The industrial workplace is no more, indeed in some cases the workplace is no more: agile working is at last beginning to replace a long outdated model.
No longer is everyone in the same place, at the same time doing the same tasks. More and more businesses are offering flexible working, are trusting colleagues to do the job and measuring on output rather than time spent at desk. They are creating fluid working environments and managing dispersed teams and becoming more agile in the process.
So, what is agile working?
Agile working suggests young people with portfolio careers, self-employed and working from home or on the go. While this is certainly one group (for whom we have a range of virtual office services) it is by no means the whole story.
This is because agile working is a state of mind. It is helped by technology but not bound by it; it can happen in an office environment, but is not tied to it. Agile working practices focus on the individual, but do not ignore organisational needs.
Agile working allows staff to have input, choice and flexibility about when, where and how they work. To facilitate this, the workplace itself must become fluid and accommodate a variety of needs.
Technology is a great enabler. Modern telephony, video communications, broadband, Wi-Fi and cloud systems can help people communicate easily and freely. It means they have access to data and can collaborate on projects. This allows organisations to manage dispersed teams while maintaining fluidity and cohesion.
The space in which we work needs careful thought in terms of location, adaptability and environment. How will people get to and from the office, how many will be there at any one time and how will they feel once they get there; will they have choice in how they enrich their work areas.
The layout and design must encompass such things as ergonomics, acoustics, traffic flows, communication and task management to ensure the safety and well-being of your people. This means finding out what people want from the space, what the business demands from the space and how the two will marry to maximise productivity, health and efficiency.
We all benefit from choice, but even the best option may sour if it is the only option, day in and day out. For example, you might work better at home when you need to concentrate and better in the office when you want to collaborate. Or, it could be the other way round.
In addition, we all benefit from choice about the way the space looks. Deigning space is often dictatorial; you cannot personalise the space because it won’t fit the branding. But research shows that well-being and productivity increase when we have choice about how we enrich our environment.
And what about mood? We are not robots; we change moods, become tired, enjoy different tasks at different times. Designing office space to cope with different situations and states of mind is highly beneficial.
And then there is the environment to consider. What impact will your space and working practices have on the environment? How will people get to and from the office and what are the facilities when they arrive. Where do they park? Do you make allowances for the vagaries of public transport? Is there somewhere to store their bike and have a shower?
Do you go city centre or out of town. What is your carbon footprint? How do you fit in with your community?
Agile working is more than just working from the local café every now and then. It is a strategy for business success and sustainability and it covers every aspect of your business.