Characteristics of Highly-Effective Agile Workspaces [Updated for 2020]

In recent years, a number of Polaris clients have recognized the benefits of creating modern, Agile workspaces. We’ve worked with them, and our team of Agile coaches, to develop this list of must-haves for a highly-effective workspace that fosters better communication, collaboration, and teamwork. That said, we know some teams have had to transition to remote work in 2020, and may have plans to continue that way into 2021 and beyond. So we’ve also updated our list with five considerations for distributed workforces as well. 

10 Workspace Must-Haves for Collocated Teams

Take a look at the workspace pictured above. Can you imagine your team working collaboratively on their laptops in an environment like this? Would you rather drive into work to a cubicle farm, or this comfortable space? Imagine the more natural, flowing conversations that might occur here.

It’s been our observation that the best Agile workspaces today have more in common with modern coffee shops than traditional offices. If your organization is planning to return to working in-person and on-premises as COVID-19 safer-at-home measures loosen up, you have an opportunity now to reconfigure your working environment, with these top ten considerations in mind:

1. Room for the ENTIRE team, and then some – It’s one of the core tenets of Agile that everyone on a given project should be collocated to maximize communication and collaboration. Be sure to include some extra seating space for user/customer visits if they aren’t on-site full time. Extra space also allows team members to rearrange and reconfigure their environment as needed.

2. An open floor plan – Modern office and residential design are on the same page about minimizing the number of walls in the floor plan. In addition to taking down walls, banish cubicles and dividers of any kind between your team members. Just make sure you reintroduce power outlets lost when removing walls (e.g. by embedding them in flooring or furniture). 

3. Natural light – If you expect creativity and performance, never bury your team inside the interior of a building without exterior windows. As a bonus, make outdoor space available for working and ensure that utilizing it won’t compromise connectivity. 

4. Pairing stations – Multiple studies have shown that paired development increases velocity and quality. Oversized or dual monitors with multiple chairs should be the norm, not the exception. At Polaris, we love to see multiple members of a team gather together in front of a big screen to swarm on a particularly tricky user story. 

5. Large whiteboards or whiteboard walls – Together, whiteboards and sticky notes probably make up the most recognizable physical markers of an Agile methodology. Indeed, whiteboards are a must for collaborating and quickly communicating complex ideas visually.

6. Large, shared displays – Information radiators, also known as Big Visible Charts (BVCs), are a must these days for making work visible and keeping project information plainly in sight. The latest 4k television offerings can be wall mounted and most include built-in wireless screen casting.

7. A standup meeting area – Preferably located near the large shared displays, this space can serve as the gathering spot for all Agile rituals. It’s actually best to avoid providing seating in this area, in order to keep the gatherings short and focused.

8. Privacy rooms – There’s still a need for privacy for both business and personal conversations and activities. A good rule of thumb is to provide one privacy room for every six team members, with each room consisting of a small table and two or three chairs. Resist the tendency to turn them into leaders’ offices. They should always be first come, first served.

9. Comfy chairs, conversation tables, and couches – Most everyone has a laptop these days and for solo work and collaborative conversations, nothing beats sitting in comfy chairs or a couch around a conversation table.

10. Kitchen and snack bar – Draw some inspiration from Google, and keep a steady supply of healthy snacks and drinks around. Your team will feel like they are in a second home.

[New for 2020] Workspace Tips for Remote Teams

Even though Agile was designed and optimized with collocated teams in mind, many mature, global enterprises have had to account for distributed teams for years. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more organizations have come face-to-face with this challenge, and will continue to do so as safer-at-home measures continue across most of the United States. 

Still others, like Twitter and Shopify, have made the decision to stay completely remote into 2021 and beyond. If your situation is similar to any of these, there are still workspace considerations to account for. Here are four quick tips to help you reap the benefits of an Agile workspace even with remote teams:

1. High bandwidth connections – Ensure all employees have access to a high bandwidth connection, even if it means providing reimbursement or direct billing. This ensures both high-quality audio/video communication and fast access to critical files and collaboration tools. 

2. Audio/video conferencing – Make sure your audio/video conferencing technology of choice is quick, easy to access, and secure. Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex are competing for users and regularly introducing new features during COVID-19, so stay abreast of their latest offerings.  

3. New computer hardware – Consider outfitting entire teams with the same webcams and headsets, so no one has a leg up over anyone else in terms of hardware. 

4. A remote accessible storage solution – If you haven’t already, migrate data and applications critical to your operations to the cloud. An experienced partner can help you with each step of a migration, from planning and proof of concept to execution. 

5. Time to socialize – It may seem unnecessary, but it’s more important than ever to find ways for remote teams to connect outside work-related activities. Suggest virtual coffee mornings or team trivia, or let the team collectively come up with ideas. 


Whether in-person or remote, how would you rate your current working environment? Now is the time to ensure greater organizational agility and ensure your physical workspace(s) are in line with the expectations placed on your team.