T-Mobile, Bellevue, Washington
T-Mobile, Bellevue, Washington

Designing for Agile Teams Creates an Advantage in the War for Talent

With the rapid pace of change spurred by new digital technologies, businesses increasingly need to be more agile in order be competitive. According to Accenture, nearly 80% of executives agree that the future workforce will be structured in multidisciplinary teams working around projects or service/product lines, rather than by job function. This requires a new workforce with a new set of skills, and new ways of working.

Agile has different meanings in the real estate and workplace industries. For some, being agile is related to being flexible and mobile, with a model of unassigned desks such as hot-desking or hoteling. But in the world of technology — particularly that of software developers — agile refers to iterative development methodologies, where solutions evolve through collaboration, and focuses on the incremental delivery of individual pieces or parts of the software and not on the entire application. In the tech industry, where software development is extremely competitive and speed to market is essential, spaces to support agile work methodologies are crucial. Software development has evolved to an increasingly collaborative activity: self-organized, multidisciplinary teams working in fast-developing cycles, often divided into minor tasks (increments) that are developed iteratively in cycles (sprints) of a few weeks.

While the tech industry might have pioneered agile work methodologies, this thinking has extended to other industries, which are embracing flexible, collaborative environments that bring multidisciplinary teams together to accelerate innovation and speed to market with a focus on their customers’ needs. In fact, people rank team building and collaboration among the most important attributes of great workplaces, according to Gensler’s 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey.

United Technologies Digital, New York
Transparency and display

Successful agile teams celebrate their process and milestones, and stay connected to their customers’ needs. The agile approach to problem solving includes transparency and information display: information such as workflow and progress must be visible to everyone, so teams and visitors can learn from one another, stay focused, and offer assistance when needed. Also, it’s important to offer a variety of multifunctional spaces for teams to get together and quickly post their ideas to keep workflow moving.

For example, Gensler created a new accelerator space for United Technologies Digital, where the company celebrates its industrial heritage while propelling digital innovation forward into the future supporting fluidity of work and information on a place that supports work process, information flow, and transparency. Visible and transparent spaces help teams to avoid distractions and interruptions, while team spaces are complemented with spaces for quick interaction.

A multidisciplinary ecosystem

Agile working methodologies embrace a set of principles and values to improve speed and customer focus. T. Rowe Price, an asset management firm, transformed a warehouse in Linthicum, Maryland, into a multidisciplinary ecosystem for agile project teams to come together to collaborate intensely on projects focused on their customer’s journey. To support a fast-paced workstyle, a team needs to move seamlessly from activities throughout the day, moving from individual to team work, from technology to analog tools. At T. Rowe Price’s Transformation Center, team members work in open spaces, and can easily co-locate with their mobile colleagues. This open environment is complemented with break out spaces for smaller discussions, such as technical reviews, user research sessions, or product demos. This space promotes a high degree of focus on the customer journey and an accelerated approach to solving problems and achieving results, enabling T. Rowe Price to deliver products to market quicker (16 weeks to market for initial product launches vs 6 months to a year previously).

T. Rowe Price Transformation Center, Maryland
Eccentric versus Concentric

The corporate workplace has gone through different stages over time, providing workers with a variety of space types and encouraging them to move inside – and outside – the office. We encourage people to use a variety of spaces (individual and collaborative and open and enclosed) instead of a single desk. If the person is at the center, this is an “eccentric” model, as illustrated below.

Designing for agile teams requires a slightly different approach. Space must support the fluid nature of agile work and the team as a key component, as opposed to the traditional linear and individual approach to work and place. For an agile team, proximity is key. The most important area is the team space — that’s the home for the tribe, helping foster a sense of identity and cohesion. All support spaces – conference rooms, amenities, and services – should be brought as close as possible to the team to help them switch to a different activity, display and celebrate their progress, or simply relax.

More industries are embracing and supporting agile teams, recognizing that this way of working has the potential to accelerate innovation and collaboration, with a heightened focus on the customer. While the physical workplace may vary, the future of work is agile, and, it’s here to stay.

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José Luis Sanchez-Concha Ibarra
José Luis is a strategy director and a workplace sector leader in Gensler’s Costa Rica office. He is passionate about pushing the boundaries of our current understanding of the workplace, creating strategies and helping clients to implement new ways of working and alternative and innovative spaces. Contact him at .