It’s time to get agile at work

Agility is a word every small business needs to start thinking about. Here’s an overview of the agile culture.

Agile working is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot but doesn’t seem to have much meaning to a lot of people. Simply put, agile working is letting people work where, when and how they choose – as long as they get the job done.

Surprisingly, agile working appeared as a concept around the 1620s with Francis Bacon, but realistically it was in the 1930s, when Walter Shewhart, a physicist at Bell Labs, began exploring new ways of working. It focused on repetition and progressive development, leading to a faster, more adaptive way of working. This ‘Plan-Do-Study-Act’ cycle led to a more streamlined expansion and improvement of products.

This agile approach translates well to the way people interact with each other, with the introduction of daily update meetings and touch points that keep everyone abreast of what’s going on with the project.

It can also be more broadly translated into finding the right people for the project, using the best technology in a workstyle that suits them. Can’t find or afford local talent? Well, look further afield and get the best person for the job while staying connected with devices and software. Agile working is about bringing people, processes and connectivity together, through the intelligent use of technology.

Agile and digitally enabled humans

Agile thinking has helped to revolutionise information technology. Software development, which goes through a series of releases and fixes, has benefited from a more formal approach to working. Not only does it improve the quality of the product, it increases the speed to market, meaning working smarter and reacting gets your product in front of customers faster.

If you want to introduce agile measures into your business then it’s time to take a critical look at everything which makes it tick.

“From our perspective, flexible working is about creating an environment where people can do their best work in the way that is most productive for the customer and employee, regardless of where or when,” said head of enterprise services, Vodafone, Tony Bailey.

“We look at flexible working across four key areas – people, process, space and technology. For flexible working to work well, all four elements need to be considered. It also has to be part of the culture and strategy direction of the company, embraced by leadership and all parts of the business.”

With that in mind, begin by reviewing the following:

• Where are people working?
• When do people work?
• What are people actually doing in their role?
• Who is doing what every day?

Once you’ve mapped out the framework of your business, you can look for quick wins to apply immediately. These might be scenarios like the above, where you give people the chance to work flexibly. Once you’ve done these topical fixes, it’s time to examine the skeleton of your business.

For example, are you set up for cloud working? Uncover questions like this and start reviewing them within an everyday business context. Corporate apps enable easy communication between people based all over the world and over multiple devices. But that’s only made possible if your devices benefit from the latest in mobile technology. If your devices (smartphones, laptops etc.) are being taken out of the office then they need to be lightweight, they need 4G connectivity and they need to be secure. Giving people a secure connection from anywhere means they won’t have to rely on unsecured public Wi-Fi.

The ability to work and communicate with anyone, anywhere, also means you can benefit from a flexible workforce. If time zones and borders aren’t obstacles any more, then you can look elsewhere for the people you need, allowing you to find freelancers, contract work out to third-parties and even bidding on contracts elsewhere in the world.

This agile workforce has a knock-on effect in our physical spaces too, meaning we don’t necessarily need a traditional fixed workspace. Co-working spaces are ideal for the modern entrepreneur because they enable quick reactions to change, easy connectivity to a variety of people and the ability to grow and scale organically, all of which is at the heart of agility.

Flexible contracts in temporary office space are becoming the norm, as more and more people opt for independent working and choose to run their business empire from a rented desk in a top spec, serviced office.

And with a new wave of employees entering the workforce (the Centennials), there’s an even bigger reason to embrace this methodology. This young generation embraces new technology, blends personal and business devices to get the job done efficiently and enjoys the freedom that comes with a flexible approach to work.

Agile is about recognising that your employees, of all ages and backgrounds, have lives, and if they’re given the freedom to integrate work and life more seamlessly, then they’re less likely to suffer because of unnecessary compromise. For example, giving parents the flexibility to arrive after the morning school run and leave in time for the one in the afternoon could change their entire work/life balance in a meaningful way. It’s not about working less, it’s about working differently, when it makes sense. Not having the stress of driving during rush hour and spending exorbitant amounts on childcare would mean people arrive at work with lower levels of stress and fewer distractions to steal their attention, leading to a happier and more loyal workforce.

The agile way of working also helps to democratise work, which gives small businesses the chance to compete with their corporate counterparts. In a world where skills shortages are forcing people to look in previously unexplored talent pools, small businesses are often disproportionately impacted. It’s unlikely that the average SME can afford to match the salaries or benefits packages of large enterprises but a more flexible work environment can entice the best in your sector to step away from the corporate world.

Step by step agility

The key thing to remember about agility is that it’s an extensive process. So whether you’re applying it to project work to roll out improvements, or to your business, you shouldn’t expect an instant change. Give yourself the time to think and grow, adapting and changing to accommodate technology, the requirements of your business and what makes your people the happiest and most productive.

The good news is that SMEs are in the best possible position to implement agile working, seeing quick returns on their investments. Discover more easy ways to grow on Your Ready Business.