The workplace has undergone significant changes in recent years. With today’s economy moving faster than ever before, companies have been forced to adapt in order to respond quickly and effectively. Although technology has the ability to boost productivity and efficiency, few of those benefits can be realized without engaged employees to drive creativity and innovation.
One solution to today’s business challenges is the concept of the agile workplace. A radical shift from the highly-structured environments of the past, the agile workplace breaks down barriers, flattens organizations, and provides employees with far greater levels of independence and autonomy. Here are a few things any organization thinking about promoting an agile office culture should take into consideration.
Create a Flexible Work Environment
Flexibility is the hallmark feature of the agile workplace. Designed for adaptability and speed, agile environments are more likely to have fluid divisions of labor or responsibility. They encourage collaboration and open communication, which allows people to be more proactive and accountable when it comes to their work. An agile work culture focuses more on finding the best way to solve a problem rather than applying the same procedural approach to every situation.
This flexibility applies not just to how work is done, but also to the work environment itself. For decades, employees were tethered to the office desks where their bulky computers and wired phones were located. With today’s wireless technology, however, people can work from anywhere at any time. Rather than cramming as many employees as possible into a rigid office environment, many organizations are experimenting with open office layouts and even providing different types of spaces for people to do their work.
Offering remote work opportunities, flexible scheduling, and doing away with restrictive time off policies can all help employees find ways to work that allow them to be productive and engaged. For many people, especially millennials, these benefits can be key determining factors in deciding whether or not they decide to accept a position with a company.
Give People the Skills They Need for Success
Agile workplaces may offer employees a lot of flexibility, but they can also demand a lot from them. Rather than coming in every day to perform repetitive tasks, these employees are instead being asked to develop innovative solutions to problems and work with their teams to accomplish a diverse range of goals. Many of them may not possess the competencies needed to operate in this dynamic environment, which could leave them feeling frustrated and ineffective.
Comprehensive employee development programs that focus on agile traits like situational awareness, systems thinking, and prioritization as well as soft skills like conflict resolution and active listening can provide employees with the tools they need to be successful in the agile workplace. Providing these development opportunities also has the added benefit of boosting engagement and reducing turnover rates.
More Leadership, Less Management
Although leadership and management are both important and are often used interchangeably, they aren’t really the same thing. Where managers are responsible for directing tasks and enforcing accountability, leaders are more focused on empowering and inspiring people to accomplish the goals set out before them. The loose nature of agile workplaces makes them poorly suited for traditional managers. Task flows are changing frequently, and work is constantly adapting to these ever-shifting situations. Effective leaders find ways to keep their teams engaged and motivated in the face of these challenges.
Leaders in an agile workplace are more focused on results than on process. They don’t tell people how to do their work, but instead do whatever they can to help them achieve the desired outcome. Most importantly, they must build trust within their teams to better facilitate collaboration and promote independent problem solving. While leaders may be the ones identifying what teams need to accomplish, they are only one small part of the solution. Where a traditional manager may take a more prescriptive approach by telling people what they should do to resolve an issue, a good leader frames the problem as a challenge for their teams to solve.
Provide Purpose and Identity
Although employees may enjoy the autonomy they possess in an agile workplace, simply giving them more control over their work won’t necessarily make them more productive or engaged. One of the major challenges, then, is finding ways to give that work a sense of purpose that aligns with people’s values and ideals. Employees who believe their work is important and take a sense of ownership over it are more likely to committed to producing the best outcomes possible. Research has found that inspired employees are far more productive than those who were merely “satisfied.”
Organizations looking to develop an agile work culture need to think long and hard about how they will encourage employees to want to be a part of their mission. They can start by clearly defining their values and putting as much emphasis on inspiring employees as they do on measuring their performance. Simply paying employees more is rarely sufficient to boost their level of engagement; organizations need to show them that they are valued and how the work they do contributes meaningfully to a greater good.
Agile culture represents a profound shift in the nature of work, but with technology changing quickly and a new generation of employees expecting more independence in the workplace, organizations need to decide if agile principles will work for them. While not a fit for every company or industry, agile workplaces will surely be a key differentiator for job seekers. If organizations want to remain competitive for the best talent, they need to think long and hard about whether or not they want to incorporate some principles of agile culture.