for every company. However, first impressions are extremely positive – barriers are coming down, communication is improving and we’re become more agile with it.

Allan Wood is sales director for Optima