It’s become a stereotype for media and tech companies to have some kind of quirky furniture in the office.

Because nothing says “we’re innovative and creative” quite like table football.

But within the well-worn cliché lies an element of truth.

You can’t force a creative, hard-working culture on your workforce just by installing a slide, but it is possible to design a workspace that encourages collaboration and innovation, and generally improves morale. 

An important element of digital transformation projects is the ability for staff to adopt agile working practices that allow the business to adapt more quickly and take advantage of new opportunities.

In this post I'll look at a few arguments in favour of open plan offices, hot desking, and agile working, but for more on this topic read our post on the secret to productive digital workers.

Open plan offices

The benefits of an open plan office are obvious, though it can require a major shift in thinking for people used to having their own private space.

Going open plan removes the physical barriers that prevent people from communicating and sharing ideas.

Furthermore it encourages a flat management structure in place of a rigid, stifling hierarchy.

If you require inspiration, look no further than Facebook is currently building a new 435,000 square foot open plan office that will be home to 2,800 engineers.

That said, open plan offices tend to be noisy so it might be useful to have quiet areas where people can get their head down and focus.

Random interactions

Research cited in Harvard Business Review shows that random interactions and ‘collisions’ between employees create positive outcomes.

Basically, the more often we meet and interact with different people the more likely we are to have a conversation that benefits the business.

In one example, sales people were tracked to discover if certain behaviours could improve performance.

The results showed that when a salesperson increased interactions with people in other teams by 10%, their sales also grew by 10%.

Off the back of these findings the company reduced the number of coffee machines in the office to encourage more random encounters and created one large cafeteria.

In the quarter after the office revamp sales rose by 20%, equal to $200m.

This would suggest, therefore, that workspaces should be designed to increase the chances of random collisions.

This doesn’t necessarily mean having one massive airplane hanger to house all your staff, but does mean there are at least social spaces and meeting areas where employees can interact.

Hot desking

I recently attended a DT roundtable where the delegates briefly discussed the topic of hot desking.

Most were in favour of it due to the increased flexibility and the impact on the cleanliness of the office.

Plus, moving people out of their comfort zone can have a huge impact on their thinking and the way they approach their role.

The wild and wacky Econsultancy office

However it was also felt that in most cases people gravitated towards the same spot in the office anyway.

Either way, hot desking can be an effective way of encouraging better communication across departments and ensuring people don’t hide behind their monitors.

Obviously this requires a complete overhaul of the way in which the office is laid out, the internal infrastructure, and the equipment available to employees, which comes at no small cost.

Deloitte is reportedly building a huge new headquarters in Toronto to house its 3,500 employees.

All employees, including management, will be given lockers instead of private desks.

Investment in tech

As mentioned, a move to open plan working and hot desking requires a big investment in new tech.

Workspaces have to be designed with agility in mind, so that equipment is not tied to a physical location but can be moved to wherever it is needed.

An article published on the Future of Work identifies eight strategies that are required to ensure an agile workspace:

  1. Real-time communications with on-site teams.
  2. Agile building, parking and network access.
  3. Digitization of a physical building into digital spaces.
  4. Digitization of time that can be carved into increments that can be manipulated and reserved.
  5. Associating digital times with digital spaces.
  6. Agile room layouts.
  7. Collaborating with third parties to provide services for particular spaces and times.
  8. Mobile apps for the mobile workforce.

And finally...

Let me leave you with this short video from the Government Digital Service.

It shows how the GDS creates agile working spaces for its various digital projects.

Econsultancy is hosting a Digital Transformation webinar on March 5 2015 that will review key insights from our research and look at some of the important issues digital leaders will face in 2015.

David Moth

Published 18 February, 2015 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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