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Tamara Navaratnam

Agile working: How SAGE’s agile office supports cross-team collaboration

One afternoon a few weeks ago I was in that state of high productivity which is fuelled by the panic of an upcoming holiday. On my ‘absolutely must get done before going away’ list were a number of items I needed to discuss with Amy Maher, the Senior Editor on the Psychology list (for which I am the Marketing Manager). However, the last thing I needed was to take a chunk out of my remaining work hours to have a meeting.

Luckily for me, that afternoon Amy was working in our office’s marketing neighbourhood, with a free desk next to her which I promptly grabbed. We spent the next few hours working side by side, able to ask each other quick questions when needed, show each other things on our screens (invariably spreadsheets) and make quick decisions together on projects that I wouldn’t be able to input into for the next few weeks.

If you work for a small company, this collaborative working might be business as usual – but it’s only in this, my twelfth year at SAGE, that I have been able to work easily in this way with a colleague from a different team. This is because this year, following a successful pilot last year in the editorial department, SAGE’s London office has gone ‘agile’.

What does this mean? Well it isn’t just hot-desking, although we no longer have a designated desk to sit at each day. An agile office is more than that, with different workspaces available for different types of work. For collaborative work there are pods, round tables and social ‘cafe style’ spaces, designed specifically for working on projects together or having discussions that don’t need to take up a meeting room. For quiet solitary work there is a focus room and single study rooms, and there are also one- or two-person rooms designed for taking video meetings or calls.

For everything in between there are normal workstations, divided into department ‘neighbourhoods’ as mentioned above. This is mostly to ease us into this way of working (and to give each department a location for their storage cupboards), as everyone is free to sit in any area.

As a result of having different workspaces to choose from, and not being limited to particular desks or areas, there is more of a flow of people around the office. This means that as well as being able to sit with colleagues from other teams, you are more likely to bump into them as you move around the office, which is great for quick catch-ups without, again, the formality of having a meeting.

It’s not without its issues – on the flip side of being able to work across departments more easily there some challenges that arise from not sitting with your team every day. For example, making sure that new starters feel welcome, and that the team is able to share knowledge and ideas and still feels like a team. Technology (particularly messaging systems) does help with this, but it’s something we are working on.

Overall though I am a big fan of this way of working. I like the freedom and health benefits of being able to get up and move around more during the day (my step count certainly went up when we changed), as well as the ability to choose an area that suits the type of work I need to do, or to sit with colleagues when we are working on a project together. On the odd occasion I get in early enough, it’s great to have the option of a window seat too!

If you would like to know more about agile working, the following resources will be helpful: What is Agile Working? (from The Agile Organisation) and Reinstating Boundaries: The Agile Organisation (from business.com).

Tamara Navaratnam is a Group Marketing Manager at SAGE Publishing, and a member of Bookmachine’s Team Unplugged. You can follow Tamara on twitter at @tamaranavara

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