Agile: The key to flexible working?

Adrian Jones, vice president, EMEA, at Rally Software, explains how embracing ‘agile’ principles can help businesses embed flexible working.

4401328217_002fe3f99a_oThe term Agile is being used more frequently in the workplace as companies recognise they need to become more nimble and innovative to remain competitive in today’s fast-paced, changing market.

Stemming from Agile software development, which encourages continuous development and delivery of products in small increments to quickly and easily respond to changing market conditions, Agile is also a cultural and organisational mindset. Agile challenges the traditional way of working to allow the business to be more reactive to market changes, competitors and employees’ needs. The idea of flexible working is undoubtedly a key aspect of that, and in agile methodology it fits under the theme of ‘doing what is best for the employees’ – balancing work and life.

With more remote workers and flexible staff in any given company, we’ve outlined some agile best practices that will ultimately ensure an organisation remains efficient while meeting the needs of its employees.

Be responsible

If an organisation includes employees who work flexible hours or from remote locations, it’s important that every team member is responsible for his or her work. At Rally Software for example, at the beginning of a project or ‘sprint’ we decide what we’re going to get done and determine the related responsibilities for each employee. We foster internal responsibility so we aren’t worrying how many hours someone has worked. We’re asking if they are keeping to their commitments. You don’t measure hours. You measure performance. This technique is inherent to successful agile implementation.

Communicate

Email is a wonderful tool to keep us all connected, but more often than not, our inboxes are clogged and important messages are lost in the clutter. At Rally, we have our own tool called Flowdock that enables teams to have threaded conversations and a shared inbox. Each team has a ‘flow’ where we can instant message each other – and also share key updates with the broader team. This encourages multi-discipline teams to work together closely and gives a timeline of what’s going on, cutting down on the constant battle of inbox overload. It also reduces the number of distracting email ‘pop-up’ notifications.

When an organisation is truly agile, everyone will know at any moment where a project stands and what teams need, which reduces time chasing down people who haven’t responded to email and eliminates long status reporting meetings. Collaboration is at the centre of agile as when people communicate effectively, the end result is better. Therefore, cut the clutter and focus on the communication and collaboration.

Balance our lives

In agile, an important theme is ‘doing what is best for the employee’, and striving to balance work and life. When given the freedom to be a flexible worker, managers often worry that they will work less, but in reality they often do more because they feel guilty for not being visible in the office. Create agreements that ensure you’re not working all hours of the day. For example, just because someone sends an email at 10pm, it doesn’t mean you have to answer it straight away. Undoubtedly, regular communication and collaboration is still important and therefore, it’s important that there’s a time during the day when a whole team can communicate, that works for everyone. Remember to have a work/life balance and encourage it within the team.

Culture Shift

In order to successfully implement agile practices throughout an organisation, an overhaul of the company culture is usually required and in many instances essential. This includes ensuring that the company structure and processes are evaluated to make sure they meet the needs of employees, particularly those who work out of the main office. Managers need to create a framework for flexible working but the culture change happens quicker if individuals work together in adopting their new way of working. They need to ask questions such as: Do we want to agree to be in the office at certain times? How can we trust that everyone is accountable? How will we know if flexible working works for us?

Managers also need guidance in how to manage staff who regularly work from home or another location, which might include setting clear guidelines for type and frequency of reporting. It goes without saying, but a culture change can only happen from the top down. Senior leaders must embrace and be willing to adjust the culture as necessary and be open to admitting and learning from mistakes.

Focus

One of the agile principles is focus. If you’re focusing on one project, it is impossible to be instantly responsive. Most emails are not that important. When you’re enforcing a culture of focus, you need to learn what level of responsiveness is appropriate. Don’t ignore your inbox, but just as importantly, don’t lose focus on the project in hand with email distraction.

Overall, the key to being flexible is to work with your employees to ensure the flexible framework works for everyone. People need to feel engaged and part of a team even when they’re not physically in the office. Work out the best practices for your staff and communicate with them to see what’s working and what’s not – and then use that feedback to improve. Remember that whatever the policies or cultural adaptation, the message has to be consistent from top to bottom – you can’t write an agreement with your manager that the CEO doesn’t agree with. There is no one model fits all program; it’s all about change and being agile.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/riekhavoc/

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