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Martin Read is editor of FM World
Martin Read is editor of FM World

08 October 2018 Martin Read

Martin Read discusses the benefits of agile working and open plan offices when introduced as part of a wider change project.

There’s been plenty of discussion recently around the efficacy of open-plan and the agile working environment that typically accompanies such an approach to office layout. The recurring theme of introverts ostracised, focus affected and workers forced to find their way in  an apparently lonely workspace have  been well documented before.

A good time, then, to visit a local authority and discover how much these issues turn out to be entirely secondary to agile’s ability to sharpen up overall team structure, dial down old school command-and-control and genuinely eliminate ‘silo’ working. In this particular office, the environment has indeed changed – but that’s because the dynamic of the team and its overall size has been materially affected by the agile environment. Have those who are shy lost out? Not if their enthusiasm for their job remains. In fact, the new office has affected how the team socialises both in and outside of hours, accommodating a still various group of personality types. There’s more autonomy for each team member, a flatter management structure – and an open-plan environment allowing individuals to help those in other sub-teams as well as their direct colleagues.

What’s happened here is the perfect combination of an enthusiastic change ‘champion’, an underlying IT system coming in just before the move to open-plan, and a collective sense of the ‘new’ leading workers who would have hitherto described such a working environment as ‘bunkum’ to reassess their grievances. Flexible working is key to this success, but it’s seen simply as a logical extension to the overall project, with the greater responsibility taken by workers reciprocated by managers who are providing an environment able to fundamentally change how the team communicates and delivers.

So there’s an answer to those questioning the value of the open-plan office. Introduced ‘as-is’ then, sure, there’s little wonder it can occasionally fail. But as part of a wider change project in which everyone has a part, it can lift all boats. Open-plan demands open minds from management if it’s to open minds across the team. Get that right and everybody benefits.

Martin Read is editor of FM World