The Complete Guide to Agile Working Environments

Executive Summary

As team member expectations change, organizational cultures naturally evolve to reflect what is important to employees. The modern workplace trend is agile – the idea that work is an activity we do, rather than a place we go. Furthermore, As global customers expect faster service delivery, there is pressure on the supply side to meet demand. Agile work arrangements and technology are helping to meet this expectation.

Agile working is an established culture that enables employees greater freedom and flexibility in their working lives. The agile culture embraces new technologies offering different choices around where and when to work. Inherently, agile encourages employees to self-manage, shifting focus to productivity and team member contributions.

Agile methods are even more prevalent now that the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to completely shift to remote working arrangements.

Agile working has several benefits, including better working lives for employees, increased operational readiness, reduced environmental impact, and organisational costs. In addition, agile methodologies show increases in cross-selling and greater profit.

Adopting new cultural practices is a big ask for organisations and requires reviewing new management styles and technology. Of course, there will be barriers when implementing an agile culture. However, when you understand what to change, you can implement effective change management to ensure a smooth transition.

This paper expands on the following three talking points:

  1. What are Agile work practices?
  2. What are the pros and cons of Agile work practices?
  3. How do I move to an Agile culture?
Agile Working Benefits

What are Agile work practices?

Agile cultures are transformational. This new approach to work re-orientates employment from being a rigid place we go to an activity we do. This new framework means that team members can work anytime and anywhere that suits them.

Agile working has four key components underpinning its success:

  1. Promote flexibility in when and where employees work
  2. Integrate resources
  3. Be innovative and encourage creativity.
  4. Adopt new technologies
Agile Job Types

Promote Flexibility In When And Where Employees Work

In truly agile workplaces, people will work in a place and time that best fits them, their customers, and the industry. At an organisational level, agile cultures enable smarter working by removing barriers to efficient work practices.

For example, employees can stretch to meet additional demand. Likewise, employees can work where, when, and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimal impact to workflows and other obligations.

Flexibility extends to working out of the traditional workplace. For instance, a team member may live a distance away from the central office space. It may be easier and more convenient to work from home or at a local co-working space.

Integrate Resources

Fundamentally, agile working focuses on completing goals and anticipating and responding to consumers’ needs. Traditional working styles of grouping people by department or job function are in stark contrast to this ethos.

Focusing on goal completion means businesses can create teams based on their skills and knowledge to complete the task. Evidence suggests that teams comprised of differing skills and backgrounds are better problem solvers and decision-makers.

Furthermore, as agile methods support remote-jobs, organisations must consider whether employees have the equipment and resources required to work effectively.

What are agile practices image

Be Innovative & Encourage Creativity

As stated in the previous section, diverse teams have tangible benefits, including increased innovation and creativity. For instance, creating groups with differing backgrounds and experiences brings fresh ideas and creativity to solve problems.

In addition, Boston Consulting Group found that increasing the diversity of leadership teams led to higher innovation and improved revenues. However, innovation is not limited to creating goal-orientated teams but instead changes in company culture.

Sometimes less is more, and this certainly appears to be the case when considering working hours. Multiple studies have found that a 4-day workweek resulted in equal or increased productivity compared to a 5-day workweek. Truly agile organisations will innovate, caring more about long-term goals than short-term output. In turn, this will lead to greater productivity and increased team member wellbeing.

Adopt New Technologies

Perhaps a hindrance previously to agile working was the technology available, limiting the locations a person could work. However, since social media for businesses like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, meetings and workforce communications are not limited to the office.

Instead, technology allows employees to access work-related materials and to communicate with teams and customers all the time.

Technology adoption is not limited to communications platforms but intelligent building technologies themselves.

For instance, smart building sensors, building entry systems, and booking systems allow businesses to monitor building and workspace usage. Therefore, giving companies insight into how employees use the workspace. With this knowledge, employers can design better office layouts to suit team members’ needs.

The Pro's & Con's of Agile Work Practices

PRO'S OF AGILE WORKING

Job Satisfaction

Agile working has deep associations with increases in self-reported job satisfaction. In fact, remote workers are more likely to find their job more pleasurable and stimulating. In addition, higher job satisfaction among agile workers stems from increases in control employees have over when and where they work.

Employees Save Money

The flexibility of agile working combined with improvements in communications technology means employees can perform their roles effectively anywhere. Therefore, adopting agile culture results in a reduction in travelling and associated time loss and costs.

Reduced Stress

Avoiding commutes saves money but also reduces stress levels, leaving more time for sleep and exercise. Workers who experience high levels of work-related stress are more at risk of chronic heart disease. In addition, agile working arrangements reduce anxiety related to job roles and role conflict (balancing different life roles, such as work and family). Stress reductions stem from the greater control agile workers experience and reduced interruptions in office settings.

agile working benefits
benefits of agile working 2

Improved Flexibility & Profit

Implementing an agile culture is beneficial for organisations too. The advantages that agile employees experience lead to organisations experiencing greater employee productivity and increased effort.

