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PHOTO: Austin Neill

Agility is the word of the moment. Organizations around the world are refocusing their work culture on agility to keep pace with the changing times and sustain themselves in the long run. Randstad’s Workplace study found that 68% of employers believe by 2025, the majority of their organization’s workforce will have an agile work arrangement. 

An agile workplace not only equips organizations to scale dynamically and adapt faster, but nurtures creativity, enhances employee morale, and most importantly, improves organizational sustainability. But injecting agility into your workplace isn’t only about providing flexible work hours. Nor is it only about providing your workforce with online tools that help them communicate and collaborate. 

There are three fundamental pillars to consider when you’re looking to bake agility into your organization.

1. Ensuring Proper Remote Working Capabilities

The current pandemic has forced organizations to transition to remote work. In fact, many of them are seeing remote work not as a stopgap fix but as a long-term solution. 

But remote work, if poorly implemented, can hinder quick, seamless communication and collaboration (the very essence of an agile workspace). So how do you drive agility when teams are distributed across geographies?

The key here is to create a virtual environment that facilitates employees to discuss, brainstorm and collaborate within their teams and across teams. And creating well-defined remote communication guidelines sets the tone for such an environment. 

Oftentimes, what happens is communication gaps arise, there’s too much back and forth and employees get bombarded with follow-ups, all of which result in everyone getting stressed out and distracted from their work. But when employees have agreed on certain guidelines such as which channels to use for collaboration, how long to wait before following up, writing style and tone, it becomes easier for remote teams to work together.

Another important aspect of creating a strong virtual remote work environment is technology — I’ll come to this point later. 

As much as an agile workspaces acts a collaborative hub, it equally supports deep, focused work. If your teams use Slack, encourage employees to update their status whenever they want to double down on their focus to let team members know they’re not to be disturbed for a set time period. One thing managers can do is schedule meetings and stand ups in such a manner that they happen either when the day starts or just before everyone is about to wrap up for the day — this minimizes disturbances and distractions during work hours.

Agile workspaces are also meant to nurture creativity in employees through spontaneous conversations. The way your teams can go about this in a remote setting is to have regular virtual huddles without any set agenda as a substitute to the water cooler conversations (set aside 15-20 minutes for this everyday). Having these free flowing discussions (albeit virtually) is a great way to bring more ideas to the table.

Related Article: Why Digital Workplaces and Agile Go Hand in Hand

2. Creating a Flexible Company Culture 

Adapting how your teams interact will amount to little if it isn’t backed up by a cultural shift across your organization.

As the term suggests, an agile culture should provide high levels of flexibility. Give your employees the freedom to choose how, where and when they want to work. It’s not about the number of hours logged as it is about the quality of work. 

When employees get to decide their work routine, they are often more productive. In fact, a study found that 65% office workers (PDF) say they would be more productive working outside their traditional work environment. 

Flexibility also extends to the actual work that employees do; an agile workplace is one where employees aren’t confined to strict roles and are given the opportunity to take more ownership. Encourage your employees to try out new ideas and take risks. The faster they learn, the sooner they can adapt and figure out what works and what doesn’t. 

The emphasis should be on creating an environment where employees feel like owners and look at their jobs as something more than crossing things off a to-do list. It’s about creating a good understanding of how other functions in the organization relate to each employee’s day-to-day work. 

To make this happen, your organization needs to move away from traditional hierarchy structures. Breaking down these imaginary barriers creates a flexible and cohesive system, where employees get to challenge the status-quo, and are more involved in important activities such as goal setting and strategy planning.

When hierarchies don’t matter much, decision-making becomes more collaborative and inclusive. Instead of one person passing down instructions, employees take it upon themselves to collaborate and decide how they want to go about a particular task, distribute responsibilities, and solve potential challenges along the way.

Related Article: Is Collaboration Limited by Organizational Structure?

3. Investing in Technology That Drives Agility

If your employees are dependent on legacy IT systems to go about their daily jobs, it’s going to be extremely hard for them to stay on top of what’s happening around and adapt on the go. Agile transformation happens when it is supported by technology that is seamlessly integrated within the system, and equips every stakeholder to respond and adapt faster to what’s happening around them.

In fact, technology is becoming increasingly critical to enabling agility at work. Over the last few years, CFOs and senior financial executives have been increasing their investment in technologies that speed business change.

This encompasses technology solutions that make real-time communication, collaboration and work management possible. For teams to work remotely, equipping them with high bandwidth internet connectivity is a must. Team communication tools are equally important as they help bridge the communication gap, streamline conversations, and allow for quick catch-ups and discussions. To aid in dynamic and cross-team collaboration initiatives, project management tools, virtual kanban boards and other visualization tools come in handy, as they allow teams to easily distribute responsibilities, keep track of what needs to be done, and monitor progress in real-time.

According to McKinsey’s report, The Five Trademarks of Agile Organizations, one of the fundamentals of building an agile company is "Democratization of Information. Why is this important? 

Making smart investments in cloud software can ensure your teams can track, monitor and analyze data, from one central hub. This minimizes interdependencies and handovers, making it easier for anyone on the team to access information. For instance, marketing automation software can bring all your email campaigns, landing pages and social media initiatives, under one single roof, thereby creating more visibility into what’s happening in the team and enabling team members to have quick access to data and insights. Similarly, using a wiki or intranet site would help teams stay up to date with company updates and announcements, even if they are working across multiple geographies. 

Investing in the right technology also helps your organization keep pace with market fluctuations and business trends. With a CRM solution, for example, you can stay on top of changing customer expectations and spending patterns. It equips your organization to proactively adapt strategies and create products/services that are in tune with current-day expectations. What are the fastest selling products and services? Do customers prefer certain products or services over others? How has their spending pattern changed over the past few months? 

Related Article: Planning Your Post-Pandemic Digital Workplace

Speed and Flexibility Leads to Success

Speed and flexibility have become key differentiators in today’s marketplace. How quickly your organization adapts and grows will have a positive correlation on success and stability. And to create such agility in your organization, you will have to create a collaborative workspace enabled by an ownership-driven culture and smart technological investments.