What Is An Agile Workplace? — The History of the Boring Office

Now, this may be only me, but when I think of agile, I think of the things I cannot do. I think of my inability to touch my toes or the ever-growing strain in my lower back. Though far from a working term (in that regard), it has the same connotation as the agile workplace. It’s something just out of reach. Something not seen as widely possible, especially if movement and ability to change are rigid.

Fortunately, those days have changed.

The working world is weird. Following a pandemic that ravaged the entire globe, many workers began to rethink their place as both employees and pawns within the framework of a species. Many began to question the importance of career in its simplest term. They began to question whether their precious time, which became overly lacking in the face of danger, should be used on labor and the normal social standard of work. Therefore, the agile workplace became more than an abstract term heard amongst forward-thinking startups and groovy, young companies. The agile workplace became a thing of importance.

Now, in a post-pandemic world rebuilding thought as if stripping down the echo chambers millennia of normal labor had created, possibilities like the agile workplace are both possible and common. There are no longer scoffs from those that believe work and labor must remain static.

But what truly is the agile workplace? Should your company adopt the concept?

As a staffing agency, we have seen the rise of unique working models. Therefore, we know a thing or two about their importance in the modern labor market. Let’s get into the benefits.

What Is an Agile Workplace?

Turn on your local news channel, business news website, or Tier2Tek’s blog and you will see an overwhelming amount of new work trends. These workers are demanding this. These employers are demanding that.

Though the year-long lockdown and two-year-long pandemic may seem like a footnote in the timeline of American history, their importance on modern employment may have ripple effects until the end of the country’s existence. It changed the way we look at technology in the workplace. It changed the way we see the necessities of labor.

Simply put, we may no longer see the necessity of things we once took as gospel. Maybe the normal office should be tossed aside.

An agile workplace is an ‘office’ or place of employment that doesn’t follow the normal and set standards of cubicles and private work areas. Ultimately, it combines various architectural and communal ideas to create a unique and product-improving workspace.

Who wrote the law that offices all have to be the same?

Okay, Be More Specific

It’s nearly impossible to define agile workspaces, but that’s kind of the point. Basically, they are offices that cast aside archaic designs. There are no desks or cubicles designated for specific employees. Instead, there are multiple working areas with different functions and setups. This creates a need for movement and flexibility, which is the nature of the design. The worker does not sit in one place throughout the entire working day but moves freely to help boost productivity and communication.

Within the nature of our species is the need to communicate, be communal, and share ideas. The concept of enclosing a worker in an office by themselves for an entire shift is ironic in design and was ultimately based on inhumane perception. Whoever designed the cubicle thought of their workers as cogs in a machine, not someone with free thought and a need for collaboration.

It’s time to toss it all aside.

Examples

Credit: DeskBird

Agile workplaces often involve large and open floorplans with tables spread about, giving workers the freedom to pick where they sit and work.

For example, look at the picture above. The workplace is open with an array of sunlight and breathing room. Though it seems like there still may be designated computers and desks (a necessity in some industries), they are not closed off by walls and tight spaces. The employees have the ability to communicate freely and look around. There are likely communal tables through, too. Places where they can move their work if the need arises.

As you can clearly see, there’s something more personal and comfortable about the space provided. It doesn’t feel as drab as a normal office.

Think of the stereotype of the gray and boring office space. The workers have no personality of outside desires, only reporting to work to do their routine, pencil-pushing jobs. The dystopian and bland futures you see in works like 1984. That’s the normal office layout. And it can be just as soul-sucking as the movies make it out to be.

Quiet Areas

An agile workplace may also feature quiet areas. These spaces may act as small rooms or cubicles that provide a cutoff from everything else, especially in an open space like the one above.

Simply put, if you are to promote communication and expression through open floor plans, you still need a place for privacy and quiet. You never know when a worker may need to hear something closely, speak in private, or work silently. Therefore, you still have to provide a space for that.

Communal Areas

Though a hybrid office may still have cubicles or assigned desks, it’s still likely to have an open area for communication and free time, even if not for work.

Sometimes you will see community spaces with comfortable seating, areas to eat, kitchens, games or game tables, and other activities (think colleges or hotel lobbies). These living rooms, of sorts, provide an area to get away from work when necessary.

Resource Areas

These places may provide a closed space of technology or resources that an employee won’t need on a regular basis. For example, the workplace might have a room specified for printers, copy machines, and paper shredders.

Another example would be a room with a standing desk, communal computer, or recording equipment, giving the worker a space to get away from their daily desk. Or a room specifically for meetings with audio equipment and whiteboards.

This is an easy way to break up the monotony and clutter of a normal workspace.

Hybrid Or Agile? Hybrid AND Agile?