A more versatile employee base enables organisations to react to demand more efficiently and faster.

Agile working allows employees to approach their workday to align with customer needs more closely. Therefore, valuing service and project delivery, rather than hours committed.

This new focus enables employees to meet demands as they arise and extends organisational reach to respond round-the-clock. This level of flexibility that agile working affords employees and employers can improve organisational performance.

Reduced Environmental Impact

Daily transportation is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Agile working can reduce carbon footprints by lowering vehicle usage and energy consumption in large (and mostly empty) offices. The issue of carbon is climbing companies’ agendas globally, and reducing emissions requires a rethink of physical footprints. In fact, “there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.”

Work-Life Balance

One of the main benefits agile working brings to employees is the potential for a better work-life balance. Furthermore, agile workers who report a more significant level of control over their working-life experience increase in work-life balance. Employees directly cite having more personal time and “more time with family” as the drivers behind a better work-life balance.

Reduced Space/Operation Costs

The traditional office environment is expensive and often results in low occupancy. The agile approach creates operational savings by reducing your office footprint. Running agile workspaces enables CRES teams to reduce workspace provision and make remaining workspace work harder to service requirements.

After that, teams should be monitoring actual occupancy against targets, setting benchmarking figures and adjusting as necessary. Doing so enables you to reduce unused space and infrastructure (which can amount to 40% of space at any given time). In addition, having unassigned seating freely available to all means moving employees becomes redundant, significantly reducing churn costs.

Agile Benefits to Facilities

CONS OF AGILE WORKING

Always On Culture

Technology enhancements have done wonders in allowing employees to operate whenever and wherever they want. However, this is a double-edged sword. Traditional working arrangements allow employees to leave and switch off at the end of the workday.

However, flexible working starts to blur the boundary between work and home. Often, agile employees report a greater feeling of work intensification by working longer hours and more often.

In addition, employees who are ‘always on’ have increased levels of stress and exhaustion, which increases absenteeism.

Physical Wellbeing

Evidence suggests that employees working a large number of hours from home leads to an increased likelihood of sedentary lifestyles. Sedentary lifestyles can lead to adverse health outcomes, such as metabolic dysfunction, muscle and skeleton issues and obesity.

Social Wellbeing

Those who operate purely remote, spending little to no time in the office, can experience a decrease in social wellbeing. In addition, the lack of physical interactions remote workers have with their colleagues can lead to feelings of isolation and demotivation. Furthermore, being in the office affords employees crucial networking time and career opportunities, as flexible working can cause career penalties.

Knowledge Sharing

Something organisations need to consider is the effect remote working has on knowledge sharing between colleagues. Enabling employees to share knowledge is fundamental to organisational effectiveness and the completion of tasks.

In addition, remote working can impact colleagues’ relationships, as reduced face-to-face interactions affect trust between colleagues and knowledge shared. High levels of remote working may inhibit colleagues’ ability to share advice and knowledge between one and the other.

How Do I Introduce Agile Work Practices?

Agile work practices are successful when emphasising improving workplace culture and employee motivation over optimising space and cost reductions. Even when agile benefits are evident, successfully aligning your culture with agile practices can be hampered by several barriers:

  • A lack of organisational buy-in
  • Resistance to culture change
  • A lack of guidance and support

 

Organisations can fear that implementing greater flexibility and autonomy in the workplace will negatively impact productivity and increase employment costs. Even after implementing agile cultures, some organisations fail to adopt them fully, leading to employees not feeling the full benefits. Success is unlikely unless senior management show clear commitment and commitment is evident.

barriers to agile working

Make A Business Case – Establish The Broad Benefits & Barriers

Why should agile work practices be implemented in your organisation? What are the key drivers? Identify how you expect this cultural migration to benefit the organisation positively.

In addition, identify areas that may suffer as a result. What are the sticking points? How much will the transition cost, and how long will it take? There is no universal approach to agile working, so the driving forces will be different for every organisation.

However, what is valid for all is that results are best when the business leads the transition. As you map the shape of your new agile culture, the business case will organically emerge. Again, this is because the business benefits drive agile working. However, it is essential to be clear about the gains from the beginning to be consistent with communication.

Having a solid business case will enable you to gain buy-in. Once sponsorship is secured from senior leaders, they can quickly become powerful advocates for agile working throughout the organisation. Building a business case enables you to identify measures of success, technologies required, and whether you should stagger the transition.

It is helpful to create a business case across the following parameters:

  1. People
  2. Operations
  3. Space Savings

People

People respond positively to being trusted. Trust employees to fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities, and more often than not, they will. Plus, having the flexibility to approach their role in their way means they may deliver better than expected results. Bonus!

