Is Agile Working More Productive?

Is Agile Working More Productive?

These experts have told us that Agile working is the future, and here’s why.

It’s early morning, you’re sat on the sofa with a hot beverage and breakfast and you’re already checking your work emails on your phone.  You settle down at your kitchen table or home workspace for the morning to get a large task done.  You go out onto the balcony or into the garden to make a phone call away from your other half or children at some point during the day.  In the afternoon you try to work on your phone whilst homeschooling.  In the evening you have your laptop out on the bed whilst you finish some work late into the night.

Does any of this sound familiar?  If it does then you’re already doing agile working.

Agile working is using different spaces in your work environment for different purposes and tasks and we’re reliably informed that agile working is the future of not just office design but of working life.  We spoke to four office designers and architects about the future of office design and they all said that agile working is what staff will need to be more productive.

Nicola from Peldon Rose (an office Design company in London) spoke in depth about the different types of spaces offices will need such as:

Pods or private spaces for phone calls; High tables and bar stalls for collaboration and tam projects; Informal Meeting Spaces like tables with chairs in the middle of offices; Large spaces for meetings, which can then be broken down into smaller spaces; Quiet areas for focussed work; Break out areas to get away from work 

All of these different types of spaces give workers the best chance to be at their most comfortable and to achieve their best work.  If you’re working from home right now and reading this I’m sure you can appreciate the necessity of having different spaces for different activities. 

Crucially both Nicola and Oliver Heath (Architect and Biophilic Design Consultant) both stressed the importance of workers having a desk of their own, a space to call home within the office.  Humans are naturally territorial creatures and it’s important that a safe and personal space is maintained for each staff member.  None of the designers we spoke to mentioned taking away people’s desks entirely.  But just having a desk that you’re sat at for 8 hours a day, doesn’t provide the best environment for everyone to be productive.

The recent trend for open plan offices with banks of desks has been found lacking.  It doesn’t provide the type of workspace that suits everybody.  Women in particular feel judged, constantly evaluated and exposed in open plan offices according to a Yahoo report. Also the open plan office doesn’t work for every personality type, because although it supposed to provide opportunities for collaboration and communication, it can overwhelm shyer personalities, and even for the gregarious types can provide constant distractions from work.  

Then there is the fact that so many of us have to deal with life admin whilst at work, and do we want everyone to know about our child care/sick parents/mortgage application/fights with partners/arguments with customer service/boiler appointments etc? Probably not, which is why it’s so key to have different types of spaces for these different tasks.

If you are planning an office move or redesign, Nicola stresses the importance of a designer getting to know how the company works, what the work flow is, how the teams work together (or not), and what the processes are in the running of the business.  The office layout is then designed around the needs of each team and the company as a whole, taking careful consideration over what spaces are needed before any of the design elements are added.

Oliver Heath is in agreement with this, but as a biophilic consultant he also stresses the need for people to have access to sunshine, fresh air, natural light (if possible with a view of the outside) and enriching materials like plants and art.  The results of adding these elements are remarkable with huge increases in performance and productivity recorded.

When we get back to working in an office, we may take stock of the old way of working and realise it doesn’t suit us any more.  We may in fact be more inclined to call in sick because we just can’t face the prospect of going back to a rigid way of working.  Our experts predict that plenty of staff will be enabled to work from home, which will increase productivity to a degree, but what about when we are actually in the office?  What can companies do in the short term to create productive spaces for agile working?

Here are some suggestions from the designers and architects we spoke to:

  • Open up the meeting rooms for anyone to use at any time, not just for meetings, but also for focussed work.
  • If you have empty desks, remove them and put a round table with colourful chairs there, for informal meetings.
  • Make your kitchen and break out spaces feel very different and more relaxed than the rest of the office.  You can achieve this with coloured walls, funky plates, accent furniture, vases and rugs and other homey touches.
  • You can zone different spaces by using colour and texture, either on the walls with paint, art and foliage, or on the floor with carpet.
  • Use impact pieces of art in different areas to reflect the personality of each team.  Perhaps the sales team want bold, colourful and figurative, whereas the IT team might want small pieces of data-driven art and the account managers might want a rotating display that changes every few months.
  • Ask teams to curate their own spaces with plants and art - we heard from Dr Craig Knight that this increases productivity by 35% and staff wellness by up to 42%.
  • Designate an area of the office for private phone calls or you could even add a pod or buy an old-fashioned red telephone box like Clifford Chance did.
  • Provide access to laptops, surfaces and iPads, so that staff can freely pick these up and move to a different space for focussed work or meetings.
  • Encourage people to chat and have water cooler moments, so that they get up and move around the office and return with a fresh focus.
  • Move or add furniture like screens to get away from the feeling of banks of desks and move more towards blocks of workspace for each team.

Our experts all predict that agile working is the future of workplace design, but they want to encourage companies to start thinking about it now, before people get back to the office, to anticipate what their staff will want and need when life gets back to a semblance of normality.