Agile working is one of the most common buzz phrases surrounding workplace design and fit-out, but few know what it really means.
The UCL describes it as ‘the ability to work in variable locations to complete the tasks necessary to your job on any given day’. Specialist consultants, The Agile Organisation, take this further: ‘Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task’.
More businesses are being switched on to the concept of agile working as a reaction to ineffective and outdated methods of working. The UK and Ireland Leesman Index reveals only 53% of respondents agree that their workplace allows them to work productively. Agile working environments are helping to combat this issue, making employees work more effectively.
Another key driver behind the emergence of agile working is a shift in the workforce demographic. Millennials are the first generation of workers who have grown up knowing nothing but the advances that mobile technology has brought. Millennial workers place different demands on employees than their baby boomer and gen-x predecessors. The notion of working in an autocratic environment chained to a fixed desk in a sea of desks, is completely alien to them and what they have grown accustomed to through the education system.
As a consequence, social areas traditionally found on university and college campuses, such as tiered bleacher seating and communal social hubs, are now featuring in workplace designs as a means of attracting the best millennial talent.
The open-plan environment remains the cornerstone of the new workplace. Fixed-user desks are being replaced by unallocated workstations. Sit-stand desks give users the flexibility to move position throughout the working day, for optimal comfort.
Away from the desk, there’s a multitude of places which empower individuals and teams to decide how they want to work. Here are some of the agile work settings found in the new workplace environment:
Booth seating is a great example of how furniture can now be used in multiple ways. Often resembling a cafe diner footprint, booth seating can indeed be used for dining and socialising. It’s primary use however, is for bringing small teams together for project meetings where a degree of privacy is required, without the formality of using a meeting room. It is the epitome of collaborative working and one of the key settings in the agile workplace.
Communal bench desking, featured at both standard height and poseur height with stools, is another piece of multi-function furniture. Office Designers will often plan them into social hubs, given them a ‘family’ kitchen table feel, enabling colleagues to dine and socialise in groups. Throughout the working day, you can meet colleagues for informal one-to-ones, or work alone from a laptop or tablet.
The communal bench is also being used in an open space which previously may have housed a meeting room. Away from the social hub and breakout spaces, the communal bench has a more defined purpose, making it perfect for project and team-based activities.
Originating from American college campuses, this tiered seating product has taken on a new purpose in agile office environments. Bleachers are easily configurable, and combine storage with seating. They are ideal for lone working, having impromptu meetings in a casual space, or bringing together the whole office for informal team meetings.
Pods have emerged as a flexible, demountable replacement for traditional partitioned meeting rooms. For fast-paced businesses who need to re-configure their office space frequently, meeting pods can offer significant cost savings compared to their partitioned counterparts.
They offer a wide range of options, shapes and sizes, making them ideal for meeting rooms and lone-worker quiet rooms, offering privacy and quiet.
Soft seating areas have been a regular feature of workplace designs for many years. They were typically found in reception areas and to break up banks of desks to create informal meeting areas in open plan offices.
In the agile workspace, heavily influenced by our obsession with coffee shop culture, soft seating has become a key feature of social hubs and casual dining areas within the workplace. Cheap, plyform stacking chairs have been consigned to history, replaced with stylish, design-led chairs that would look as equally at home in a hotel lobby or a Starbucks. This is another fusion of external influences which feature heavily in agile workplace design.
Wing back chairs with integral bluetooth and wireless charging enable workers to get away from a desk and work in isolation and comfort, improving concentration and productivity.
As the influential Stoddart Review (2016) states: “The route to productivity is no longer just about delivering more, but also about delivering in a smarter way”. This is why agile working is here to stay.