There is much discussion around the concept of “the Agile office” and it is still a definition in the making, but in layman’s terms it helps to facilitate flexibility and team work. In order to demonstrate the meaning or functionality of an Agile Office, I’m going to compare a restaurant choice for dinner.
In a restaurant that can seat 200 people, the seating area is rectangular with tables and chairs spaced evenly and to maximise use of available space. There is decent lighting, the cutlery, crockery and glassware, furnishing and artwork are all of a respectable quality, neat and clean.
In a restaurant that can seat 200 people, the seating area is divided into a outside undercover balcony that includes a smoking area. Inside is a bar area with televisions that show major sport games when they are on. The rest of the inside area is populated with tables of various sizes, some near the window and others near the kids play area. There are also benches with smaller tables and plugs near by for the business woman/man who is working remotely. There is a comfortable waiting area near the door for customers waiting for a table. There is decent lighting, the cutlery, crockery and glassware are furnishing are all of a respectable quality, neat and clean. There is also art on the walls that showcase local artists.
There is nothing wrong with Option 1, although the business woman/man, the smoker, the family and the sports lovers may bypass this restaurant and head to Option 2 which appeals to the needs of a wider variety of potential customers. In the same way an office that offers employees of various ages, cultures, skill sets and working styles (as well as clients/visitors) an array of spaces to meet, work and relax, is most likely to harvest a dynamic and engaged workforce, not to mention top talent. The atmosphere in the office, the flow and the functionality of the space also reflects the company culture.
These are a few examples of agile spaces, technologies and policies that could be incorporated into a office to enhance flexibility and the flow of people and information:
- Meeting rooms: Accommodate 6 – 8 users at a time; A monitor/screen that can be plugged into from a mobile device such as a laptop, tablet or cellphone for presentations; A whiteboard/flipchart for brainstorming; Power that is easily accessible to keep devices charged; Privacy, a space that is cordoned off or completely walled off by glass or walls.
- Booths: Providing semi-private as well as comfortable meeting spaces, these can be incorporated into an open plan because the high walls have a “blinker-effect”, minimizing visual and sound distractions. By adding a power-set and a working tablet the space becomes even more versatile.
- Individual Pods: A single seater sofa with high walls, a built in working tablet and power-set, allows employees to do individual work and signals to others that they do not wish to be disturbed. Think how much a business traveler would appreciate a pod in a Airport lounge for example.
- Stand-up meeting table in an open plan office, this allows for informal, focused discussions or team huddle. It is also at a comfortable height for note-taking.
- Employee Lounges: An area where clients or customers are not going walk in on a joke that is being enjoyed by co-workers over lunch. A space to relax, make coffee, eat and chat. It is both inviting and a functional space where internal notices can be posted or birthday candles blown out. A smoking stoep/balcony can also serve as such a space.
- Dedicated waiting areas or lounges where informal meetings can happen with clients. Such spaces are generally located near the entrance, and there tends to be a coffee or tea station near by as well as restrooms. A stranger entering such a space triggers a welcome and offer to assist from an employee.
- Fast connecting WiFi is essential and can play a massive roll in lowering frustration levels in any office
- Power-sets that are easily accessible (on meeting and boardroom tables, on desk-tops, booths, pods and in lounges
- Flexible hours tends to results in happier employees who can manage their work day around need and not their lives around their work schedules.
- Secure parking bays
- A kitchen with the basics (fridge, kettle, coffee, tea)
- Training Packs for new employees, from making them feel welcome to helping them navigate the server, and providing essential information regarding company policies or internal protocols.
- And mobility – ease of moving furniture and transforming the function of a space, eg. from a boardroom to a training room.
An agile office needs to be built around the needs, culture and structure of each company, add a little of this and take away some of that until the balance is right. Also note that “Offering fun” work spaces may not lead to deeper employee engagement.” (Haworth), Clumsy attempts to add bean bags or a foosball table in some cases just end up occupying valuable space. Design and adapt the space around the needs of your business and the wellbeing of your employees, whilst maximising the use of space.
By Nushke Grobler
Product and Marketing Manager
Steelcase, Creating the Conditions for Agile
Haworth, Workplace Design Tips For Well-being
Nandos Ashford Restaurant by Black Sheep Interior Design
Minimalist Restaurant design by Zavier Wainstein