Agile workplaces need to strike the right balance

Meeting rooms in agile workspacesMeeting rooms are a lot like buses. You wait ages for one and then three become available all at once. Sometimes none turn up at all. Research by Kinnarps, which we do as part our Next Office consultancy, has found something that might not come as a great surprise. Employees are deeply frustrated with the lack of meeting room availability, often even in agile workplaces, especially locked-down project rooms.

Meetings, in general, have come to epitomise everything that’s wrong with modern work. Meetings that could have been an email. Meetings about organising other meetings. Meetings without minutes. Awkward conference calls. Even worse, video calls. Meetings in the office kitchen. Makeshift meetings that encroach on your space.

Yet the need for a specific type of meeting room continues to grow. Workplaces are now hubs for collaboration. People are spending lots more time working out of the office. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 50 percent of the UK workforce will be working remotely by 2020. These nomadic employees need space to be available and function when it’s time to meet with colleagues.

However, it also has a great deal to do with the space that collaboration now occupies in our conception of work and what makes workplaces – and especially agile workplaces – effective. Huge swathes of modern offices are designed so that colleagues must “break away to space to work together”. For sectors such as tech, finance and legal – where mid- to long-term projects happen often and agile scrum sessions and extreme programming are all the rage – this is creating an even greater need for dedicated project rooms.


Getting the space right

Nonetheless, the vast majority of contemporary agile workplaces simply do not have adequate space or services to support this level of agility. Often, colleagues will come together from different locations, lock themselves away in a meeting room for short periods, and then go their separates ways to work alone on parts of a project. But these projects take time and the work remains unfinished. So, the project room is locked, post-it notes stay on the wall and a big sign that reads ‘do not rub off’ is stuck next to the whiteboard to protect all the progress for the next session.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The project room is locked, post-it notes stay on the wall and a big sign that reads ‘do not rub off’ is stuck next to the whiteboard[/perfectpullquote]

It is not hard to imagine why this might cause frustration among other colleagues. The area stays unavailable – either as a meeting space or a project room – despite the fact that it is empty.

The answer to this new challenge – as with so many other challenges in workplace design – can be found at the intersection between people, place and technology. Behind the physical workplace – the walls, the doors, the whiteboards and post-it notes – there’s now a digital space, too.

Project Rooms, for example, can now be equipped with digital canvasses that allow teams to add their notes, images and charts directly from their laptops and smartphones or by touch technology on the canvas itself.

When teams have finished their session, they can save their progress digitally, exit and leave the door unlocked, having left the ‘walls’ clean for whichever team wants to use the space next. What’s more, workers no longer have to record their progress with blurry, futile photos of their work with their phones.

The saved canvas is then available in any location with an internet connection. Get an idea just before bed? Simply log in and add it onto the canvas as a reminder for the next discussion. We call this a Next-Gen Project Room.


Virtual meetings with virtual people

Today, most meetings will have virtual attendees, too. And this has done nothing to alleviate workers’ frustrations. Bad connections and constant interruptions mean that people dialling in are often disconnected from the meat of the meeting – the ideas and decision-making process.

With a digital canvas, however, both the physical attendees and the virtual guests elsewhere can access the work. By giving people the option to participate in a scrum or brainstorming sessions virtually, organisations can ensure that more high-demand meeting space stays available, too. There is also a cost saving benefit of reduced travel and a positive sustainable angle to virtual participation.

Our research reveals crucial lessons about the profound changes taking place to work and how organisations must adapt to these. Collaboration and connection between employees is arguably more important than it’s ever been. Some studies suggest that insufficient meeting room space can be detrimental to employees’ satisfaction and productivity. Those responsible for designing and providing workplace experiences should remember that next time they can’t find a meeting room.