What flexible working means for the physical workspace.

July 28, 2017    Ann Clarke     ,

The shift towards agile and flexible working in many organisations is driven by the need to increase business productivity while reducing costs, and the need to be more responsive and adaptable in a constantly changing business landscape. It also has the benefits of providing more choice to staff in different ways of working, keeping people connected across diverse locations, and enabling them to work and communicate more flexibly, outside the constraints of normal office hours.

The role of workspace technology in driving and enabling this change has long been established, and is helping to bring a world of new possibilities to the ways we choose to work.  Equally important, however, is the role of the physical environment in supporting agile and flexible working.

Virtual desktops, cloud-based software, mobile devices, visual communication and collaboration systems have broken the fixed link between workers and their desks. This in turn has provided an opportunity for the physical shape of the workplace to change, enabling people to take advantage of this new freedom to work where, when and how they choose. Office environments are no longer required to allocate fixed spaces to individuals and teams, but instead can be remodelled around the concept of activity-based working.

Activity-based working (ABW) involves creating a variety of different spaces that are optimally configured for specific tasks. In practice, it means different things to different organisations, depending on the nature of the business and the types of activity that are undertaken by the workforce.

The truth is that the traditional desk and PC set-up isn’t the best work setting for every kind of activity that today’s workers undertake. In an average week, a knowledge worker may require time for concentrated solo working, periods of informal collaboration and brainstorming, some formal meetings or presentations, or intense group project work.

Each different kind of activity is best supported by a different kind of space. Quiet, concentrated solo work can most effectively be achieved in walled cubbies or booths, away from the hubbub of an open plan office. Intensive project work requires specially configured project rooms, often integrated with visual collaboration technology such as smartboards to enable group work. More informal meetings are best served by breakout areas such as lounges, clubhouses and café areas, while the visiting field worker may be most comfortable at a small touchdown station when stopping by the office to reconnect with colleagues. There will of course always be a place for traditional workstations, team neighbourhoods and conventional meeting room environments.

The spaces we provide for our people are as important as providing the right tools for the job. The nature of each different work environment has a specific, often subconscious impact on people’s behaviours and work patterns, whether it be through lighting levels, ambient noise levels, the size of the space, or the technology and furniture it contains.

The flexible working revolution has freed organisations from the necessity of providing a homogenous work environment. Businesses that rethink their workspaces to take maximum advantage of the shift towards activity-based working are in a position to reap the benefits of increased productivity, better communication and collaboration, improved staff engagement, as well as reduced costs and ultimately increased profitability. If your workplace doesn’t already support these new ways of working, then now is the time to start.

To find out more about agile working and how you can make the most of it to help your organisation move forward, download our whitepaper “Get stretching – An introduction to agile working”:

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