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What does it take to create an agile work environment?

The environment in which we work has a huge influence on what we produce. No wonder companies spend millions on their office design! But as we move into 2022, there’s a new type of workplace taking dominance: the agile work environment.

Agile environments have long been important for those of us working in agile ways. But now it’s what many people are craving, from industry to industry and across the world.

What is an agile work environment?

An agile environment is a flexible one. Employees are able to work how, where, and when they want to — so long as it’s helping productivity. Without the pressure on timekeeping and rigid work processes, an employee can direct all their focus on the task at hand.

The work environment should be a space that facilitates productivity, offering workers the resources and space they need to perform. For example, an agile work environment may consist of collaboration space, relaxation space, concentration space, focus space, team meeting space, inspirational space, and phone conversation space.

It’s a drastic change from the traditional desk clump and dividers model we’re used to, but as we know, the traditional workspace does not work for agile teams.

The benefits of setting up an agile work environment

There’s little value in working with agile methodologies if the workspace can’t facilitate them, but switching to an agile workspace has more benefits than you may realize.

A company may wish to focus on the cost saving aspects, as agile workspaces make use of every inch of floor space, rather than paying for an office that’s barely utilized. However, the real benefits are what an agile workspace can do for your employees.

Employee satisfaction

Workplace flexibility is one of the main drivers of job satisfaction. An agile workplace supports this, encouraging workers to approach tasks on their own terms, and trusting them to manage their own time and workload effectively.

More than half of employees (54%) who took part in a global survey said they would consider leaving their job if they’re not able to work flexibly in a post-pandemic world. However. only 48% of those surveyed thought their workplace had actually embraced change over the past year. To make matters worse, 31% actually said their company’s culture had worsened.

This suggests that businesses need to offer a flexible workspace to attract and retain top talent.

Improved collaboration

It seems obvious, but you can really promote collaboration by removing literal barriers between employees.

Say a team needs some guidance from another team in the building, but they’re both in separate rooms. There’s an instant sense of “Oh, I don’t really want to bother them” — and that makes employees unwilling to talk to one another. If different teams are sharing an open plan environment, it opens up the opportunity for spur-of-the-moment collaboration. And that’s the secret sauce that can really push your project to the next level.

Autonomy creates leaders

We know that employees can thrive when given the opportunity to work as a self-organized team. A flexible attitude to the work supported by a flexible workplace can help those self-sustaining teams expand and collaborate with other teams that were previously hidden away behind a divider.

As these teams collaborate more frequently, natural leaders will emerge from the pack, helping to guide these teams towards valuable outcomes without the need for managerial intervention. Sure, management will always be there, but they can operate safely in the knowledge they don’t need to micromanage anyone.

On the other side of the coin, those who prefer to work alone will also have the space and freedom to work exactly how they want to. Better still, in an agile workspace, they can easily see and access help from teams or leaders as and when they require it.

What does an agile work environment look like?

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for an agile work environment. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

Every team is different and every employee works differently, so why would we want to follow the same template as everyone else? That being said, there are key quantifiers we should focus on when creating an agile work environment.

Comfort

No one can work at their full potential if they feel uncomfortable where they are working. This doesn’t only mean getting rid of those bad, cheap desk chairs or turning the thermostat down. Cramped spaces and dull color schemes can affect the team’s mood, which in turn hampers productivity.

Flow

It’s a slow morning. Your commute was less than pleasant. Then you get into work and you need to navigate an obstacle course just to get to your workspace. Quite quickly, you’ve got a recipe for a very poor workday.

An agile work environment should offer as much freedom and as few obstacles as possible. That means literally and figuratively!

Noise level

Not everyone can work with Spotify playing throughout the office. But, on the other hand, some people work better when they’re able to listen to music. It can be difficult to manage external sounds, especially if your building is near infrastructure, but you do have control over the in-office noise level by asking employees to use headphones and keep conversations quiet.

Flexibility

Flexibility is the whole point of creating an agile work environment.

A static workplace can easily hamper productivity. An agile workspace should be completely flexible and rearrangeable to help your team create the perfect space for maximum productivity.

Rather than tethering your employees to their desks and keeping them hidden behind a computer screen, look to create a workspace and culture that supports agile workflows.

But… what about remote teams?

Obviously, flexible working practices can’t just include office-based tweaks. Now we know that working from home is a viable option, we can’t just expect our employees to be happy about returning to the office. Likewise, companies are able to save money by encouraging remote working, saving on office space and supplies.

The only problem is, it’s tough to create an agile work environment when you have little control over their workspace at home. After all, ‘agile’ is a mindset and a culture — not a design style.

The answer is fairly simple though: embrace the change.

It can be easy to see issues with distributed teams, especially if employees are working on different schedules. However, agile methodologies are all about taking a problem and solving it in a creative fashion — so you should do the same to make a distributed team work.

Minimize friction

The early stages of remote working will present plenty of obstacles. And obstacles mean opportunities to learn!

This is the time where you need to discover which software to use to develop, how to schedule meetings appropriately, and how to seamlessly communicate with team members.

Scheduling standups or retrospectives will require some amount of compromise between team members, especially if they’re in different time zones. However, using the right software to organize your teams can help everyone quickly acclimatize to the new way of doing things.

Remember, you’re still working as a team

It can be easy to see other team members as individual entities when working remotely. The literal distance can lead to an employee thinking they’re on their own as they work, but keeping an emphasis on collaboration can help bridge that gap.

If you’re managing a remote team, it’s vital to maintain strong communication between team members with daily stand-ups and voice conferencing software. Check in regularly to make sure any concerns aren’t being ignored.

Sharing agile-focused digital tools will also help remote teams stay aligned. Check out EasyRetro’s feature set, as a great place to get started.

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