Agile: From software project management to office spaces

The world of work is changing faster than ever…

50 years ago there was a fairly standard, linear career path: arrive at a company as a junior employee, work your way through the ranks and retire aged 60 (with a gold watch as a leaving present).

Nowadays, however, many of us work day in, day out with people we’ve never physically met. Plus, many modern offices more closely resemble cafes than the traditional soulless cubicles which were a stable of corporate culture for decades.

And, that’s not the only change in the way we work.

Technology is making information more accessible, giving consumers an increasing amount of freedom and providing new-found agility by making complex tasks seem simple. This, in effect, has transformed the workforce.

Siloed and rigid organisational structures are a thing of the past. Nowadays, the most modern of organisations prioritise a liquid workforce: adaptable teams of both full-time employees and consultants/freelancers, all working together on an individual project basis.

In fact, according to this report by Accenture, having this “liquid workforce” can be organisations’ new competitive advantage. Not only will it enable companies to more efficiently and effectively deliver their clients’ projects, but it’s also a key way to attract talent. The modern worker wants more from their work-life than the traditional 9-5 shift, 5 days a week. Instead, trends like working from home and having an unlimited holiday allowance (to a lesser extent) are rapidly emerging.

The role of agility in real estate

But what does this means for businesses themselves? Well, it means that they need to reorganise both their internal strategies and structures to promote this new, agile way of working – and a key part of this is their workspace.

Mahlon Agpar, a housing, infrastructure, and real estate consultant to government bodies and corporations alike, wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Business real estate is not merely an operating necessity; it’s a strategic resource. But it rarely captures senior management’s attention. In many organizations, real estate remains a reactive, second-order staff function, focused on discrete projects and deals rather than on the company’s broader strategic issues.”

However, this is beginning to change. Forward-thinking organisations are beginning to focus on providing workspaces that encourage agile ways of working, with real estate owners, occupiers, and service providers all prioritising workspaces which will help deliver this. Owners and service providers realise that this is critical in attracting clients, and in keeping them happy. Occupiers, on the other hand, are aware that agility is a key way to increase their organisation’s value – both its bottom line and the overall culture.

What actually is agile real estate?

According to Knotel, the concept of agility in the workplace started in programming circles – teams would often have to suddenly work with new members, pivot on a project, rethink internal processes and perform quick A/B tests on new prototypes. Since then, it’s permeated every aspect of the workplace, with organisations now understanding that the ability to seamlessly deal with rapid change is a critical competitive advantage.

The transient nature of organisational structures now also means that companies have to deal with rapid changes in personnel. Having to accommodate an entirely new team shouldn’t mean that you head back out onto the real estate market and look for a new space, with all the headaches that brings – rather, you should base yourselves somewhere that’s able to accommodate this sort of growth.

Plus, a recent study by CBRE showed the many benefits of agile workspaces, including: increased productivity, the impact this has on promoting work-life balance, aiding collaboration between team members and customers, and an increased ability to deal with organisational changes.

How can you build an agile real estate strategy?

It’s all well and good theorising about the benefits of agile working, but we know you’re here for the nitty-gritty advice, the key takeaways that you can use within your organisation.

The first thing you need to do is to think about your workplace design. Do you currently have:

  1. A traditional design – specific desks or spaces for particular people.

  2. Project-based design – spaces coordinated around who’s working with each other on a particular project.

  3. Activity-based design – a series of unassigned spaces so that employees can work where they please.

If you want your employees to all mingle with each other and learn about different parts of the business, option C is your best bet. If, however, you want to keep everyone disconnected and in their individual silos (yes, maybe there’s a reason why every office has the accounts team tucked away in their own corner), then option A might be more your style.

But why do you have to pick one option? How about having a diverse workplace design which can accommodate all of the above? The best workspaces are those which give you the freedom to organise your company as you wish.

And, to go with this, you need flexible solutions that will accommodate whatever rapid changes your organisation goes through. Need 5 more desks by next Monday? Fine. Want to create a co-working corner with some plants and a coffee table? Fine.

Introduced back in 2005, coworking spaces are now so popular because they combine lease-term flexibility with aesthetic office spaces – ideal for a cool new scaleup that’s not sure what tomorrow looks like, let alone next year.

The value of agile real estate

What can you expect if you get this right? Let’s run through all the benefits that agile real estate will bring to your business...

1. Increased productivity

Put simply, you hire employees to do a job. Yes, the odd game of ping pong or long lunch bonding with colleagues can be a good thing, but at the end of the day you want your workforce to be productive when they’re at work.

If you come in each day and have to sit down at the same secluded desk you’ve always sat at, next to that same colleague who you don’t really get along with, then work will soon become a bit stale. You might have the greatest product, but if your employees don’t enjoy their time at work then they’ll soon either switch off or start looking elsewhere.

Sure, the office space isn’t the be all and end all – your employees still need to be motivated to work hard. That said, this is a heck of a lot easier when you’re based in an aesthetically-pleasing office that promotes harmony, collaboration and freedom.

2. Attracting and retaining talent

The cat’s out the bag – companies like Google have set the bar so high that the youngest generations now expect every office to have slides, be dog-friendly, you name it (well, not quite – but you get the gist).

What they actually expect is something far closer to agile working – the ability to sit next to their friends, or to go work on the comfy sofas for an hour or two. Millennials, above all else, want freedom and trust: the freedom to base themselves where they like, and the trust that they’ll get their work done without their manager constantly peering over their shoulders.

3. Efficient use of space

By having an agile working culture (and an agile workspace to boot), you can use your office space more efficiently. If people work from home once or twice a week and you’re rarely at full capacity then you don’t need to have one desk per person. Instead, you can either turn that space into something else or use it when your scaleup inevitably grows and you take on more employees.

4. Make everyone ready for change

Being ready and willing to embrace change is part mindset, part infrastructure. One way you can help your employees prepare for change is by having an agile workspace that means each day is slightly unique (where you end up sitting, who’s next to you etc.). Infrastructure-wise, you want this space to be able to accommodate a sudden change in the number of employees and to suit everyone’s differing workplace habits. Some people like to be stuck in the thick of it, others prefer some secluded space where they can actually think. Either way, you need to be able to cater for both types of employees.

There we have it! We hope this article has convinced you about the benefits of going agile and how it’s especially necessary for fast-moving scaleups. If you want to find out more about our agile workplace solutions, visit ‘Space’ at the top of this page.