8 Tips to Encourage Collaboration in the Agile Workplace
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So you’ve decided to transition your office into an agile workplace. Super! You’re sketching new layouts with breakout rooms, phone banks, meeting spaces, and lockers for personal items. You’re imagining the innovative ideas that will flood from your employees once all barriers to collaboration have been removed. You’re crunching the numbers to figure out what your company will save on lower absenteeism rates and energy costs.
And you’re developing your change management plan, right?
Even though you’re sold on the benefits of an agile workspace design, and even though you’ve gotten the C-suite to buy in, your biggest challenge will probably be getting the rest of the company to fall in love with the new office design and layout – and changes to the way they are used to working. Planning for objections and anticipating obstacles as you plan and implement the new agile workplace layout will be critical to its success.
Fear not—here are five creative strategies you can use during planning, implementation and beyond to get people on board:
1. Set examples
When Dun & Bradstreet transitioned to an open office in the early 2000s, the CEO was one of the first to start working in the middle of the open space. Many employees, especially those who have been with your company for several years and “earned” perks like private offices, will be reluctant to give up what they see as “their” space. If you have an agile workplace layout for all the lower-level employees, but your managers, VPs, and C-suite stay in their offices, it sends mixed messages and breeds resentment.
2. Form an advocacy team
In the early stages of agile workplace planning, identify those who will be your “early adopters” or biggest advocates for the change. Then, identify those who will be the biggest opponents. Facilitate a discussion between these two groups where you seek to understand the fears and concerns of the opponents. Work with the advocates to determine how best to overcome these objections.
As you plan and begin to implement the new office design, your advocates can become your on-the-ground team to answer questions and help employees adjust to the new ways of working. Make sure everyone knows who these people are and that employees will be comfortable sharing concerns with them (meaning, a good number should be lower-level employees, not managers). This team can also report on what’s working or not working throughout the transition.
3. Encourage input and participation in planning
Invite people to share their ideas and give them ways to feel “ownership” over the new office layout, even if they won’t have an individual desk anymore. When one software company moved from a traditional office setup to an agile workplace, they had a naming competition for the new collaborative spaces. Get employees to submit ideas for names and then let everyone vote on their favorites.
If your workplace layout will include “neighborhoods” for different teams or departments, let them design and decorate the space (within reason—you can let them pick paint colors from a pre-selected color palette, for example). If people complain because they want to display family photographs or personal items at their desks, you could have a designated “photo wall” for people to share those snapshots. It may even be a conversation-starter that leads to collaboration as employees from different departments get to know each other.
4. Empower employees to make the best decisions
Extrovert/introvert, early birds/night owls, sprinters/marathoners—everyone has a different “ideal” work environment. This is one of the things an agile workplace addresses. Yes, the point is to let people work in settings designed for different tasks, but they also have the choice to work near the window if that energizes them or in a more enclosed room if the street views are distracting. Introducing flexible time policies can make it easier for those who work best in the morning to come in earlier, and employees who get late surges of energy can adopt a slightly later schedule.
If they haven’t already, this is a great time to encourage employees to take assessments like the Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder). Challenge them to consider how they can use their results to work best in the new agile workplace. This will show you’re committed to helping them work best.
5. Recognize and reward the behaviors your agile workplace is designed to foster
Some companies will set clear objectives or goals, like working in a brand-new space at least once a week. You can offer monthly rewards for the teams that accomplish these goals. Encourage employees to share when they successfully collaborate or how the new office design is helping them be more productive.
Make sure you recognize employees who propose ideas and allow those to surface organically. Several companies, like ThinkShout and General Assembly have daily “plank meetings” where employees can choose to drop to the floor and hold a plank position for a set amount of time. These are the kind of community-building activities you want to see in an agile workplace, but at both ThinkShout and General Assembly, they were started by a couple employees or a small group. Offer suggestions, but let your employees come up with their own ideas. Maybe you’ll start seeing groups doing squats or impromptu yoga poses in the new open spaces. When you do, share the idea and recognize those who got it going.
Transitioning to an agile workplace isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be constantly stressful. With some forethought and planning, it can actually be fun—and you’ll probably be surprised by your employees’ creativity and enthusiasm when you get them involved.