5 reasons why the time for Agile workplace is now

March 13th, 2017

Agility in the workplace is not something radically new. The 90s popularized desk sharing as a means to save money, but didn’t exactly turn out to be the home run most had hoped for. Lacking the technology, support and systems, most organizations were unable to reap the benefits of such work arrangements without lowering the productivity.

Today we see a new wave of agile initiatives, where the above weaknesses have finally been overcome, resulting in a modern office of increased worker productivity and satisfaction, coupled with significant cost savings.

Still not convinced that the timing is right? Read on below for 5 reasons why the time is now.

Advancements in technology innovations

Technology is changing how we interact, think and work. Consider what technology we take for granted today that didn’t exist a mere 10 years ago; smartphones that allow us to keep in touch no matter whether you’re on the subway or at home, computers so powerful and light that we can bring them with us everywhere, wireless internet so fast that we can stream high-definition video or access any number of documents from anywhere.

These innovations and many more has monumentally increased the mobility and productivity of workers all over the world. The upside is that workers can contribute effectively and meaningfully no-matter if they’re in a coffee shop, a hotel room or at a customer site. On the flipside, with a higher fluidity in the workforce, this mobility is impacting the office utilization rate.

Studies show that the average desk utilization rate in US and Europe between 8am and 5pm is a mere 35–50 percent. Take a look around your office at any given time and count how many desks that are empty and you’ll probably be surprised of the desk utilization rate.

Technology that enable a agile workplace to stay productive include modern collaboration tools, communications tools like instant messaging, and teleconferencing, as well as tech that ease the physical implications of an agile environment such as booking desks or rooms, or finding colleagues.

Key question to ask yourself: How mobile is our workforce? And does our office space reflect that mobility?


The Age of Collaboration

Much of work as we know it is transforming from traditional “head-down” work, where employees sit at their desk and hack away, to more collaborative team efforts. Head-down work will still be relevant in some cases, just not as the norm it used to be. The old saying that “work is not somewhere you go, it’s something you do” couldn’t be more true today.

In the office space development, a lot of companies are opting for a workplace where the physical environment is designed to facilitate interactions. In our innovation driven economy, the next stroke of genius could appear anywhere, at any time; when two colleagues from different teams meet by the coffee machine. Not being able to capture these serendipities will prove increasingly costly for businesses in  industries where growth is dependent on creative solutions.

“I think of [productivity] as effectively creating ideas and solving problems and a lot of that has to do with being collaborative,” says Miguel McKelvey, cofounder and chief creative officer of coworking office space WeWork in an interview with Fast Company. He continues to stress the importance of being able to have informal meetings and discussions on the fly. “If you have to reserve a conference room to finish that conversation, then you lose time. It’s not efficient.” says McKelvey.

There’s a reason why academic research institutions like MIT and others have chalkboards practically everywhere – in hallways, in elevators, in cafeterias – some even have chalkboards in the restrooms! Decades ago these institutions understood that brilliance is not a one-man game – rather, some of the most important discoveries appear when experts can intermingle and provide novel perspectives.

Key question to ask yourself: How able are we to capture spontaneous ideas today? how many are lost?

Rapid change in the business environment

The 24-7 news cycle and communication across the globe at the spark of an electron are forcing companies to react quickly. A competing product launch, a new market vertical or supply change interruptions – for most modern companies the need to size opportunities or mitigate threats whenever they arise is imperative to succeeding in their market.

For managers and business leaders, this means being able to assemble and form teams to address these issues without losing speed. Instead of fixating workers in a set location or department, the inherent flexibility in the agile workplace can aid in situations where a new team need to get up to speed, or two departments need to move closer to collaborate.

Key questions to ask yourself: How quickly can we respond to the rapid changes in our business environment? How can we facilitate quicker turn-arounds?

Retiring baby boomers, job hunting millennials

Just as we have observed in the consumer and retail industry, the demographic shift is impacting the corporate world. On one hand we have baby boomers, one of the largest generations ever, retiring which means companies will have to compete ever so hard to fill these vacancies with top talent.

On the other hand, the young adults now entering the professional world is the most technologically savvy generation to ever have walked this earth. They don’t expect to spend their entire career at the same company – quite the opposite. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median worker stays at his or her job for 4.4 years. Millennials are about to cut that number in half, reporting that they expect to stay less than three years at a job.

Moreover, millennials value flexibility: flexible hours, flexible assignments, flexible work arrangements – factors that are being taken into consideration when evaluating and eventually selecting employer. Offering a workplace where the younger generation can thrive will both assist in attracting and retaining employees in an increasingly fierce competition for talent.

Key question to ask yourself: In what ways are we attracting talent other than with career opportunities and wages?

Steep prices and unused space

The increasingly expensive real estate market is a big driver for change. Rental prices in the largest economic hubs are reaching numbers where companies are forced to rethink how the space is being used. If you’re not familiar, take a look at this office rental price data from JLL.

A 5 000 sqft office in London could cost you just north of a million USD per year. According to research by Global Workplace Analytics, desk occupancy rates in the UK could be as low as 50%, which means money spent on unused workspace could easily be in the ballpark of hundreds of thousands each year. Money that could lead to better profit margins, or invested elsewhere.

Introducing even slight agility to the office,  shifting the desk-to-employee ratio from traditional 1:1 to a moderate 0.8 desk per employee, could yield serious savings on space utilization.

Key questions to ask yourself: What is the ROI on our real estate? How much of our space is un-used? How much are we paying for this?

To summarize, there are several reasons why agile workplace is a trend that is here to stay. But a first step is to understand whether this is a suitable way of work for your company. It is not a quick fix solution that works for everyone. To be able to capitalize on the benefits of an agile workplace there must be organizational and cultural support, and the right technology in place to support and ease the day-to-day operations.

Considering a switch to a more agile work environment? Be sure to read The Changing Workplace – our whitepaper on challenges and solutions for the modern office