Traditional Offices, Open Plan, Agile Working & Smart Working Explained

In the realm of modern workplaces, various types of office environments have emerged to accommodate different work styles, technologies, and employee preferences. From traditional offices to open plan spaces, and from agile working to smart working methodologies, businesses and organisations are exploring innovative ways to enhance productivity, collaboration, and employee satisfaction. Let’s delve into the nuances of each approach, exploring their benefits, downfalls, and relevance in today’s dynamic work landscape.

What types of office environments are there?

Traditional Offices: Traditional offices are characterised by individual enclosed workspaces, such as cubicles or private offices, with limited collaboration spaces. This setup often follows a hierarchical structure, with employees assigned to specific desks or offices based on their role or seniority. Traditional offices prioritise privacy and focus but may hinder communication and collaboration among team members.

Open Plan Working: Open plan working involves creating a shared workspace without traditional enclosed offices or cubicles. It promotes transparency, communication, and collaboration by removing physical barriers and encouraging interaction among employees. Open plan offices typically feature communal workstations, shared meeting spaces, and breakout areas designed to facilitate teamwork and creativity. They can get a bad reputation due to bad acoustics, which is where agile working came about.

UK office designers - smart working office design and space planning by Flexiform.

Agile Working Office Designs: Agile working is a flexible approach to work that focuses on empowering employees to choose how, when, and where they work to maximise productivity and innovation. It emphasizes principles such as autonomy, flexibility, and adaptability, enabling employees to work from different locations, collaborate across teams, and adjust their work arrangements based on individual preferences and project requirements. As employees move around the offices to suit their needs, it allows them to seek quieter areas when they need to focus, or large collaborative spaces when they need to discuss or present ideas.

Smart Working Practices: Smart working integrates technology, data, and innovative design principles to create a dynamic and efficient workspace that enhances productivity, collaboration, and employee well-being. It leverages digital tools, IoT devices, and analytics to optimize space utilisation, streamline workflows, and provide employees with the tools and resources they need to work smarter, not harder.

Smart Working office furniture installation for National Highways

What is the difference between Agile Working and Smart Working?

While agile working and smart working share similar principles of flexibility and innovation, they differ in their focus and approach. Agile working primarily emphasises empowering employees to work flexibly and adaptively, focusing on autonomy, collaboration, and iterative improvement. It is more closely associated with project-based work and cross-functional teams, where flexibility and agility are essential for success.

On the other hand, smart working incorporates technology and data-driven insights to optimise workspace design, workflow processes, and employee experiences. It leverages digital tools, IoT devices, and analytics to create a more intelligent and efficient work environment that enhances productivity, collaboration, and well-being. Smart working is about leveraging technology to work smarter, not just harder, by providing employees with the tools and resources they need to perform at their best.

What are the benefits and downfalls of Agile Working?


  • Flexibility: Agile working empowers employees to choose how, when, and where they work, allowing them to optimize their work-life balance and productivity.
  • Collaboration: Agile principles promote cross-functional teamwork, open communication, and rapid iteration, fostering creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.
  • Adaptability: Agile teams can quickly respond to changing market conditions, customer feedback, and project requirements, enabling faster decision-making and delivery.


  • Communication Challenges: Distributed teams and flexible work arrangements can sometimes lead to communication gaps, misunderstandings, and coordination issues, especially in large or geographically dispersed organisations.
  • Overwork: Without clear boundaries and guidelines, agile working can sometimes blur the lines between work and personal life, leading to burnout and stress among employees.
  • Resistance to Change: Implementing agile principles requires a cultural shift and may encounter resistance from employees accustomed to traditional ways of working or hierarchical structures.

What are the benefits and downfalls of Smart Working?


  • Efficiency: Smart working leverages technology to streamline workflows, automate routine tasks, and improve decision-making, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity.
  • Collaboration: Smart workspaces are designed to facilitate communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing among employees, regardless of their location or time zone.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Smart working enables organizations to gather data on workspace usage, employee behavior, and performance metrics, allowing them to make informed decisions and optimize resource allocation.


  • Implementation Costs: Implementing smart working initiatives requires upfront investment in technology infrastructure, software platforms, and employee training, which can be costly for some organisations.
  • Privacy Concerns: Collecting and analysing data on employee behavior and workspace usage may raise privacy concerns among employees, especially regarding surveillance and monitoring.
  • Technology Dependence: Smart working relies heavily on technology and connectivity, making organizations vulnerable to disruptions such as network outages, cyber-attacks, or software glitches.

What are the benefits and downfalls of Open Plan Working?


  • Collaboration: Open plan offices promote communication, collaboration, and teamwork by removing physical barriers and encouraging interaction among employees.
  • Flexibility: Open plan layouts can be easily reconfigured to accommodate changing business needs, team dynamics, and project requirements.
  • Space Optimisation: Open plan designs optimise space utilisation and foster a sense of transparency and inclusivity by providing equal access to resources and amenities.


  • Noise and Distractions: Open plan environments may lead to noise distractions, interruptions, and reduced concentration levels, especially in busy or crowded areas.
  • Lack of Privacy: The absence of enclosed workspaces can compromise privacy and confidentiality, making it challenging for employees to focus on sensitive tasks or have confidential conversations.
  • Health Concerns: Open plan offices may contribute to health issues such as stress, fatigue, and illness due to factors like poor air quality, overcrowding, and lack of ergonomic support.

Is traditional office cubicles still relevant?

Traditional office cubicles, while still prevalent in some organisations, are becoming less relevant in today’s agile and collaborative work environment. While cubicles offer privacy and focus, they can also create barriers to communication, collaboration, and innovation. As businesses prioritise flexibility, transparency, and employee engagement, they are exploring alternative workspace designs that foster teamwork, creativity, and well-being.

What is Flexiform’s Approach and Recommendation?

At Flexiform, we design to the client’s brief and end goals, whichever methodology they wish to adopt. However, we would typically follow a smart working and agile working office design. Our recommendation is to pick out elements that work for you and utilise the benefits of each way of working, for example;

  • Traditional office cubicles foster spaces for quiet working, allowing staff to focus. Feature pockets of quiet work zones including telephone booths and solo work pods to allow every employee, regardless of their hierarchy, for space to focus on a task interrupted. 
  • Utilising office dividers, large pods and acoustic panels can help break up space visually and acoustically, helping to reduce noise, visual distractions and stress.
  • Agile Working & Smart Working collaboration furniture works fantastically well with remote working, helping you to redefine the workspace as an opportunity to come in and collaborate. Creating spaces for different types of collaboration is important, from large group meetings, 1-2-1s, presentations, confidential meetings, idea generation. Different types of furniture suit different set ups. 

> Download our guide to find out more about our approach in our Smart Working.

In conclusion, the landscape of office working environments is evolving rapidly, driven by technological advancements, changing work patterns, and the desire for greater flexibility and collaboration. From traditional offices to open plan spaces, and from agile and smart working methodologies, businesses have a myriad of options to choose from when designing their workspace. By understanding the benefits and downfalls of each approach and tailoring their office environment to meet the needs of their employees and business objectives, organisations can create a dynamic and productive work environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and success.

If you would like to speak to a Flexiform representative about your office requirements, please contact or see our case studies for inspiration.