Throughout the article, we have already interchanged the terms agile and hybrid. Though they have the same definitions on paper, they are two completely different topics of workplace tactics. The ideas go hand-in-hand, though, and have flowed through each other over the last three years.

Overall, hybrid workplaces are employers that allow remote work. Whether it be a split of time at the office and remote, all remote, or a 70/30 split, doesn’t matter. If a company allows different working tactics and the ability to work remotely, it falls under the hybrid umbrella.

And, yes, hybrid workplaces a here to stay.

A recent UpWork study hypothesized that 22% of Americans will be working remotely by 2025.

Quote from Return to Office – Is Remote and Hybrid Working Almost Over?


Employees aren’t as powerless as you’d imagine, though. In fact, after the massive impact of the Great Resignation, employees may never be as powerless as they were before the pandemic.

With the employee demand for hybrid work comes a scare of employers demolishing it. If an employer decides to get rid of hybrid and flexible workplaces, demanding their employees return to the office, they run the risk of losing the workers. Competitor businesses will be able to swoop up former workers by offering said hybrid capabilities. It now becomes a bargaining chip for companies striving for new talent.

Consequently, if employees continue to demand hybrid workplaces, businesses will continue to offer them to keep employees happy. Someone will be willing to do it, especially if it guarantees great talent.

“Companies who wind back progress on remote and flexible working risk demotivating their workforce and pushing them to competitors that offer more attractive options,” Josh Graff, managing director for the EMEA and LATAM regions at LinkedIn, told CNBC Make It. “Flexibility is going to increasingly become a matter of survival for businesses.”

Companies that are willing to compromise and adapt may find themselves at the forefront of employee happiness and positive recruitment.

“It’s those who see this period as an opportunity, who are prepared to adapt and iterate, and explore new ways of working that will outperform competitors in the long-term,” Graff concluded.

Your Point Is?

If hybrid workplaces are on the rise (or at least staying around) due to employee demand, it’s only natural to believe agile ones are, too.

Think about it like this: you provided the option or demanded that your employees worked from home for the last three years. Though a tough adaption at first, employees eventually got used to it, with some thriving from the flexibility. Now, after the at-home employees changed their entire tactics to work from home, you force them to come back to the drab and stagnant offices.

What do you think will happen?

Overall, employees will be uncomfortable and lack production when reverting back to these rigid and boring places. Creating a workspace that’s more relatable to the at-home approach we’ve grown accustomed to is only obvious.

In fact, according to ConnectSolutions, 77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity. So if productivity increased when the employee was more comfortable, why not try to make the workplace similar to the work-increasing nature of home?

Henceforth, as companies learn to adapt to the flexibility of hybrid work models, they may begin to look into the benefits of agile workspaces, which we will get to now…

The Benefits of Agile Workspaces

What a great segue, Tier2Tek!

Thanks, reader!

When speaking of the benefits of the agile workplace, it’s important to remember the stigma that we have created around the normal office. It’s critical to look back upon the office’s effervescent history in order to avoid the mistakes of our elder workmen.

The History of the Cubicle

Think back to the office stereotype I drew earlier. The drab space with bored workers. What do you see? Is it cubicles?

Of course, it’s cubicles.

In the 1960s, designer Robert Propst became the leader of the research arm of furniture manufacturer Herman Miller. Dedicated to his work, Propst decided to find out the psychological backing of modern offices. Through his research, he found that he was more productive while working on an array of surfaces. Therefore, he decided that having one heavy and unchangeable office desk was counterintuitive.

The metal and wooden desks often used throughout the 1950s were too stagnant. The worker couldn’t move freely or change the way they worked, creating the same environment every single moment. Propst countered this with his initial version of the cubicle.

The first concept of a cubicle, which Propst titled the ‘Action Office’, consisted of lightweight filing spaces and surfaces with acoustical walls to block out distraction and noise. Because of the lightweight nature of the materials, workers could move around the surfaces freely, creating an individual and forever-moving workspace. If they wanted to move the desk up, they could. It wasn’t too have to fluctuate. Therefore, the action offices had standing and seated desks, creating those array of working surfaces Propst loved.

Corporate America took Propst idea and… Well. Created an ironic misunderstanding.

Poor Propst

The Action Office II was more lightweight and cheaper, creating a workspace with different-sized walls and large desk spaces. Due to the different walls, workers could be private and have the luxury of seeing their peers, increasing productivity and communication. Propst had perfected his vision.

Then businesses said otherwise.

Instead of the free-moving and efficiently-large spaces Propst invented, companies used the lightweight and cheap materials to cram employees together. They saw the cheap walls as an easy way to create small, individual offices without the expense of creating actual rooms (the cubicle you know).

