How facility managers can help create Agile workplaces

by FM Media
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Agile workplace principles were gaining momentum, then COVID-19 supercharged the trend. Bryan Christiansen encourages an Agile approach and lays out the role facility managers can play.

Agility has been a touchstone of forward-thinking, dynamic organisations for some years now. Agile principles continue to gain traction in the workplace, particularly as flexible work regimes and hybrid workplaces become the norm. It follows that agile employees and teams need Agile workplaces in order to perform.

An Agile workplace allows flexibility for most types of work, and includes innovative and dynamic office layouts that facilitate Agile methods of working. As seen in the McKinsey diagram below, is a workspace based on the Agile principle that organisations are dynamic ‘organisms’ and not rigid ‘machines’.

The key word is flexibility. There has been an increased focus on physical workspaces regarding Agile work regimes in recent years. It therefore follows that facilities management has a fundamental role to play in creating Agile workplaces. This article will delve into how FMs can create such working environments.

COVID-19 and Agile workplaces

Agile workplaces may have been gaining some momentum before COVID-19 happened, but the pandemic turbocharged the trend. Almost overnight, the very concept of what constitutes a ‘workplace’ changed dramatically. As lockdowns and social distancing occurred, a huge surge in remote working and hybrid work regimes took hold. There was a dramatic shift from the old-school way of assessing employees, based on hours worked, to one based on quality of work and final outputs, as noted by Deloitte in 2020.

A paradigm shift in how, where and when people work demands an equally momentous shift in how buildings and physical spaces are utilised. Businesses had to become far more innovative (read: flexible) about how their employees worked and, in turn, how buildings and office spaces were used. Economics has also played a huge role: flexible workplaces have meant more empty offices. By late 2020, a UK survey reported that unused office space was costing businesses £13 billion in London alone. Furthermore, the report found that London offices had only 28 percent of desks being used at any time, which meant a 72 percent ‘wastage’ rate.

Greater ‘agility’ is clearly required of FMs in these times.

Space management

Space usage is a principal means by which Agile workplaces can be achieved. There are many ways in which buildings and office spaces can be made flexible, including:

  • open-plan spaces: an obvious choice, given that it eliminates permanent offices, meeting rooms and other business spaces
  • quiet zones: to be used occasionally for those requiring seclusion for work
  • breakout spaces: a more flexible means of having meeting spaces without the rigidity of fixed meeting rooms
  • resource areas: small areas in which office resources, for example printers and office supplies, can be kept without space-consuming supply rooms
  • touchdown spaces: this is an overflow work area for those employees who visit the office only rarely, and
  • standing desks: desks at which employees stand rather than sit are not only space-saving but perfect for flexible, on-the-go styles of working.

Facility management also plays a pivotal role in promoting smart buildings. This is a means by which a building is optimised in terms of its operating technology (OT), including systems to manage its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, overall energy consumption, security/access control, illumination and other related factors that determine the physical built environment. Smart buildings have been expedited by the Internet of Things (IoT), which can interact with various aspects of a building’s operations. This approach also allows buildings to be more ‘intelligent’ in their ability to be flexible and productive environments.

Employee experience and fostering Agility

Agile employees require Agile workplaces and work design. An Agile workplace should be a simplified environment in which expensive furniture, accessories and walls are kept to a minimum. The focus should be on workspaces that allow for different types of work by diverse teams and employees. The design emphasis should be on a space or spaces that allow for a constant flow of work that is versatile and changing. For example, there should be vertical surfaces that allow for whiteboards, pin boards, burn-down charts and other visible signposts of collaboration.

Facility managers should consider themselves the bridge between management and employees in attaining an Agile workplace. One way in which an FM can drive this is with technology, an example being computer-aided facilities management or CAFM software. This software centralises all facilities-related information throughout a building or site, thereby allowing the FM to make decisions that are relevant and based on real-time data. It is a nifty means by which the logistical (including maintenance), employee-related, financial and other decisions relating to a facility can be managed.

Facility management continues to evolve, particularly in response to a global pandemic. Contemporary FM is responsible for more than physical assets and their maintenance. It now also encompasses physical and cyber security, the well-being of all who use facilities, resource optimisation, and operational risk management. This requires flexibility and versatility. 

It therefore makes sense that an FM is at the forefront of an Agile organisation.

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

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