Transitioning from Traditional to Agile

Stephen O’Sullivan, Head of European Workspace at Paddy Power Betfair, led a masterclass at the FM Inspired conference to share his experiences in agile working. As Paddy Power Betfair prepare to become 100% agile in 2020, Stephen discusses the challenges faced by the business and how they are working to ensure a smooth transition from traditional working.

Stephen’s first experience of agile working came around 10 years ago after moving to Melbourne. He joined Accenture, a consulting organisation with 10,000 staff across Australia, and at the end of his first day he left his notebook and laptop at his desk. “I came in the next day and everything was gone,” he says. “My desk was completely clear. Then the team on site told me that we hot desk; we’re an agile environment. I’d never heard of the concept before. It was completely new to me.”

Agile Beginnings Paddy Power

The agile working environment at Accenture gave staff different options for working. “Even the ExCo rooms were agile,” Stephen says. “They swapped different rooms on different days, depending on whether they were on site. The facilities team on site had to change their operational support in order to provide that service as well.” He also learned that the business operated a check-in facility for desks – “I had to check in and actually book a space, or I was going to be sitting out in the corridor.”

When Stephen returned to Dublin, he was offered a job with Google. The tech industry had a very positive reputation at the time for having fun offices – people were keen to work with companies like Google and Facebook for their unique working environments.

However, Stephen did not find it easy to work in the heavily themed Google workplace. “By no means did the office provide the environment for people to get their daily job done,” he says. “There were a lot of gimmicks to it.” Stephen then moved to a job at Facebook, where the working environment included different desk layouts, different sized meeting rooms and giving staff the opportunity to create their own environments to suit their roles.

The Next 8 Years Paddy Power

“Google and Facebook created these environments to disrupt the traditional,” he explains. “None of these buildings were agile – everybody had their own desk. People travelled a lot to other offices; there was a lot of empty space.”

After working with two big names in the tech industry, Stephen’s friends and colleagues were surprised by his move to Paddy Power Betfair. “When I first did my interview, I thought I was walking back to the Dark Ages,” he explains. “It was not the same type of workspace. There was no free food. The environment was quite old and dated.”

Stephen joined the company after Paddy Power had merged with Betfair – a time that he describes as “a clash of cultures”. All employees were merged into one office space, bringing together two different working environments. “It didn’t hit me straight away that this was a place that I wanted to work,” Stephen says. “I walked into a meeting room – there were movie posters on one wall, there was a sports theme on another wall. Nothing really worked, nothing really suited the environment, and nothing really told me anything about the office or the type of people that worked there.”

Present Day Paddy Power

From 2013 until 2018, Paddy Power Betfair had maintained a traditional working environment with people sitting at the same desks every day. Soon after Stephen joined, the business received project approval for a total redesign and refit of the office spaces in Dublin and London. “This really was perfect timing, because we had a heavy focus on the agile model rollouts throughout the business,” Stephen says. While the current building in Dublin is being renovated, all staff will be moved into temporary office swing space.

“When we come back into the new building in 2020, it will be 100% agile,” Stephen explains. “We’ve been spending the last couple of months creating these small agile spaces, doing continuous engagement with the business, just to show them how agile works and to subtly get them included.”

The Dark Ages

Feedback was collected from Paddy Power Betfair employees on their working environment, which revealed that they disliked the liner desk layout and wanted quiet booths to take phone calls and work away from their desks.

“A breakout space shouldn’t be a case of throwing a couple of chairs in a corner where a team sits,” Stephen says. “You need to give them options of working.”

There were also issues with the meeting rooms, with two people often using a meeting room designed for 20 people, or 10 people squeezing into a room designed for five. “The meeting rooms just didn’t suit teams’ requirements,” Stephen says, adding that many of the issues were related to etiquette. “As Facilities Managers, we have to drive that etiquette down through the business.”

Subtle Implentation Paddy Power

The first stage in a move to agile working was subtle implementation for around 200 people in the organisation. “We subtly introduced Sit/Stand desks in certain areas, in teams that were a bit more mobile,” Stephen says. “We subtly introduced quiet pods, and we looked at our breakout spaces across the building. We wanted to introduce serendipitous collisions, where you can meet at the coffee station, or you can go to a breakout space and get chatting to somebody else there.”

