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How Agile Working Has Impacted Our Workspace

Source | Forbes : By Karen Higginbottom

We live in a world where technology has changed how we work as well as the physical workspace. Technology has been a huge driver of agile working which isn’t simply working remotely or part-time but involves work which focuses on performance and outcomes. “In an agile environment, ‘work’ becomes an activity rather than a place,” explains Martyn Freeman, managing director of Mitie’s facilities management business. “Agile working supports a much more collaborative way of doing business and with the right technology, it gives people the ability to work wherever they happen to be and whenever it suits them to do so.”

Technology has had a big impact on workplace design, remarked Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn professor of design at the Royal College of Art.  “You can work anywhere with the right technology.” Myerson believes that organizations have to get three elements right in the workplace: people; place and technology. “Organizations are trying to reconcile two different points: giving people a sense of empowerment and at the same time, there is the physical appeal of belonging to a group.  The latter is breaking down because people are working in more flexible ways.”

Research carried out by Mitie found that by 2020 more than 70 percent of UK offices will be agile workplaces.  One organization that embraced agile working early on was telecommunications giant O2.  The firm built its 200,000 square foot head office in Slough in 2012 to reflect its agile working culture, explained Ann Pickering, O2’s HR director.  “We had multiple locations in Slough and we wanted to create one location.” O2 decided to carry out a flexible working pilot for its 2,500 employees for just one day,” explained Pickering. “We wanted to demonstrate to our clients that it was possible to have a workforce that didn’t have to be tethered to the office.” The pilot was successful and the firm found that more than half of its employees spent the time they spent commuting on work instead, she said. In its new head office, O2 reduced the number of desks by 550 despite having the same number of staff. “We had a wifi-enabled building and we did away with desktop computers,” she remarked. A big factor in the success of its agile working environment is due to its young workforce, said Pickering. “Forty percent of O2 employees are under 30 years old.  They don’t want to work in a 9-5 environment so we give them laptops and allow them the freedom to work where they want.” This freedom has resulted in 48% of their employees feeling less stressed because of flexible working. “We have no desktops, no landlines and it’s a culture based on technology which has made a huge difference to us.”

Yet workplace technology and remote working is being held back by a lack of mobile technology provided by employers, according to a study of 12,000 employees across 17 countries by Steelcase, the workplace solutions provider.   The research found that despite the high global adoption of mobile devices for personal use, the vast majority of respondents reported that their organizations provided twice as much fixed technology versus mobile options for work.  Remote working is still uncommon in organizations according to the Steelcase research. Only nine percent of firms use remote working every day and more than half of employers never allow their employees to work away from the office.

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