What is an Agile Work Environment, Really?
By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” -Ferris Bueller
When he said those words back in 1984, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) was trying to justify skipping school for the day. Little did the world realize how prophetic that statement would become. In 2020, the world moves so fast that even in workplaces, employees bounce from place to place, hardly standing still long enough to appreciate their lunch. The corporate term for this beehive level of activity? Workplace agility.
What is an agile work environment? By definition, it’s a workplace that accommodates the changing demands of employees. A single space might serve 10 different purposes at 10 different times for 10 different groups of people. The ability to quickly move in and out of these spaces is what makes them agile.
But the concept of an agile work environment goes far beyond simply adapting space to employee needs. A truly agile work environment gives employees the means to stay productive—and, if they choose, to stop and look around for a minute so they don’t miss what’s happening around them.
Tools to stay agile and productive
The main concept of an agile work environment is flexibility. Namely, employees need to be flexible enough to adapt to the tasks they’re given. In a single day, they might answer emails at their desk, sit down with a group in a meeting room, meet with clients in another room, attend a lunch-and-learn in the café, and participate in a brainstorming session—all before heading back to their workspace. In agile environments, work happens everywhere and it’s rarely uniform or stationary.
Based on these notions, the biggest variable in employee agility is workspace. In the example above, an employee moves throughout the building, utilizing different spaces for different purposes. Each space must support the task at hand. When you factor in five, 10, or 100 employees, it’s evident that few spaces need to play many roles.
Giving workers the tools to stay agile and productive means giving them the right space. They’ll bring their own technology and purpose to every space they visit—what they need is an environment that’s as agile as they are.
Characteristics of an agile environment
What makes a workspace agile and flexible? Surprisingly, the characteristics are simple and easy to understand:
- Access: Agility equals flow. Employees need to seamlessly move into and out of spaces. Doors, walls, and other elements may create barriers to flexibility. People don’t like being confined, especially when their workstyles are dynamic.
- Comfort: Work tasks vary, but comfort is universally required to get work done. Employees who are uncomfortable, on-edge, displaced, or jarred by their temporary environment will spend more time adapting than working.
- Peace: Providing a level of privacy, peace, and quiet is difficult in open, agile spaces. The lower the level of interruption you can bring to a workspace, the easier it is for workers to stay on-task.
- Adaptability: Can someone rearrange the furniture, if necessary? Is there room for a standing desk? Are there enough electrical outlets? Understand the common needs of employees and you’ll ensure the space can accommodate them.
Attention to design can enhance these fundamental attributes. Good lighting and greenery promote peace. Smart technology supports access and adaptability. Good furniture lends itself to comfort. The details matter in an agile space.
Agile workspace types
An agile work environment is made up of many smaller, flexible workspaces, but there’s nothing to say they need to be the same—or even similar. There’s broad variance in what an agile workspace looks like and how it functions, and diversity of space types is a boon for workers whose tasks become more varied by the day. Some examples include:
- Breakout meeting spaces
- Experiential spaces
- Open plan spaces
- Quiet work zones
- Resource spaces
- Touchdown and overflow areas
While they may look different, these spaces function in the same way—they account for on-demand needs and conform to diverse expectations. They are what they need to be, when they need to be.
Is your workplace agile?
Just because people are constantly in motion—bounding from space to space and task to task—doesn’t mean you operate an agile workplace. Agility isn’t measured solely in speed. It’s also measured in flexibility and accommodation. If you want an agile workforce, you need to support them with flexible spaces. Give them an environment that adapts to their needs and the business will reap the benefits of a workforce that’s engaged, enabled, and efficient.
If we learn anything from Ferris Bueller, it’s not how to skip school, but rather how to adapt to whatever the day throws at you.
Keep reading: How Agile is Your Real Estate?