Clever supply houses like Zenith Interiors are actively working to understand the concept of agile working, and are working with local and international designers alike to provide best-practice solutions for the evolving concept.
At the end of 2015 Zenith Interiors began the roll out of the AGILE initiative. Zenith is a company that sees agile working as incorporating “dimensions of time and place flexibility and involves doing work differently in a productive environment,” says Zenith director, Barbara Schmidt.
This is a broad statement, and Schmidt is quick to acknowledge that a successful solution can differ according to the culture and business objectives of an organisation and an investment in technology. She explains: “Basically it’s about bringing people together and embracing technology, processes and connectivity in an effective and efficient way. An agile workspace should be flexible, inviting and offer diverse working areas within the office. An Agile workplace is about making individual choices about how and where you work.”
Though Schmidt is quite right in that each project and client requires a varied approach, she also notes that the agile model is not without its trends. “Sit-to-stand desking,” she says, “has had a huge impact within the agile workspace. We now understand that sitting in one position all day is counterproductive.”
And while collaborative work is certainly a necessary element to modern commercial culture, it brings with it a unique set of problems to be resolved. Here, Schmidt and team Zenith have noticed an important movement toward providing acoustical balance in office spaces; places for refuge and focus in what is otherwise a very noisy space. “It is important employees have an environment to perform tasks and function, which may require privacy and focus as well as collaboration,” explains Schmidt.
But the hurdles don’t end there. Generally speaking, structural in-house change-management remains a huge barrier to the agile model, where there is always some internal resistance to change. While Zenith is not immune to this resistance, they are incredibly well equipped to create strategies that ease the transition.
“The challenges for agile working environments will come from senior management embracing a flexible work concept and welcoming the changes that need to be made to the workplace in order to embrace the concept,” Schmidt explains, though she admits, it’s not a hard sell: “In saying that, the Australian and NZ office marketplace is ahead of the game when it comes to new workplace practice. We have embraced the trend of ‘open plan’, then ‘activity based working’, so we are confident the next stage, which brings this all together under ‘agile working’ is an easy and logical transition for organisations that get on board with – increased productivity and happy employees.”
Even traditionally rigid and unflinching industries like law and finance are seeing the value in this progressive model. Schmidt and team Zenith are already “working closely with many organisations – small and large – who have totally embraced the value of workplace diversity. The financial institutions have been rethinking their office layouts and working environments for many years now. The NAB headquarters in Melbourne Docklands and recently the new Westpac facility at Barangaroo in Sydney are great examples of agile work environments. Even the education sector is creating agile workplaces for learning. UTS have installed a very sophisticated agile workspace for their Higher Degree Research department in a recent refurbishment for the Faculty of Health.”
For Schmidt and the designers they work with to develop solutions, the agile working model “is basically common sense.” But surprisingly, so many institutions get it wrong. So, what’s the secret? Schmidt believes that “It is a culmination of evolving work styles combined with technology to create a more responsive and efficient organisation and workplace. The important part of planning an agile workplace is understanding the organisation’s processes, people and technologies. This is the basis of good design planning and requires extensive stakeholder consolations combined with vision and commitment from management. It is not a one size fits all approach. And every organisation will be different.”
Zenith’s AGILITY campaign is currently being rolled out around Australia, New Zealand and Asia, the first of which was held in Melbourne last November (2015), and incorporates a collection of new furniture ranges that supports diverse working environments. For Schmidt and team Zenith, a solid investment in original design is the key to success in this area. She notes: “Good commercial design is a very important part of creating an agile workplace. As Winston Churchill said: “First we shape our places then our places shape us”.