JAMES, a project manager, starts his day from one of the desks in the office solving client-related issues that have cropped up overnight. An hour later, he is at a management meeting pinning down budgets for the coming quarter. After lunch at a nearby coffeehouse, he heads to a client meeting a few blocks down the road to secure the client's approval for new initiatives.
In the late afternoon, he is back at the office working in one of the informal meeting areas located throughout his office, engaged in a fruitful brainstorm session with fellow colleagues. By the end of the day, he has settled down at another desk completing a 10-page sustainability report on his company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.
In one day, James passed just a couple of hours at a desk, and spent the rest of his time in other parts of the office. This is a typical work day of an employee from a company that has recognised the benefits of facilitating office-based smart agile working environments.
As we thrive in the knowledge economy, greater emphasis is placed on human capital, knowledge sharing and networks of relationships, rather than physical office space. Employees tend to have a number of tailored working modes during the typical work day, some of which are not well suited to the traditional office environment. The phrase "desk-bound" is set to become obsolete in an era where globalisation and seismic shifts in work practices are tearing down the walls of the traditional office building.
Agile working is catching on as companies all over the world are embracing increasingly flexible ways of working. According to the Virtual and flexible work environments on the rise report conducted by KPMG, 66 per cent of Singapore respondents said that flexi-time arrangements and alternatives to physical office premises such as hot-desking are becoming increasingly common.
The transition towards this trend is a result of work becoming more collaborative and fluid as organisations' overall success depends on a community-based mind-set. Flexible working is not just a matter of moving around some furniture, but changing the working culture and designing spaces that foster employee productivity in the office. The physical office space therefore needs to evolve to better equip employees with an environment that drives efficiency and encourages collaboration.
The benefits of flexible working conditions are distinct and measurable. In a recent BT study of desk utilisation, we found that desks are used, on average, just 50-60 per cent of the working day. By introducing agility into the equation, personal desk allocation can, and therefore physical workspace, be reduced. BT's experience with such large-scale agile work programmes has demonstrated that efficiency savings are typically more than 10 per cent and can exceed 20 per cent in some cases.
Dutch insurance company Interpolis found that after redesigning their workspace to support flexible working, productivity has increased by 20 per cent, sick leave has dropped from 9 per cent to 2.5 per cent and 51 per cent of working areas have been freed up.
BT is a firm believer in the benefits of offering flexible working atmospheres for our employees and customers globally. Of BT's 94,000 employees, 65,000 or about 70 per cent across all employee functions and management levels work flexibly in some way, and this includes office-based flexible working. This community-based office culture that BT has cultivated is aimed at delivering significant benefits in terms of collaboration, efficiency and productivity.
Flexible working can take on many forms in the workplace. The working environment can be made more agile by reducing desk allocation and providing alternative work spaces such as hot-desking, drop-in areas, team zones and informal working spaces.
This year, BT Southeast Asia (BT SEA) successfully made the transition to a new way of working at its new office in Changi, where 650 people share 440 desk spaces. All employees are equipped with technology and connectivity that enables them to work anywhere, inside and out of the office. With this new approach, the company is seeing an increase in productivity and a step change in the collaboration between teams resulting in a better customer service. Each employee has specific preferences for his work space. BT SEA's new office is designed to support and encourage different work styles. For example, collaboration is much easier with more than 30 meeting rooms, nine video conferencing suites, and facilities such as a centralised booking system.
Organisations looking to introduce flexible working practices can adopt technological solutions to facilitate the shift towards agility.
Undoubtedly, new attitudes and technologies are changing business paradigms, and the agile organisation will be an inevitable result of the transition towards a more fluid approach to work. Relying on 20th century models to run 21st century businesses will not work for much longer and businesses are increasingly realising that agility is a means of sharpening their competitive edge and increasing employee productivity.
Knowledge creation and sharing combined with mass collaboration can deliver higher company gains. A flexible work environment contributes towards cultivating these desired traits in an organisation. It is therefore increasingly vital for companies to adapt to these work shifts by becoming more "agile" and embracing flexible working environments.