Do you need to respond to workplace changes more quickly? See how becoming “agile” can help you

Do these situations sound familiar to you?

Are requests for moves, adds and changes arriving at your desk more frequently? Are you being asked to provide spaces to support more teams focusing on special or short-term projects?  If these sound familiar, then understanding how to design agile spaces will help you work more effectively.

So, what does agile mean?

It’s about the workplace that is designed purposely for instant adaptability, and user flexibility and choice. Both are integral to current work process and workspaces – it’s likely what your organization is doing today and will be doing even more tomorrow.

Now, sometimes software or product development teams may use the term agile to describe their work processes; you’ll hear words like scrum, sprints, or user stories when they do. This is not the same as “agile space;” to learn more visit the Agile Alliance so you understand what your IT team is talking about.

What constitutes an agile workspace?

An agile workspace includes work settings similar to those you’d find in a typical open plan environment – individual workstations, informal, open shared collaboration spaces, and enclosed but flexible collaboration spaces. While the space types themselves are likely very similar to you, the level of adaptability integral to how they are designed, constructed and planned is very different. In short, there will be more versions of different space types; for example, all spaces for meetings won’t be enclosed with a table for 10.

And what about agile work?

Agile work is what drives the need for agile spaces. Agile work means that teams – which are often cross-functional – have access to and permission to use different types of spaces to support whatever work activities they are currently completing, such as: sit at their workstations to complete reports, move to a huddle room for a review meeting with their team, review notes in an open lounge setting, walk around the floor to stretch a bit while finishing a call. And because defining agile work requires a more detailed understanding of the specific activities that are part of a team’s work, the broader array of spaces types noted above will be required.

For each space type, specific factors may be used to define the required level of adaptability, e.g., different spatial and furniture design options to support achieving the required adaptability of each space type.

Table 1 outlines eight factors and design options that need to be considered when designing an effective agile space that supports agile work. To use this Table, identify the factors most relevant to your situation, and then, in the second column, see the space types that may be impacted (not all will apply to your situation). In the third column, Spatial and component options, you will see the options to address that factor for each space type; if a space type does not apply to your situation, you may ignore the options.

Table 1: Key Factors in Planning an Effective Agile Space

Factors to consider

Space Types

Spatial and component options

  • Individual
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Storage
  • Users: glides for quick reconfiguration, sit-to-stand, moveable or fixed storage
  • Facility-wide: minimal component kit of parts (to minimize size of parts inventory and maximize flexibility), maximum modular planning
Separation (visual)
  • Individual
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Panels: fixed height (separation is relatively consistent)
  • Screens: variable height (separation changes as workspace is re-configured)
  • Walls – fixed or demountable: fixed height
Power and data delivery, access
  • Individual
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Storage
  • From building: Core drills, power poles, demountable walls
  • At workstation or storage area:
  1. Panels: maximum capacity, limited access
  2. Beams: maximum capacity and access
  3. Rail: maximum capacity, flexibility and access
  • Modular planning and layout
Vertical Display
  • Individual
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Marker board, tackable panel
  • Wall mounted – drywall or demountable partition
  • Mobile, freestanding
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Tables: fixed or mobile
  • Seating: task, lounge/bench, built-in
Number of participants
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Seating options:
  1. At table: chairs with glides, casters
  2. At perimeter: bench, lounge, built-in
Collaboration technology
  • Individual
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Accessibility: remote access, web meetings
  • Media: cameras, video conferencing
  • Display: laptop, monitor, projector
  • Individual
  • Team: open, enclosed
  • Storage
  • Component: cabinets, shelving, drawers
  • Locking: manual, digital

It may not be possible to consider all spatial and component options at one time – for example, adding core drill locations in an existing facility requires significant planning and can be very expensive – while others, such as using modular planning and a component kit of parts, will show a more immediate improvement in adaptability.

Workplace Evolutionaries’ (WE’s) mission is to “change the world one workplace at a time.” It’s a global community of over a thousand professionals who care deeply about the world of work and where it’s going. Among its members are workplace strategists, change managers, facilities managers, architects, designers, HR professionals, IT managers, academics, and product and service providers. WE members enjoy three conferences a year, monthly WEbinars with thought leaders from around the world, a monthly round-up of the best workplace research and news, white papers, and a vehicle for connecting with fellow evolutionaries around the world. WE is a global Community of Practice within the International Facility Management Association.