What Is ‘Agile’ Working? Bringing Flexibility to Your Workplace

How well does your organization maneuver in today’s quickly changing world? When new technology emerges, how does your business adapt? Are you frustrated with using something new? Do you spend too much time trying to convince people at your company to adopt the new tech — only to be met with more red tape?

If you’re tired of redundant systems and the never-ending bureaucracy that stalls any initiative, you aren’t alone. Many corporate leaders agree that it shouldn’t be so hard to get things done. That’s where Agile comes into the picture.

Companies are beginning to prioritize collaboration and teamwork over hierarchy, and leveraging adaptability over fixed processes. Teams can be flexible even in the face of a changing marketplace and shifting customer needs. Leveraging an agile working approach can help companies compete more effectively.

Agile working decentralizes processes, tools, and plans. Instead, it focuses on the individual, the product, and an ever-evolving method for reaching goals. The most successful businesses today use agile working practices in some measure. In fact, more than 93% of agile companies reported better customer satisfaction and operational performance than non-agile competition — and 97% of marketers who implemented agile methods in their organization report success.

But what is agile working, exactly? More importantly, how can your company benefit? Let’s find out.

Agile Working Definition

The definition of agile working has evolved, and it’s taken on as many variations as there are industries. Traditionally, agile working is a project management system where flexible, lightweight teams work in a modular, iterative way to solve big problems. The traditional agile working model prioritizes flexibility and people-power over following pre-written plans.

Agile working first emerged in the IT sector, morphing from a more flexible method for writing code to a more efficient way to organize IT teams. Today, forward-thinking organizations in almost every industry use agile working principles. Agile working methodologies are now ubiquitous in marketing, human resources, project management, and beyond. But it can take many forms.

Agile Working Requires Systems That Are Also Agile

One of the most important aspects of being agile is having systems in place that support this movement. In particular, having a human capital management system (HCM) that understands the costs and flexibility required to work in an adaptive way.

The problem in today’s human resources-based systems is that they lack the flexibility, adaptability and interoperability to achieve this flexible model.

Defining Scrum and Kanban

Two common agile working terms are scrum and kanban.

  • Scrum: This is one variant of agile working used by non-hierarchical teams developing multi-faceted projects. Scrum teams accomplish tasks in a workplace equivalent of high-intensity interval training (HIIT): quick, energetic sprints that pull everyone into alignment. Transparency, inspection, and adaptation are the three main pillars of scrum.
  • Kanban: This agile work management system provides every team member with a visual representation of work in progress, in queue, and completed. By increasing transparency and enabling teams to pinpoint obstructions early in the process, Kanban results in more cost-effective and efficient work.

Agile Working Philosophy

Seen as a whole, agile is a working philosophy emphasizing collaboration, flexibility, and iterative progress. Paul Allsopp, founder of The Agile Organization, defines agile working this way:

“Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).”

Agile principles shape not only the work processes but also the overall culture and mindset of an organization. From team structures to office furniture and flexible work-from-home policies, agile principles create a more efficient, responsive method for getting things done.

Benefits of Agile Working

Making cultural changes and restructuring your organization to use agile working may look like a long road, but you can begin to see its tangible benefits quickly:

  • Increased Flexibility and Adaptability - Agile working allows organizations to swiftly respond to changes in the market, industry, or internal priorities. Teams no longer need to obtain authorization from every department before adjusting to changing conditions. Instead, their flat structure and minimal hierarchy allow teams to make spur-of-the-moment decisions within their area of expertise and within certain limits.
  • Enhanced Collaboration and Communication - One of the first steps to going agile is to set up effective collaboration spaces and digital communication channels, connecting teams in meaningful ways. These enhanced communication spaces not only enable agile working, they also lead to stronger, better-informed teams and healthier workplace relationships.
  • Faster Time-to-Market - An agile model breaks projects into small, manageable increments. This enables team members to stay focused throughout the product cycle and has been proven to drastically decrease the time-to-market of products.
  • Enhanced Customer Experience - Agile methodologies highlight the customer as the ideal co-creator and the market as the best testing ground. When customers feel heard, they become loyal fans and unpaid influencers. Digital communication channels and on-the-fly analysis of customer sentiment enable product teams to track market trends and stay on top of changes.
  • Increased Employee Satisfaction - No employee wants to feel like they’re just another cog in the machine, with no say on anything beyond the color of the sticky notes they use. When your company becomes agile, you give your employees autonomy, involvement in decision-making, and a collaborative work environment. With agile, everyone matters and team members can take ownership of their area of expertise. The result is increased employee satisfaction and a highly engaged workforce.
  • Optimized Resource Utilization - Agile methodologies optimize resource utilization by delivering the highest-priority features first. Priorities can be derived from high-level analysis or customer feedback, and are open to change as the landscape evolves.
  • Continuous Improvement Culture - Continuous improvement and agile working are sometimes referred to as ‘paired methodologies’ — they’re not quite the same thing, but they go together well. The iterative and reflective nature of agile methodologies fosters a culture of continuous improvement, and the responsiveness of agile systems allows you to adjust as needed, in every iteration.
  • Adaptability to Change - The modular, responsive nature of agile working enables organizations to adapt quickly to changing circumstances like market trends, technological advancements, or unexpected disruptions. Whether you’re dealing with a worldwide pandemic, new technologies, or simply a fickle user base, you’ll always stay ahead of the curve.

Implementing Agile Working in Your Organization

You may not leverage agile working the same way other companies do. That’s okay. Agile working isn’t about meeting pre-set standards and following careful plans — it’s about morphing to be most effective at every point in time. It also requires systems such as human capital management that embrace the same flexibility model.

