GET THE BOARD ON BOARD

A move away from desk-based to agile working environments is arguably the biggest change to the workplace in over a century. If your current working environment involves assigning each employee a desk and having a few meeting rooms scattered around, there is no getting around the fact that this shift will be a significant change, not least for the leadership.

"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."

Dwight D. Eisenhower

A move away from desk-based to agile working environments is arguably the biggest change to the workplace in over a century. If your current working environment involves assigning each employee a desk and having a few meeting rooms scattered around, there is no getting around the fact that this shift will be a significant change, not least for the leadership.

Wherever there is change, there is a pressing need for leadership. Because activity-based working is ultimately not about furniture and space – it’s about adopting a new mindset, embracing a new culture. These are elements that go well beyond the scope of the facilities budget.

But how do you ensure the company’s leaders – not just the one with budget authority – are truly on board with the change? How can you ensure a switch to agile working isn’t met with confused looks or the casual shrug of a shoulder from senior managers when employees start pushing back?

Having supported a number of companies on their journey to implementing agile working, here are some common truths we have discovered for those looking to get the Board on board:

Have answers for tough questions

Whatever language you decide to use to explain the coming change (agile working, activity-based working, non-fixed working spaces, etc), chances are you will face some pointed questions in return. These might come from employees who feel most threatened by the change or from other senior leaders sceptical of the need for the change.

Whichever direction they are coming from, here are some questions you should be ready to give answers to – with the aim of winning the leaders and influencers in the business:

Is this a bit of a fad, and should we wait to see if it passes?
What evidence do you have that we actually need this?
Can you prove this will result in increased productivity?
How do we avoid 6 months of grumbling and complaining from staff?
Is this really just a way of saving space by reducing number of desks?
Are we doing this because the facilities budget is being squeezed?
How can we avoid punishing people for needing a permanent desk for their work?

Find cheerleaders across the company

For a move to agile working to be a success, it will need more than just budget approval and buy-in from the relevant member of the Board. Our experience is that project leads who open up their plans and thinking to individuals across the organisation are those who ultimately find less resistance when it comes to implementation.

That’s not to say a move to agile working demands some wide-ranging stakeholder consultation before it proceeds. It really boils down to finding advocates – cheerleaders – across different teams and departments that will champion the move and help to seed positive associations about it amongst those they work with.

A good place to start may be with influential employees who also have a mobility type that demands a more flexible environment (read more about mobility types here) Get them involved as early as possible, and let them feel like they are part of the wider project team.


Get leaders committing for the long-term

Here’s what often happens once a decision to move to agile working has been made. Leaders are quick to form a project team (or teams) to get on with implementation, and then step back from hands-on involvement.

However, if a move to agile working is really a move to different behaviours and culture at work, then leaders must stay involved long enough to respond to tough questions, push back against resistance to change, and find solutions to help the project team move forward.

Without that longer-term commitment – through the phases of implementation and adoption – your organisation risks never seeing the full benefits that a move to agile working promises.

Be prepared to walk away

The recent Leesman Index revealed that just 34% of refurbishment and fit-out projects end up delivering high performance results for the organisation. The reason for each scheme’s apparent failure are varied, but the fact that too many workplaces don’t reap the rewards of their efforts should really serve as a stark warning to anyone embarking on this journey of change.

Here at Kinnarps, we are big believers in the need to invest time in researching what your employees need before deciding on the furniture and space solutions (more on that here). The insights from this research may well challenge your assumptions and force initial plans budgets to change.

And what if the numbers aren’t adding up? What if the need can’t really be proven, if important question remain unanswered, if leadership commitment appears limited, or the trial programme suggests a full move is likely to fail? Then be prepared to walk away.

After all, agile working is about making your workplace a better place to work – not about making change for change’s sake.

We have a proven process to help research and conquer some of the challenges we set out in this article – we call it the Next Office Concept. Via a series of workshops and studies – using rich data from your employees – we can suggest the best route to take in implementing a move to an agile working environment. If you need extra support in the cultural and behavioural change, we have experts who can help there too. Want to hear more… just ask.

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