At first, a lot of the teams believed they couldn’t work agile. “They have this desk setup; they have this screen; this is the way they’ve had it for seven or eight years,” Stephen says. “We had the ultimate challenge of working with those teams and engaging with them, understanding what their needs were and what we can do to help.”

Phase 1 Paddy Power

‘Phase 1’ also included the introduction of lockers and a clean desk policy. “We really wanted people to just bring the bare essentials to work,” Stephen explains. “There was such a build up of clutter. We had to continuously engage with teams, do Spring cleans and show them how to use the lockers.”

While the lockers were initially difficult to introduce, with forgotten codes and getting people used to the system, Stephen says they have proved to be a success: “People have started cleaning up their own space in the evening time. They’re not leaving mugs and plates around; they’re not leaving five pairs of shoes under their desks. It really has changed their mindset and culture since making these subtle introductions.”

Early Adoption

Early adoption of agile working involved multiple team workshops to show stakeholders and management how agile worked, how it’s implemented and how it can benefit the business. “Agile had to be delivered as something that was flexible; that could be shown as advantageous to your team,” Stephen says.

Stephen believes management buy-in is vital in the transition to agile working. “We could roll out 100% agile working tomorrow without engaging with the business and we’ll fall flat on our face because management won’t buy in,” he says. “We really needed their support in delivering the model down through their teams – and we still do it today. When we go 100% agile, those stakeholders from ExCo are going to be the people that support us and make their teams understand why agile, flexible working will benefit their teams and their environments.”

Challenges Paddy Power

IT proved to be a challenge at Paddy Power Betfair, with staff using different brands of laptops and a range of different docking stations. “Agile wasn’t a possibility because you would go to a desk and find the docking station didn’t suit your laptop – it didn’t have the right charging leads or the screen setup wasn’t correct,” Stephen says. “We had to work very closely with IT.” Universal docking stations have now been rolled out across the business.

Stephen also mentions staff wanting to sit in the same seat each day and believes communication is key. “I’ve called it Squatters Rights,” he says. “I think once they move away from their desk and see there is a different way of working and it actually benefits them, they’re more productive – they really will see the advantage of it.”

A transition to agile working can put more pressure on workplace services such as cleaning teams. “Locker support in the morning; cleaning up if people left rubbish lying around desks and floors,” Stephen says. “We had to have our front of house teams and cleaning teams to buy into that, and to support that on an ongoing basis.” Stephen describes the clean desk policy as one of their biggest ongoing challenges.

Phase 2 Paddy Power

During its ‘Agile Takeover’, Paddy Power Betfair will move from an 119,000 sq ft office space to temporary space of 54,000 sq ft. After the project is complete, they will move into a space that is approximately 165,000 sq ft. “But we’re not going to add any additional desks,” Stephen explains. “We’re going to add extra ways of working – we’re adding a gym, extra catering facilities – not just your linear, stacked desk layout.”

The business will reduce its number of desks from 1,300 to 860. ExCo meeting rooms will be eliminated and on-floor storage will be removed, with 100% locker roll out.

The Power of Elimination

Utilisation studies were carried out to identify how teams were using their current space. Only 42% of the current 119,000 sq ft space was being utilised, which Stephen says he noticed as he walked around the offices: “It felt like there was nobody in this space. There were too many desks; there was no real culture or atmosphere. It didn’t really give me this feeling of ‘this is where I want to work’ or ‘this is a hive of activity’.”

While there may be certain days throughout the year that 860 desks are not enough, Stephen says “you can’t design an office space for that one day of the year”.

Stephen recommends carrying out regular utilisation studies to see how the business is changing.

Creating an Agile Culture

When creating an agile culture, Stephen highlights the importance of communication. “There has to be regular engagement,” he says. “Talking to teams, learning how they use their space on a daily basis, and what else they need in that space to enable them.”

He also believes operational support is key: “You can’t roll it out, walk away and expect people to manage the space themselves. You have to train them how to use the space and provide regular encouragement to adopt the agile model.”

Finally, Stephen reinforces the importance of utilisation to any business moving to agile working: “Constantly measure your occupancy across different teams and get feedback on an ongoing basis.”


Check out where the next Workplace X Conference & Facilities Management Conference is next.

Learn more about working at Paddy Power here.

Check out Paddy Power Betfair’s Stephen O’Sullivan full masterclass workshop at FM Inspired Conference above.