Furthermore, taxes pushed companies toward cheap furniture. In the 1960s, it became easier to write off assets like furniture whose value depreciated over time. So, instead of buying long-lasting desks, companies opted for cheaper counterparts.

Propst hated the way his vision had been used. He stated, “Not all organizations are intelligent and progressive. Lots are run by crass people. They make little, bitty cubicles and stuff people in them. Barren, rathole places.”

The heartbroken inventor went on to apologize for the creation for the rest of his life, referring to it as a Corporate Monster. Though he set to create a liberating and personal desk space, he inadvertently created the office space we closely attribute to the lack of individuality and creativity.

Oh, and cubicles literally made people ill in the 1970s, but that’s an entirely different story.

Long Story Short

Our stereotypical layout of offices (including the cubicle) has never been successful at promoting production and creativity, despite Propst’s intention.

Therefore, it’s time for us to make a change. Even if the drastic layout of the agile workplace is too different to rightly adopt or too comfortable to become a mainstay, we still need to look at the way we formulate and lay out our office spaces.

If we adopt agile workplaces for anything, it should be Propst’s tragic tale.

The REAL Benefits of Agile Workspaces

Okay, okay. We took a trip off-course there. Now it’s time to get back on track.

What are the benefits of creating an agile workplace?

Productivity

We’ve hinted at this throughout the entirety of this article, but the agile workplace creates a more productive workforce.

Research by talent management firm BSP World found that 67% of agile businesses reported a significant boost to their productivity, up to 20% in some instances. And, according to the aforementioned stat, hybrid workplaces also boost productivity.

Simply put, humans tend to be more creative and productive when they are given the space to move, communicate, and think freely. They want to feel like individuals and part of a team, so cramming them in a gray box does the exact opposite, killing momentum and destroying the artistic brain.

Furthermore, having open space and the ability to move around increases happiness, increasing productivity. Social interaction, increased physical exercise, and exposure to sunlight all increase happiness, creativity, and work ethic.

It’s a win-win.

Higher Employee Retention

We have written countless articles on how to keep your great employees around. And, if you have a workforce of younger professionals, you may have already heard of the importance of hybrid opportunities.

9 out of 10 millennials desire flexibility to choose where and when they work over a higher salary. Offering an agile space that meets this need helps to attract and retain top talent, especially within the newer generations.

According to the World Economic Forum, the generation makes up 30% of the world’s population. Therefore, they are expected to make up 27 percent of the world workforce by 2025. So, hiring and maintaining Gen Z employees is going to become commonplace within your company, if it isn’t already. Within a few years, you are likely to have at least a few on your team. So, don’t fall behind the times as a crotchety old company. Start thinking of the importance of those hybrid models now.

Communication and Collaboration

Having an open office allows clearer lines of communication, calling for more collaboration and working relationships.

51% of Gen Z job seekers prefer face-to-face communication when speaking with an employer. They believe that it helps create trusting and authentic relationships before the career even begins.

Having such a face-to-face and adaptable workplace makes employees feel more communicative and expressive. They feel more comfortable opening up to peers and supervisors, creating a beneficial workplace culture.

A 2019 study by GlassDoor found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying. Establishing a culture is key to keeping fantastic workers, and having a workplace everyone enjoys being in helps boost that culture tenfold.

Work to make sure your employees are happy through happy workspaces.

Lower Carbon Footprint

If your employees have the ability to work from home, they don’t have to drive or be at the office. This reduction in energy needs and production power significantly lowers your company’s carbon footprint.

A study by the state of Utah on the ecological impact of a 4-day workweek found that during the first ten months, the project saved over $1.8 million in energy costs and a reduction of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from closing the large office building on Fridays.

There was also a significant reduction in CO2 due to cars being off the road for one daily commute.

Though we aren’t speaking of the 4-day workweek, having your staff work from home once a week has the same impact.

In a world facing ever-growing climate danger, lowering your carbon footprint is always a positive. Having a hybrid workspace inherently decreases that footprint.

Furthermore, having less need for significant working equipment and materials in the agile workplace also lowers your footprint. So, there’s that.

Conclusion

Should your company move to an agile workspace?

Ultimately, it depends.

Frankly, some industries simply cannot work with the strange and open layouts of agile spaces. Some industries need the rigid structure of the modern office or their corresponding workplace. That’s entirely okay.

If you are a company that can provide agile space and hybrid work, you may want to begin thinking about how to jump on board. It’s possible that workers will require flexibility in the near future, keeping stoic and old workplaces irrelevant.

At the end of the day, you want to keep up with the incoming trends of the modern labor market, especially the ones that seem as if they are here to stay. Hyrbid work and agile spaces are seemingly permanent, being burned into our labor lexicon. Time to adapt.