Shifting Company Culture

For some, this requires a comprehensive change in their organization's structure. For others, it may demand cutting the red tape that inhibits quick responses to emerging trends. It may also mean creating agile working teams that complement rather than replace the rest of the workforce.

For most companies, implementing agile working will require a shift in company culture and, to some extent, a restructuring of the organization. You’ll need to revamp your communications strategy and run an information campaign so that every employee is on the same page. Changing company culture isn’t easy, but it is possible.

Setting Up an Agile Workspace

A workspace that supports various working styles and optimizes productivity is key to agile methods. Agile offices include breakout areas, hotdesks, collaboration spaces, and amenity spaces. Give your employees a dynamic workspace that helps everyone stay alert and engaged throughout the day.

Improve Connectivity

But there’s one non-negotiable step for everyone: ensuring communication across organizations is up to the highest standards. For most organizations, this will mean improving digital connectivity both within teams and between teams across the company.

Unified communications and technology facilitate collaboration, even in geographically dispersed teams. Many organizations in search of greater flexibility chose to use cloud software to make key work applications and information available anywhere, anytime by those who need them. Appropriate security configurations keep sensitive information safe while offering maximum flexibility and minimum constraints for project management.

Criterion’s Human Capital Management (HCM) Platform is a great way to streamline communication, HR processes, and more within an organization. It provides the ability to collaborate with others and easily reach and communicate with other departments. Since Criterion connects the whole organization to a central database with self-service options and flexible, configurable workflows, agile working becomes much easier.

Agile Working Example

Orsted, Denmark’s largest energy producer, is one example of a company that implemented agile working at their organization. They wanted to drive innovation and respond faster to emerging trends and advances in technology. This meant overhauling their entire operating model, going digital, and organizing multi-disciplinary teams focused on delivering enduring results. These teams began to work the agile way, in quick, focused bursts.

Their CIO reports that  “...tasks that used to take up to 24 months now take as little as two months. Enabling us to become more agile across the organization has been key to our ability to pull far ahead of the competition.”

Those results are impressive, no matter how you look at it. But for those not ready to take the full plunge, a slower route to a more agile workplace is a viable possibility. For instance, AstraZeneca wanted to implement Agile, but didn’t have the flexibility to do a full-scale immediate transformation. Instead, they scheduled a multi-year adaptation. The first year, they focused on organization and culture change, alignment of governance and procurement with agile principles, and outsourced work to offshore teams.

By the time the year was out, they could see they were on the right track. In the words of Patty Sheehan, AZ Agile Culture Change Lead and Coach, “We’re delivering faster with greater quality and less manpower — resulting in substantial financial benefits from the teams that have adopted Agile to date. We expect to double our adoption of Agile this year.”

The Future of Agile Working

Where is agile working headed, and what can we expect to see in its future iterations? One aspect is likely to become more important as we move into the next decade: the “people first” focus of agile philosophy. Companies that are not people first are losing relevance, and those that are flexible and put their employees and customers first will come to (and stay at) the top.

How Flexible Work Fits in the Picture

Flexible work is not a synonym for agile working, but it is part of the agile working philosophy. A need for flexible solutions spurred the rapid adoption of agile working during the pandemic. Organizations that had already adopted agile methodologies gained the upper hand.

Today, some companies are attempting a draw-back and return to more rigid, office-based management. Others continue to take advantage of the lower overhead and maneuverability that remote work and hybrid schedules can offer.

Many firms are finding it easier to attract top talent to positions that allow flexible working and remote work. Other companies appreciate the potential for higher ROI with goal-oriented work hours. The balance between office-based and remote work may shift again in the future, likely in a more flexible direction based on connectivity rather than physical presence.

The Future of the Workplace

Likewise, designated office space is likely to become more of a rarity, as advancements in office design and technology optimize the hot desking experience. The integration of smart office solutions can contribute to a more seamless and efficient flexible work environment, where any computer can be ‘yours’ with your preferences, settings, and current workflow — as soon as you’ve logged in.

Agile office layouts support different working styles, foster creativity, and enhance connectivity among team members. We can expect to see improvements in each of these three areas, as design specialists and software engineers work toward a common goal: creating an environment that maximizes  productivity. Technology and unified communications are keys to enabling flexible working hours without compromising productivity, while providing all necessary resources to every employee, anywhere.

Agile methodologies such as scrum and kanban may evolve with the changing needs of modern workplaces, but they are unlikely to disappear. For successful companies across the globe, we can expect the integration of agile principles at the core of product management, human resources, and beyond.

The scrum master role may disappear in ten or fifteen years, but the three principles of scrum (transparency, inspection, and adaptation) will be just as important as they are now. Implementing agile working principles into your organization can future-proof your workplace and company culture, with optimal productivity.

Final Thoughts

Given the likely evolution of agile working, what is the core definition that remains? We’re back where we started: a way of bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology together to find the best solution for a problem; working within guidelines but without boundaries.

As you work toward a flexible, results-oriented workplace, prioritize streamlined communications for each and every employee at your organization. Many software solutions can be adapted for the workplace, but we designed Criterion HCM to be the best solution for enhancing communication in a fast-paced agile working environment. It certainly is the easiest to implement, and your team will appreciate the user-friendly interface and low learning curve.

Plus, you can integrate Criterion with any third-party software, allowing you to build your ideal tech stack around the needs of your workforce. With everything connected to a single, unified database, you’ll be able to help your people focus more on the work at hand.

Are you ready to take the first step towards a more agile workplace? Book a demo of Criterion today to learn more.

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