Ten Ways to Build an Agile Office Environment

In recent years, organisations have seen clear benefits from agile and responsive working methods. Now, they are looking for a workplace that actively supports flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing needs

Many organisations have transitioned to hybrid working with a proportion of the workforce in the office for only a few days a week. Working hours might be variable, and the number of people in the workplace at any given time may rapidly change. The future may even be a four-day week. 92% of companies participating in a UK trial program for a four-day week have decided to continue it after the pilot.

Employee expectations have changed; sitting at the same desk for hours on end, day after day, week after week, is no longer something many people want to do. 

So, how do you build an agile environment for your workforce? What are the building blocks, and what are the essential elements you need to have in place?

1. Strategy and consultation

You should start by having a clear workplace strategy. It is essential to involve your employees and teams in developing the strategy. This is more than just speaking to managers about their requirements; it should include the wider organisation. And it's particularly important to talk to those with accessibility issues and the neurodivergent

Every organisation and their office space requirements are different. A workplace design consultancy can help ensure your approach will align with your business, culture and employees.

2. Flexibility

Anything you implement should be flexible and able to cope when circumstances change. The nature of work may change, the way you work may change, the number of employees in the office may change – and your workplace will need to be able to adapt.

Furniture should be moveable and modular so it can be rapidly relocated and reconfigured. It also needs to be multi-purpose and support portable power options. 

Fabric screens, gliding panels, and flexible cabinets and shelving can allow you to modify your workspaces to meet changing requirements.

3. Welcoming hybrid workers

Employees are spending more time either working from home or mobile working. This leads to several issues, not the least of which is working out the ideal office capacity. The number of employees in the office is likely to fluctuate week by week and even day by day. Any modern office space must cope with a sudden influx of employees (and potentially visitors).

Hybrid workers should understand what their workspace options are when they arrive – nobody wants an orientation session every time they come to work. It’s helpful to have a relaxed working area immediately visible. Somewhere, they can set down, plug their laptop in and begin working straight away. 

Top tips for creating a Destination Office in the era of hybrid work

4. Personal space versus collaborative space

People spend 42% of their time working with others (14% virtual + 28% in person) and 35% working alone.  This means that office space needs to support both personal and collaborative spaces. Furthermore, transitioning from one to the other should be seamless and hassle-free.

It would be a mistake to assume that simply implementing hot-desking will create an instant agile office. Some organisations have even gone so far as to have banned personal space entirely. However, the data shows this is not beneficial to employees or productivity, with 45% of workers believing that hot-desking decreased their productivity. In fact, 60% of employees would most like to spend the majority of their working time at a dedicated desk, with only 3% favouring a shared desk.

So personal spaces are important; employees generally spend half their day working on their own. You could use office pods that cut out distractions and let employees focus on work and multi-purpose furniture to create separate spaces. A new concept is the use of pod tents – simple, quickly erected shelters that can be set up almost anywhere, providing a personal workspace. 

When it comes to collaborative spaces, flexibility is the key. Spaces for meetings should come in different sizes or should be configurable to accommodate different uses. 

Office pods that can be set up and moved are not only an excellent agile choice, they are cost-effective, too. Data from CBRE shows that the cost of building an on-site meeting room exceeds the cost of a moveable solution – such as a meeting pod – by 33.5%.

5. Acoustics

Good acoustics are essential for productivity. Whilst open-plan offices are seen as flexible, they are noisy and distracting - 70% of employees report being distracted by noise in open-plan office environments. Distractions are costly in terms of lost time. It is estimated that it takes an average of about 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.

6. Create different types of spaces to suit all needs

Other important spaces include resource areas for shared equipment, technology and materials, learning spaces such as classrooms or training facilities, and quiet zones or wellness spaces.

This last category can be important to employees' well-being. These spaces are quiet, isolated areas where employees can take a few moments to forget work and restore their focus.

7. Choice

Employees should have a choice when it comes to their workspace. If an employee is comfortable in their space, their productivity and quality of work will benefit. 88% of workers in the highest performing workplaces have a choice over where they work.

8. Spaces that support technology and technology that supports the space

Technology is at the heart of any office, but with hybrid working and agile working spaces, technology becomes the essential glue that holds people and working practices together. Agile spaces need to incorporate technology, and the technology needs to support agile spaces.

Hybrid workers rely on their mobile phones, so a good cell signal is essential wherever they are in the office. 

Spaces should support video meetings – not only proving the technology but being designed so that all participants can see the screen easily and hear the audio. Acoustics and lighting are key factors here. 

9. Colour and design

95% of employees think that a well-designed office makes them more productive, and 83% of workers believe that a well-designed office improves their mental health.

Your office space's design, style and layout should reflect your organisation’s culture. If not considered carefully, it may affect your culture in ways you had not anticipated and that do not suit your business.

A recent survey showed that the most critical factor in an office worker's ideal workplace was the comfort of their work area, with 92% of the respondents considering this as highly important. It’s essential to create spaces that are not only functional but also comfortable and welcoming.

10. Pilot new environments and reconfigure

Remember, you don’t have to have everything in place from day one – it’s better to develop agile space organically – testing out new workplace scenarios with prototypes and piloting. Then, the next stage is approached using that input as a guide and making necessary adjustments before a wider roll-out. If you try to specify everything in advance and implement it rigidly, your agile space will likely fail. 

You should have some key metrics that measure not just productivity but employee satisfaction, well-being and comfort, as well as quality of work. You should measure these before any changes, then periodically, in order to gauge the overall value of office changes and reconfigurations and to gather data on what is working and what is not.

Bringing the benefits of an agile office space to your organisation requires planning and clever, intelligent solutions. Considering these ten factors and working with an experienced office design partner who can help you with innovative solutions will enable you to create a truly agile office workplace.

Attract and retain through workplace design

Attract and retain through workplace design