The benefits of an agile working environment

The world of work is changing and, with it, the need for a more agile approach is growing. Just as there are opportunities associated with this fresh approach to work, there are also a fair number of challenges to consider. The first is perhaps how to “sell” the concept. In order to convince every decision-maker within an organisation, not to mention the employees involved, that a move to agile is a worthwhile venture you must be able to communicate the benefits. Those benefits will, of course, differ between organisations and sectors; and agile working won’t always be appropriate. But let’s assume it is – the “let’s go agile” campaign will fall on deaf ears if you haven’t made the benefits crystal clear.

In the UK, we define agile working as a range of ways of working, enabled by mobile technology, that let people and organisations make better choices about when, where and how they work. These days we see mobility within the office as being as important as mobility away from the office.

Why is this? Well, it’s become clear that desks in large office buildings are thoroughly underused – utilisation studies routinely identify usage of 50% or less – and that means that people don’t always need a desk all day. They need a desk for some tasks, but not for others. As well as the cost of poor utilisation, there is also a significant environmental issue given that this empty capacity is being lit and cooled all the time, generating CO2 even when nobody is there. But there’s more to it than that; providing people with a greater range of choices and empowering those choices will result in a better supported, more productive workforce.

All of that said, the desire to remain ‘unchanged’ will usually trump the desire for change. The way you behave is a set of habits that you’ve grown accustomed to over the years. They are comfortable, like an old sweater. You put them on, you don’t need to think about them and you know what you’re doing pretty much without thinking. But when you have to do things differently, you spend much more mental energy, and it’s more tiring. If there is no need to change, why would you do it?

Well, as with most things, the “why” lies in the reward. As our friend Socrates points out, ‘the secret of change is to focus all your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.’ And you can’t build the new if people don’t understand what the “new” looks like or what the benefits might be.

There are many benefits associated with flexible and agile working practices. Here are just five:

Attract and retain talent:

Whether you agree that millennials are going to shake up the workplace world, one thing’s sure – their expectations are probably higher, thanks to the media frenzy parading the likes of Google for their cool workplaces and flexible approaches. Those entering the world of work for the first time will obviously go after whatever they can get – the freedom associated with agile working can be a big plus! People want access to the ways of working that enable them to do their best – not to “make do” with what is provided to everyone.

Companies that maintain an outstanding reputation as employers often place the workplace at the heart of their agenda. This investment demonstrates that employees are valued. Employees that feel looked after are usually a lot more loyal than those that aren’t.

Increased productivity

Declining levels of productivity bring about the need for radical change. Agile working is one of the many initiatives that can contribute to improvements in organisational and individual effectiveness. Smart workplace design and management can help elevate productivity and morale – but usually only if accompanied by a genuine desire to change the way people work, manage and lead. To be motivated, engaged and to perform at an optimum level, people need an efficient, effective, energised environment.

Smart workspace utilisation:

From our work with clients over the last twenty-five years, it appears many companies are spending money on office space that isn’t being used. As the cost of real estate continues to soar, organisations are literally throwing their money away – forking out for empty chairs at empty desks isn’t the best way to maximise ROI. The introduction of agile working can free up office space for other work purposes that aren’t being catered for today, and/or enable the space to support more people (avoiding the need to take more space).

Reduce carbon footprint:

Agile working can be deployed to make better use of people and space assets, which can greatly improve sustainability while reducing cost and a company’s carbon footprint. If you allow for an element of homeworking as part of the move to agile, then this also potentially supports a reduction in car journeys. What’s more, designing a new, agile-ready office offers the opportunity to “go green” as you do so… make the most of the ‘new office, new start’ mentality!

Ready for change:

The whole point of going agile is to speedily facilitate change. If you have an agile environment, then you have less limitations; you can cater to fluctuations in staff numbers and you can also respond to the way different people prefer to work (both existing and new recruits).

In short, agile workplaces enable employees to operate in an environment that best suits their personal working styles and activity portfolios. Embracing a move to agile means organisations are also safeguarding themselves in the face of future challenges. But once you’ve communicated the benefits of agile working, the next step is to understand how to best implement the associated working arrangements.

In helping workplace specialists to tackle agile workplace change, we developed a training course which provides a fast track simulation of how to deliver and sustain agile working – including a whole module devoted to “selling” agile. This Agile Working Bootcamp (part of a range of Performance Innovation Network (PIN) activities) has been run across the world and reminds everyone involved that the process of leading behavioural transformation is no easy feat. But it is possible if you help people buy into the benefits!

About Karen Plum

Karen is responsible for AWA’s research and development activities undertaken under AWA’s Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN). A Business studies graduate, Karen spent her earlier career in HR before joining AWA, over 10 years ago. In her consulting work, Karen specialises in working as a senior coach with leaders, supporting them in creating the conditions to bring about strategic change in the way their people work.

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  1. Hi,
    Interesting article, however, if this concept of Agile working is going to be promoted please be aware that it has the potential cause a great deal of confusion in some workplaces.

    Agile is an internationally recognised project management methodology that orginially grew out of software development but has become more common place in small organisations that look at incremental project developments rather than using heavily proscriptive methods like PRINCE2.

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