With Offices, The Flex is On

Three Strategic Practices for Creating a More Agile Workplace in 2020

As organizations strive to achieve competitive advantage, creating a workspace that boosts collaboration, innovation and productivity is at the top of the agenda for facilities professionals in 2020. Employers are overseeing workforces that are more flexible than ever, both by necessity as workers demand the flexibility to work where and when they choose and driven by a desire to foster a creative and agile environment that can lead to greater productivity.

Businesses worldwide have adopted flexible workspace policies, according to International Workplace Group’s (IWG) Global Workspace Survey, with 85 per cent of business leaders saying that productivity has increased in their organizations as a result of greater flexibility. The survey also found that four out of five workers preferred flexible work arrangements and said that, when faced with two similar employment offers, they would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working.

We’ve identified three strategic workplace practices, each of which is driven by the increasing demands of a multi-generational and mobile workforce, that will be key to elevating the employee experience in the year ahead.

New imperative to design and drive exceptional “employee experience” 

Today more organizations are recognizing that workspaces can be a competitive differentiator and strategic tool in the effort to create a more innovative, productive and competitive workplace and contribute to the employee experience (EX). They’re also finding that multiple departments – from Property/Facility Management to IT, HR and others – play important roles in the overall EX.

Activity-Based Working grows in popularity

Activity-Based Working (ABW) is a strategic approach for creating a more agile workplace, enabling organizations to offer a variety of space options for employees based on the activities at hand, such as huddle rooms and bean bag areas for collaboration, pods for quiet concentration and open plan areas to spark spontaneous conversations.

Demand for ABW is growing among employers. The IWG Global Workspace survey found that 65 per cent of its respondents believe businesses that tailor the environment to the work requirements of staff are more productive. According to a report by Kinnarps, nearly 70 per cent of employees say that working in an ABW environment gives them more energy, helps them achieve better results and is more stimulating. British utilities company National Grid certainly found this to be the case when it achieved an eight per cent increase in overall productivity and a reduction in operating costs of £8-10 million per year as a result of implementing ABW.

The rise of design thinking in the workplace

Design thinking uses a creative process to solve problems and promote effective innovation. Design thinkers question assumptions, collaborate and build prototypes as early as possible to test ideas and get feedback. Facility managers are becoming more strategic and are playing a greater role in this transformation. Just as product and marketing teams have become more customer-centric in recent years, facility management teams are now putting the customer — i.e. the employee — at the heart of what they do. Design thinking relies on a deep understanding of (and curiosity about) customers: their feelings, desires, the day-to-day tasks they’re trying to accomplish and the challenges they face. Organizations that adopt a test-and-learn approach, using data to make better, faster decisions, will see the greatest success from agile working.

Keeping Workplaces Running Smoothly During A Crisis

  • Establishing an agile organization where people can work from anywhere. This also includes taking a 21st-century management approach, such as becoming a “starfish” organization with decentralized leadership. If one part goes down, the remaining parts can regenerate;
  • Managing social distancing in the office. Approaches and technologies that organizations can use to promote social distancing, such as preventing staff from booking desks that are less than six feet away, so they keep a safe, healthy distance from each other;
  • Applying design thinking to view new approaches (including working from home) as prototypes providing organizations a chance to learn, adapt and find new solutions;
  • Keeping an open dialogue to listen to employee challenges. Brainstorm ideas to keep customers happy and lines of communication open, especially when face-to-face meetings are not happening.

The workplace has been undergoing major changes, with employees splitting their workdays between home and headquarters, working flex-time and sharing office space. To foster a positive work environment and improve the employee experience, organizations must address the different needs and work styles of their valued employees. In 2020 we’ll see a heightened focus on creating agile, flexible work environments to not only attract and engage workers, but also to increase innovation and productivity.

John T. Anderson is CEO of Smartway2, which provides next-generation workplace scheduling solutions for all types of organizations and enterprises.

He can be reached via email or LinkedIn.


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