Why Agile Working? We Are Faced With a Perfect Storm
Everyone is talking about it, but what are the benefits of agile working and why adopt it as an organisation? The widespread adoption of agile working in the last five years has been due principally to significant changes in the type of work we are doing. The data revolution and the rise of the knowledge worker has meant that traditional, sedentary and very hierarchical ways of working are no longer relevant, and no longer get the best performance out of the ‘worker bees’ in the organisational ‘hive’. This has been enabled by the revolution in IT, from the advent of mobile communication, the availability of powerful lightweight laptops to improvements in IT infrastructure and Wi-Fi. It seems incredible to think that the first smart phone as introduced a little over 10 years ago!
The need for change in the workplace has also been driven by a perfect storm in terms of the recent economic headwinds of the credit crunch in 2007 and subsequent recession, the rise of the socially connected (and apparently very demanding) millennial generation and the increasing demands and stress of modern life in a hyper-connected world taking a toll on employee health and morale. (To read more about what agile working is, please see our guide What is Agile Working).
A Brief History Lesson
The workplace that we know today was a relatively recent development within the history of human civilisation. Prior to the Industrial Revolution starting in the mid-eighteenth century, there was no formal workplace for most of the population, and the average individual’s day was determined by agricultural work. Starting in the late-19th century, a shift began in the type of work needed, which also revolutionised the structure of the workplace. During this time, the introduction of advanced communications technologies such as the telegraph, the expansion of the railroad, and the emphasis on urbanisation all contributed to an explosion of clerical and office jobs.
The layout of the modern office structure is largely due to the principles of scientific management established by Fredrick W. Taylor in the late nineteenth century. Taylor applied scientific measures of productivity in factories in order to achieve maximum efficiency. This thinking, when applied to the office environments resulted workspaces were often high-density, factory-like environments with layouts based on function and hierarchy (e.g. the typing pool, to take a well-known example). Taylor effectively laid the foundations of the modern commercial office which, with the more recent implementation of hot-desking and other measures, has increased efficiency further.
But the modern world is very different to 100 years ago. The products and services we deliver are much more about knowledge, data and the development and sharing of that knowledge. In fact, approximately 50% of modern workers can be classed as knowledge workers. A job is no longer a job for life, so people are much more willing to change jobs which means that attracting and retaining the right staff is vital
Agile Working – The Case for Change
In this modern world of decreasing budgets and increasing demands for more and better services we need to do more with less. We have found from the many space utilisation studies we have undertaken over the years that the desks in a typical office are usually only 50% utilised and are often much bigger than we need for our much more computerised tasks. Combine that with the mounds of paper filing taking up space and the meetings rooms that are often block booked or much larger than needed, we are wasting a lot of very expensive real estate. Spaces that are under-utilised could be put to better use, leading to better efficiency and cost savings.
However, the rise of the knowledge worker has also given rise to a new consideration: human capital value. This refers to the value of our employees, the value of their knowledge and the collective knowledge and processes of the organisation. If you consider the fact that for most organisations the cost of real estate usually accounts for less than 5 to 10% of an organisations budget, but the cost of staff is often over 90%, it is clear that investing in facilities for people is a 10 to 1 multiplier over savings in real estate.
We also have to take account of changing demographics and changing social dynamics in the workplace. Much has been said about the Millennials, the new generation entering the workplace. They are much more socially aware, use IT systems as second nature and have very high expectations of the new working environment. As the first generation to grow up with abundant access to digital technology, it is seamlessly integrated into all facets of their lives—both personally and professionally. They also tend to put a much greater emphasis on creating a healthy work environment, promoting social responsibility, and fostering a sense of diversity and inclusion within their work spaces. Further, research has shown the millennials would be even be willing to give up a substantial portion of their salary if it means that they can achieve these goals!
However their needs and desires needs to be balanced with those of the older generations. In fact, population statistics show that the average age of workers in the UK is increasing, so we need to find a way for our mode of working to accommodate both age groups and help them to thrive.
The Benefits of Agile Working – A Compelling Case
So, how can we make more efficient use of our real estate whilst improving the productivity of our employees and maximising the benefit of that human capital? This is where agile working comes in. By measuring how we use our space with space utilisation studies and understand much better the needs of our employees and our business we can change the dynamic of how we work and change our relationship with space, which can significantly improve both our efficiency and more importantly our effectiveness.
The benefits are significant for both the individual and the organisation. For the individual, increased interaction and socialisation, reduced commuting time, reduced stress and improved work / life balance improves morale, health, well-being / wellness and effectiveness. For the organisation, improved morale and an outcome-focused approach improves productivity and service levels. In turn, customer satisfaction goes up, absenteeism and attrition goes down and the whole organisational culture can change to one in which staff are exhibiting the right behaviours, resulting in a culture that is an outward reflection of the desired brand. This also makes it easier to attract the right staff for the organisation and improves the perception of the company in the eyes of the outside world. Most significantly of all, agile working can lead directly to improved delivery of the organisation’s long-term strategy, goals and vision
Further Baker Stuart Guides
Agile Working Series
- What is Agile Working – A Baker Stuart Guide
- The A to Z of Agile Working – An Agile Working Terms Dictionary
- How to Define an Agile Working Policy (coming soon)
Office Design and Space Planning Series
- Office Capacity Limitations – A Baker Stuart Guide
- Office Space Planning and the Law – A Baker Stuart Guide
- Toilet Provision in Offices – A Baker Stuart Guide
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