The reason agile working is fast becoming the norm is that it effectively provides a substantial return. Despite initial scepticism towards agile working, employees generally report greater satisfaction in their workplace and with their roles.

When looking at how you can make the organisation better for your employees, ask the following questions:

  • How do employees feel about working for your organisation?
  • Are employees motivated to do the best job they can?
  • What is your employee attrition rate?
  • Can you recruit new employees efficiently?
  • Who is your ideal workforce?

 

Accommodating more choice at work is often the first reason when determining whether or not to implement an agile environment.

Operations

An agile culture enables your organisation to match customer demands closely. Not being tethered to a desk supports employees to work at any time, away from their regular base of operations.

What can be improved for employees and customers? How can operations be deployed to allow employees to deliver the level of service that customers expect?

It would be best if you also considered future-proofing the organisation. For example, what technologies and government-driven policies will come into existence that will impact your organisation?

Clearly, agile working is suited to some roles more than others, but most jobs will have some capacity for agility. For example, is there a business unit within your organisation, which could serve customers better by being more agile?

Space Savings

It is critical to identify who will contribute the most value by working in an agile environment. You can also adopt agile to reduce your organisation’s physical footprint. Review current utilisation levels, identify under used space and determine if it is appropriate to minimise space.

While premium-priced space may be important to your corporate projects, you can still limit space by adjusting seating ratios. For example, if you provided seven desks for every ten people, how much would that save you across your operations? $5,000,000 a year? $10,000,000 a year?

Undertake an analysis of your space usage and review:

  • What are your accommodation costs?
  • Can space provision and cost be reduced and by how much?
  • Is all your space being used?

Setting Up For Success

Change Management

It is crucial to think about how the culture needs to change to support business needs. Without mutual trust, agile working will negatively affect employees and working relationships, which will lead to poor motivation and decreased performance. An agile culture requires empowering remote teams and employees to work effectively and maintain high levels of engagement and performance.

Giving employees the power over their work creates a culture valuing performance. The work culture shifts from rigid standards that over-emphasise time and attendance to focusing on results and performance.

Managing employees in an agile environment can be a challenge, as employee contributions may be less evident to line managers. Management must view employees as genuinely valuable assets for the difference they can bring to the organisation. These principles are captured by the mnemonic “TRUST”. Furthermore, this will lead to a new approach to management for many organisations and the development of new skills.

Removing The Cons

The majority of the negatives associated with agile working centre around the blurring lines between working and home life. Remember, the aim is to create a culture that empowers employees and fosters creativity rather than a cost-cutting measure. That means providing your employees and management teams with the skills and strategies to work effectively.

Time Management & Routine

Separating work and home life is one of the most significant challenges to agile workers. Employees may find it helpful to plan their working week, matching their work to the right environment. In addition, planning ahead of time allows employees to set clear boundaries between working hours and family time.

Social Support Group

One of the potential negative consequences of remote working is social isolation, with loneliness reported as a possible ‘side-effect’. Those who have good experiences with remote work emphasise the importance of regular interactions with colleagues. With remote working, employees lose valuable water-cooler moments.

Hence, opportunities to check in with one another for social and work topics are vital. Managers and employees should engage in regular one-to-one meetings to foster more significant relationships. In addition, managers should regularly assess employee stress risks and discuss strategies to help should they require them.

Home Office & Technology

It is important to create a work-life balance. To do so, try to have a dedicated work area where you can concentrate but also leave once you are done. Often bemoaned about agile working is the lack of equipment and technology available to employees when working from home.

In the office, employees are often used to high-speed internet, printing facilities even additional monitors. Research suggests that employees place high importance on access to good equipment.

Health & Wellbeing

Sedentary lifestyles are arguably one of the most significant issues affecting agile workers and office workers in general. Not being active for extended periods is associated with obesity and high blood pressure. As employers, you have a responsibility to protect employees’ health and wellbeing.

Therefore, encourage your workers to be active during their working day. With flexible working, there is nothing stopping employees from exercising during downtime or quiet periods. A CIPD survey of remote workers found it essential to take regular breaks and remain active.

Conclusion

Adopting an agile culture will save and make your organisation money. First, however, it would help if you considered what is suitable for your organisation and your employees. Remember, each employee is different, meaning individuals will react differently and require varying support levels.

Therefore, if you adopt an agile culture, listen to your employees’ needs and provide facilities that support them. Remember, some employees are used to sitting in the same place, and it has always been their own space.

With new work methods you potentially remove their work area, what will you give them in return?

Changing your culture is an excellent opportunity for new support facilities such as cafés, quiet rooms, brainstorming rooms and private communications booths.

Workplace Insights

Whether you’re planning your return, kicking things off with a pilot group, or well on your way to a flexible workplace, we got you covered.