• Amelia Curic

Open plan and agile: the jargon of the future-proof office workplace

Skyrocketing accommodation costs and the competitive drive to attract and retain great staff have led many businesses on the quest for workplace transformation. Protecting and maximising your investment in real estate and staff requires thinking with an eye on the longer term. How are leading businesses creating future-proof workplaces? And what is this perplexing language they use when  describing how they do it? Here’s your glossary!


Hot deskingah, the bane of many an office worker. In its purest form, no-one in the company with hot desking has their own desk. All staff, including management, choose a desk each day (or even within the day) to do their work. In some offices, desks and workspaces are bookable – in others, it’s a mad scramble as those who’ve come in to work early manage to secure the best positions. People utilise lockers and centralised ‘home spaces’ for their team to access stationery and to meet. Hot desking had an initial surge of popularity as it allowed businesses to shrink the number of desks available and cut costs. Yet when not planned effectively, hot desking has the potential to backfire and lower staff morale: no-one wants to find themselves in an unproductive location.


Best practice implementation of hot desking requires accurate assessment and planning of utilisation rates well before the transition, adequate alternatives for a range of desks and other work settings, a reliable system for booking spaces (rather than a first-in, best-dressed approach) – and provision of the technology to enable this flexibility to be effective for your business.


Open plan – wait, what? Isn’t that the same thing? Not necessarily! Open plan offices are those where no-one sits in an office: all staff use desks separated by partitions. Desks may or may not be allocated (see hot desking, above). Open plan offices have also seen a rapid uptake followed by a slump as they have often been used in unsuitable workplaces, or weren’t planned and implemented effectively. They’re not suitable for every business. Yet the research tells us that for work that requires low concentration levels, done solo as opposed to collaboratively, they can actually work quite well. Easy, informal access to other team members is often a boon. But, like hot desking, open plan offices still need adequate spaces where staff can work privately and quietly, or sit around a table to collaborate.


ABW – stands for Activity Based Working. An ABW workplace offers staff a variety of settings in which to undertake their work. Based on the activity to hand, staff may choose, for example, a small meeting room, an inhouse café with lounges, a desk near their team’s administration support area. These settings may vary from day to day and even within a typical day. Effective implementation of ABW requires careful analysis of workflows and practices, staff demographics, investment in mobile technology and a trusting attitude on the part of management that staff will get the work done even if they’re not within sight. See our fact sheets and other posts on ABW to find out more.


Agile – hint: not office calisthenics! Agile workplaces are those where staff are offered maximum flexibility in work practices. In an ABW workplace, staff can choose where they work. In an agile workplace, staff can typically also choose when. Younger staff and those with other commitments really embrace the flexibility offered by an agile workplace. Being able to get to school for 3pm pickup, for example, is appreciated and work that would’ve been done in the second half of the afternoon can be performed after dinner that evening. Again, it’s not for every business, and requires technology + trust. But as workplace demographics change, younger staff are increasingly expecting that they’ll be able to do their work when and where it suits them.


Heard any more workplace transformation terms that have you scratching your head? Post below and we’ll give you the rundown!


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