The agile revolution taking place in the enterprise workspace
Whilst office work varies enormously from person to person, job to job and even from day to day, conventional workplaces commonly default to a desk for each person, usually with the same equipment sitting on each. But according to research from Kinnarps, given the choice, we would spend only a fifth of each working day at a desk.
So, what is meant by an agile working environment and is it one and the same as an agile way of working? According to Jon Knight, commercial director of Ascentae, the distributor sees the two elements as separate trends – the workspace and the methodology:
“Essentially, an agile workspace is designed to support a way of working that empowers employees to have more choice over where, when and how they work. It embraces concepts such as activity-based working, which provides a range of working spaces to employees, to be used depending on the individual activity being undertaken at any one time. Many of the concepts behind planning an agile workspace are common sense. If you want people to collaborate across teams, don’t build walls that separate them.”Origins
The concept is not new – it derives from the 1980s – and now the trend has matured to become a mainstream consideration for today’s workspaces. But what differs from those early days are the methodologies being used. Knight highlights such methods as ‘Scrum’ and ‘Kanban’, both springing originally from the software development industry but now evolving to be applicable across other industries.
Organisations that adopt an agile culture and its associated methods will have differing identified objectives, but typically these include:
· A desire to foster collaboration. This is a common objective, as the benefits of cross functional teams working effectively together become clear. Agile processes lend themselves particularly to collaborative design – whether that be design of a product or of a process. Remote contributors can all feed in ideas to a central point, where they are captured, classified and debated. The approach removes artificial barriers that separate departments and people, and instead encourages each person to contribute their skills and ideas.
· A drive for continuous improvement. An agile methodology typically breaks task into small chunks, and so creates the ability to easily incorporate analysis and opinion. This constant feedback loop drives people to look again and again at challenges and come up with innovative solutions. Ongoing review and amendments happen as the process continues. It’s very different to a more conventional approach that devotes intensive resource upfront to research and planning, and then to testing at the end.
· The development of critical soft skills. The World Economic Forum caused a stir with its Future of Jobs report, predicting changes in the skills sets needed to thrive in the new work landscape. The Forum identified three top skills for success in the coming decade; complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. Agile methods foster these transferrable skills; indeed, they could be seen as essential to the successful agile workplace.
· A drive to cut costs. Initially, agile methodologies can result in the need for significant investment in technology. But many studies show that ultimately these capital costs can be more than offset by tangible cost savings on office space, furniture and equipment and the like. For example, a move to an activity-based working environment design can either reduce the space needed to house your existing employees or allow you to increase your headcount without taking on more space. And then there’s the more intangible savings of reduced absenteeism, increased staff loyalty and a boost in productivity.
· A desire to improve productivity. Recent research from US based Stanford University reveals that remote workers are 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts. This is partly down to reduced traveling time, partly to increased engagement. But the productivity benefits are far wider than this. If agile teams are empowered to make decisions, they have a keen interest in finding the best solutions. Agile working methods force a focus on a small number of challenges at a time. Teams can be kept fixed on the priorities and so achieve more in a shorter period of time. And the nature of agile means individuals learn from their experiences – so improving their productivity on the next project.
If we accept that technology is a key enabler to agile, it surely falls on the shoulders of technology providers to create solutions that are designed for the modern workspace. Ascentae is a distributor that focuses on bringing together technologies that enable an agile approach and support the related methodologies in learning and working.
Indeed, the company is currently developing ‘Workplace House’ – a showroom based in Farringdon, but one that is structured very differently to the usual such facility. Working in partnership with Kinnarps, Europe’s largest workplace furniture supplier, Advanced Workplace Associates and Avocor, Workplace House will showcase eight different workspaces, each equipped with relevant solutions that drive and support aspects of agile working. Visitors will be able to see such products as Nureva’s Span collaboration and HDL300 audio conferencing systems and Evoko’s Liso space management approach, working together to create real world solutions.
The Span collaboration system takes the principle of collaborating with sticky notes and fast tracks it to the digital age. Any member of the team can type or write an idea or task on a note or say more with a text box. They can insert images and annotate over it. All contributions can be made from any device and appear in real time onto the canvas. Because it is cloud based, teams can work in real or any time. And Span supports the development of the three core soft skills identified by the World Economic Forum.
Complementing Span is the HDL300 advanced audio system. At the core of the system is Nureva’s unique Microphone Mist technology. This technology fills the room with up to 16,384 virtual microphones, picking up voice contributions from anywhere in the room, or from remote team members via a VC link. The technology not only overcomes all the traditional barriers of poor audio but frees up individuals to walk around the room and interact with the rest of the team, wherever based, unencumbered by lapel mics or loss of clarity.
Maximising the return
The Evoko solution solves the challenge of maximising working environments in modern buildings with multi-use spaces. It helps to ensure meeting areas are being used in a truly effective and efficient way. With research showing up to a quarter of employees’ time is wasted on waiting for meeting rooms to be ready, there’s a clear productivity benefit to be gained through more efficient space management.
Kinnarps is providing furniture solutions that, for example, meet the need for smaller, more informal meeting spaces. Their Next Office research has shown a clear need for more variety in the types of meeting spaces offered and a move to more spontaneous and small gatherings, compared to the traditional conference room of old. Workplace House will complement the agility of Ascentae’s technology by providing mobile furniture settings that offer flexibility in how a room is used for a meeting.
And Ascentae’s sister organisation Avocor will be demonstrating their interactive solutions, with technologies such as Huddly collaboration cameras and Zoom remote meeting capabilities.
One of the UK’s leading workplace change consultants, Advanced Workplace Associates have contributed their extensive experience and research base to the design of Workplace House. Andrew Mawson, one of AWA’s founders has commented: “We are tremendously excited about being part of the founding group of companies involved in Workplace House, that will bring together the best technologies, design and working practices to create a fantastic, frictionless workplace experience.”
Due to open in early 2019, Workplace House will be a facility available to both integrators and their end users.