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Why your workplace needs to be increasingly Agile

Saving real estate costs can sometimes be a short-sighted viewpoint relative to the bigger picture says multi-discipline designer, Jonathan Custance

Jonathan Custance, managing director, Custance
Jonathan Custance, managing director, Custance

Watch the full interview: Jonathan Custance, managing director, Custance talks to Paul Taylor, editorial director, Trends about the principals of an Agile workplace and potential changes following the end of lockdown.

Paul Taylor, editorial director, Trends:

One of the concepts underpinning the design of many business premises today is the Agile Workplace. But what exactly is an Agile Workplace?

Jonathan Custance, managing director, Custance:

It's a term that has come out of a way of working relative to the development of the software industry.

But it's also been picked up by the general office environment being more flexible to people coming and going.

So the office isn't catering for everybody all of the time.

From the property point of view, it's been a way of, I think, heavily reducing the metre rate down per head in an organisation – so it's having no designated desks, and having a locker and other facilities.

At the same time, there's been the development of Acitvity-based working, which has a lot more science and design thought behind it.

It looks at what people actually need to do the various functions.

If you look at the origin of the word Agile in the software industry, it came down to people working as a team to develop a product and write code, and a methodology around how they bring problems to a head, solve them, people disperse, work on code and then come back together.

During that, there would be a lot of whiteboard development for the dynamics between people and for cross communication.

But that methodology is now taking a hold on corporate activity.

Traditionally, big organisations were organised into departments, whereas over the past five years the work has become project-based rather than a department delivering something in the chain.

People with a whole range of skills from those departments work together on a project for a deliverable.

So the whole tradition of how large organisations actually function is changing quite dramatically.

What are the benefits for an organisation implementing an Agile workplace?

The word 'innovation' is wound into Agile working.

Organisations are realising that the marketplace, and their position in it is becoming more and more competitive and the only way you gain traction or position in the marketplace is by innovating and change.

So that becomes the incremental factor of success.

And Agile working facilitates the environment and methodology for delivering to a high standard.

Are there any negatives to the Agile workplace and methodology?

We've pushed real estate down to a miniumum metre per person. That's been the driver to push the cost of real estate down.

But I think people get a bit lost in proportion to the overall cost of an organisation. Salaries are the biggest factor – real estate is the second, probably at around 15% of an organisation's costs.

So wouldn't you provide an environment that maximises 85% of your cost – which is your people – and provide an environment that stimulates and meets their well-being and health requirements ... and also embodies what they're doing from a set of values point of view.

Saving money can sometimes be a short-sighted viewpoint relative to the bigger picture.

It's not treating Agile working as a form of reducing costs, but more about how we can enhance the lives and output of our people for the corporation, in a sensible relationship between employee and employer.

What does that mean in terms of designing an office fitout?

As we've reduced costs, organisations have wanted a lot more flexibility in the components in the office environment.

The fixed office with all the walls in a permanent situation is really under attack as organisations are churning and changing. Components within the office need flexibility.

We're seeing the development of more furniture-based systems that won't need massive changes to services within. Plus there are all the seismic considerations.

That's why we developed our A.LIne Agile Wall system, because organisations were losing wall and whiteboard space to brainstorm and journey map product development.

The A.Line system provides flexible, temporary walls both from an Agile working point of view and from a facility point of view of having a system that can be re-arranged, without cost, into different configurations for different work groups.

Will the concept change or evolve as a result of the Covid lockdown situation we've been through?

Yes, I think it will.

How that actually lands is anybody's guess.

Perhaps the biggest factor in Agile working has been the development of technology and the ability to work in a remote setting.

The pandemic has really accelerated a habit form, rather than the technology that was already there.

Our earthquakes in Wellington and around New Zealand over the previous five years have accelerated organisations – and particularly Government – into getting their IT systems up to a remote working standard.

And that's been a pre-requisite to being able to deal with the pandemic in a much smoother way.

How we go back to work? .... there will certainly be changes.

It's given some people flexibility to manage their lives in a better way, because you can work at different times – you don't have to go to a certain place in a certain window to deliver your productivity for the organisation.

So self-management is going to become an increasing consideration.

I think we are going to see a drop in the square meterage organisations have as a permanent office.

But I don't think there will be reduced density – people will come and go from an organisation's centre with a lot more fluidness. You won't have everybody there all of the time.

At the same time, I think you have to look at what that does for your employees – not just cramming them all in, but providing a more generous and workable environment for a sense of belonging, for cross-communication, sharing key resources.

I think we'll see a decline in how much commercial real estate office is taken up by organisations because people are going to be working in different places, including home.

But people do need to have a sense of belonging – it's not as though organisations are going to become completely virtual.

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About Custance:

Custance is a multi-award winning practice in New Zealand and Australia. 

Started in New Zealand over 25 years ago, our clients entrust us with projects large and small spanning architecture, interior design, strategic facilities, master planning and urban design. 

While different, all projects share a common requirement: to create an environment where people flourish.

Story by: Trendsideas

07 Jun, 2020