Creating collaboration through agile working zones

Many older workers will remember a time when the office was all about coming into work in formal attire, working longer hours and climbing the hierarchy to attain leadership positions. They will remember the traditional office layout; rectangular desks, typing pools, formal meeting rooms and board rooms. They will remember the office interior design changing constantly, from open plan to corner offices, to the dreaded cubicles. Suddenly we are now on tablets; we are on smartphones and cloud technology. Suddenly work is no longer the traditional office, but it is on the move all the time. For this older generation, Baby Boomers, they’ve faced every possible change the office has been through.

‘Multigenerational working’ is the word buzzing around in today’s business world. The office today is facing a new challenge where it must cater to the working styles of different generations. This is where we take a look at agile working. We must be clear that agile working is not about cramming as many people into the office space as possible. Agile working is about giving people the space they need to work and allowing them to choose where they feel most comfortable working. This could be anything from an acoustic sofa, a quiet pod or an informal meeting area littered with cushions and beanbags.

When implementing agile working, many companies get it wrong by trying to increase productivity through forced communication. They think “We’ll just squash those desks up a little bit, we’ll pull that wall down and remove the boundaries so we can get more people in closer to each other.” Ultimately, if you design a workplace in that way, communication stops because people feel uncomfortable. To build an office that is designed for all types of workers, businesses need to look at the different generations at work. We know that the workplace will have at least three demographic groups; baby boomers, generation X and the millenials. These groups will be the core of a workforce in most companies today.

The emerging generation yet to join the workforce, generation Z, are currently around 14 years old. In order to design a successful ‘agile working’ office interior design, we need to also consider this generation as we move forward.

What do baby boomers want from an office?

As mentioned above, baby boomers will have gone through every possible change you can imagine. Albeit they might be a little slow to adapt, they will most likely be on board with any change you implement.

  • Formal & structured board rooms
  • Structured hierarchy
  • Traditional office design layout
  • Rows of desks & rectangular tables
  • Access to some traditional offices
  • Corporate and professionalism
  • Face to face socialising

 What do millenials want from an office?

Children of the baby boomers, 18 to 35 year olds, are quite a difficult generation to peg. They have grown up with digital media; it’s been wired into their DNA and is second nature to them. This advantage allows them to be able to connect to millions virtually and tap into markets older generations won’t be able to get close to.

  • Choice of different workspaces
  • Connectivity through technology
  • Space to socialise with co-workers
  • Modernised workspace and technology
  • Don’t believe in hierarchy
  • Value work-life balance

What do generation X want from an office?

Generally a small group compared to boomers and millenials. Generation X grew up in a time where the economy crashed, meaning both parents worked. They are labelled the ’latch door key kids’ and gain most independence in the way they approach work. They are self-motivated and can work efficiently from home or the office. They do however, need a healthy work-life balance.

  • Team communication area
  • Personal ‘earned’ office space
  • Closed and private spaces
  • Interactive & modern technology
  • Transfer of knowledge
  • Value personal growth and perks

What will generation Z want from an office?

As this generation has yet to enter the workplace, we need to take a look at their current lifestyle to help us determine what they will need from an office. They’ve come of age at a point when the economy crashed and their parents have struggled with work and finances. Because of an educational system based around ISAs, this generation will grow up to become more financially savvy in the way they think. Terrorism will shape the way generation Z views the world. Uncertainty and instability will be what they take away from this and so they will seek out stability in their job life. Unlike generation X and millenials, they are quite happy to climb the hierarchy, but they prefer to be independent when it comes to learning new things or completing tasks.

  • Personal space to complete tasks
  • Open office to allow socialising
  • Multiple workspace options
  • Interactive & modern technology
  • Stable career hierarchy
  • Value constant personal development

The generations above combined are forcing change within the workplace whether a company chooses to accept this or not. In order to create a workplace design where collaboration flows naturally, companies need to fully understand the full function of agile working. To encourage spontaneous collaboration, you don’t necessarily build planned meeting spaces or use board rooms. Imagine someone who walks by a co-worker’s desk and says “Hey, can I chat to you about some ideas for a few minutes?” They would need a space that is easily accessible within the open plan office setting. An area where they can easily duck into collaboration, slightly shielded with acoustics, but not entirely secluded from the whole office. It’s an active area where people can come together quickly to share ideas and move away again.

Moving forward from this we have a space dedicated to formal meetings. This type of area will cater more to baby boomers who will want structured offices and board rooms. Companies will no doubt need this type of area that is designed with confidentiality in mind. Consider how much privacy your team needs, the purpose of the meetings, how much time your meetings generally take and what type of space is needed, and then design your workspace to cater to different types of meetings.

An important area to keep in mind is the breakout area, otherwise known as the social space. If you take a look at employees taking their lunch today, you may find that some people take lunch at their desk. This will have a negative impact on their wellbeing and productivity, so providing an area where people can easily move away to is essential. A break is a crucial part of the day, it’s a time where employees get to recharge and so the space design needs to be able to allow them to switch off from the business and work information. When designing a social area where people can break away, it’s best to approach this with a ‘home from home’ mentality. Create a softer feel and change the mood from ‘work’ to ‘relax’. Lighting and furniture will play a big part in altering how this space will feel in comparison to the office. Ensure that the area is easily accessible to encourage employees to move away from their desk so they actually use the space.

It is important to carry out a full space and physical audit in order to understand your workforce and the office design they need to be able to collaborate at optimum level. Take time to consider what it is your business I trying to achieve. What is your timeline? Where will the company be in 5 to 10 years from now? Will there be major changes further down the line? All of this pulls together in creating an office interior design that will truly allow the different generations to unify and push the business forward. Take time to understand what is working for your company and what isn’t, there’s no need to reinvent something that isn’t broken. Talk to your workers as their input is very important. Everyone needs to be able to have a say in order for the office to be successfully tailored to your company.


Simon OatesCreating collaboration through agile working zones

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