Startups and co-working spaces are leading the transition to dynamic workplaces according to the VergeSense 1H Workplace Experience & Office Space Employee Survey, released in August. Their results showed that employees at startups (11-50 employees) were the most likely to be working in agile or hot-desking environments, with 23% in contrast to the 8% of employees at agile large businesses (1,001-5,000 employees).
Overall, 54% of the 500 respondents claimed to be working in cubicles or closed offices versus 40% working in open office setups. Of those working in the presumably more modern open-plan workplaces, 60% had set desks, and 40% worked in more contemporary agile or hot-desking arrangments with unassigned desks. At the forefront of this transition to agile workplaces were the market’s youngest and smallest companies.
“What was interesting in our data was that those at startups or smaller scale SMB’s (11-50 employees) were the most likely to say they were working in a truly agile environment with no set desk. While those at larger SMB’s (51-100) were the most likely to say they were working in open offices, but still maintained a set desk,” Kanav Dhir, Senior Product Manager at AI-powered analytics firm VergeSense told Memoori.
“I think it might be a bit of a perfect storm right now where the smallest companies are recognizing the cost savings and flexibility that has arrived with co-working and openly shared locations, and that these environments are no longer a turn off to employees,” Dhir continued.
The relatively recent popularity of hot-desking and co-working epitomizes the agile workplace movement. A place where employees do not have assigned desks but rather work at whatever free desk suits them best at any time. This allows employees who need more privacy or to avoid distractions (in general or at a given time), to use the more isolated workspaces available where they can focus better. When more collaboration is desired, the employee can work from a desk in the more open plan area. The benefits of hot-desking revolve around flexibility, where workers can choose a desk, sofa, beanbag, or hammock depending on their needs.
VergeSense’s demographic analysis also brought up some counter-intuitive results. Office workers between 40 and 54 years old (Generation X) were the most likely to say their ideal setup would be no set desk and freedom to choose where they work, with 35%. While the age group older, Baby Boomers aged 55 to 65, were the most likely (54%) to say they prefer having a set desk in a cubicle/non-open workspace. Returning faith in our intuition, almost three times as many men wanted a game room in their workplace than women, but even then 45 to 54-year-olds were the keenest gamers.
In a more productivity-focused area of the workplace discussion, the agile workplace has become the new evolution of the open-plan office layout and better encapsulates the basis of the original concept. Agile workplaces create an environment in which employees have the space to find their best performance. It maintains the elements that foster creativity and innovation but accepts the reality that different employees, and a single employee at different times, require different workspace environments to be at their best.
However, the VergeSense survey brought up a few results, which may question if agile workplace approaches are really achieving their desired impact. For example, respondents working in agile spaces were, in fact, the most likely to say it’s always hard to find quiet places within their workplace to get stuff done with 27% — compared to 16% in set-desk open, and 8% in non-open offices.
Further deepening the counter-intuitiveness of the results, workers in agile environments were also the most likely to say they usually have a difficult time finding collaboration space. 15% compared to 7% of respondents working at set desks and 4% in cubicle setups. While a simple analysis of the results can be misleading, one obvious conclusion of these responses may be that the agile workplace isn’t working.
“I don’t think it’s a failure of agile working. The findings illustrate that the right technology and infrastructure hasn’t been in place to make agile working efficient and productive. Workers in agile environments did report that they’re in their ideal workspace right now. Employers just don’t have the right tools in place to make it perfect for each employee’s personalized way of working,” said Dhir — who with the team at VergeSense, has been piloting an AI-powered sensor that aims to solve the space utilization problem.
As Dhir pointed out, a reassuring 74% of workers in agile environments say they’re working in their ideal office setup. However, cubicles weren’t far behind with 69% of those in non-open plan offices calling their workplaces ideal, and only 48% of respondents with a set desk in open offices sharing that view. Perhaps modern office workers need agility to navigate the different challenges of the highly dynamic open-plan workplace. Agility also happens to be one of the recruitment characteristics most desired by the startups leading this transition to agile workplaces.
“If a startup or SMB employers had tried to go that [agile workplace] route, decades ago when a corner office was coveted, they'd likely have found it extremely difficult to attract talent,” Dhir told Memoori. “But today workers are looking for this type of flexibility, and co-working locations are showing up at nearly every corner the agile working environment. This often comes with a more appealing commute as well.”
Agile workplaces attract agile people who attract agile startups who attract agile workplaces!