The dictionary definition of ‘Agile’ is:
to be fast, nimble, responsive and powerful.
A great word, with many positive connotations. In recent years it has been co-opted into corporate vocabulary, coming to symbolise the aspirational qualities of ideal workplaces. I think it is a word we will hear used with greater frequency by businesses in 2015 and beyond as they focus on longer term expansion plans and real estate requirements.
So what is an agile workplace? Let me start by saying what it is not. An agile workplace is not to be confused with a traditional open plan layout with a degree of cellular space. What we are talking about here is space which provides a range of environments for different kinds of work. It is people-centric and offers choice to employees as to how they conduct and approach their own work tasks. The agile work place seeks to provide an environment which people enjoy working (and socializing) in and where activities can be performed to their maximum efficiency. The outcome of this is both to increase productivity and assist in retaining and attracting talent. So the benefits to businesses are potentially high.
From a design perspective, an agile office will offer flexible space for any activity. It may include:
- Quiet booths for focused work requiring greater concentration
- Collaboration work areas
- Team meeting / open plan project spaces
- Relaxation space designed to enable an increasingly diverse workforce to meet and socialise
- Lockers for personal belongings
- Amenities such as cafes, restaurants
- Telephone conversation space
- Inspirational space
Solutions adopted by businesses will vary according to underlying corporate culture and wider business objectives but agile working has been adopted by a number of world class companies such as Google, BT, BskyB and Unilever. More are expected to follow the trend as they consider future workforce and real estate requirements.
Whilst agile workplaces are now considered to be more desirable – there could be a price tag to consider! The initial construction costs of fitting out an agile work environment may be greater than for a traditional open plan office depending on the level of attention paid to providing high end furnishings, joinery and specialist finishes. However, to counter this expense, it is probable that agile workplaces (which enable better space utilisation) will mean less space needs to be occupied – resulting in lower rental, energy, cleaning and maintenance costs.
I have no doubt that agile workplaces will be in the ascendency for some time as businesses seek to gain competitive advantage through increased innovation, creativity and productivity. In my opinion those that are pro-active, future looking and strategic enough to work out their future corporate requirements and correlate these to their physical office space stand to reap the rewards in terms of a higher value outcome over a longer timeframe …