March 31, 2023

What you're getting wrong about flexible and agile working

Agility is a distinct competitive advantage because, when leveraged successfully, companies report 60% higher revenue and profit growth. To do this, business leaders need to know what it is, what it looks like in the workplace, and, more importantly, not confuse it with flexibility. While they can take place in tandem and both add value to a business's bottom line, flexible working is not the same as agile working. 

So, let's define their differences and the benefits of each. 

What is flexible working?

Introducing flexible working gives employees the power of choice over when and where they work. They can fulfil their role and responsibilities in the most productive environment and at the best time. This could vary based on their functional roles and their level of seniority. 

A flexible working initiative typically allows employees to work both in-office and remotely. There could also be flexibility on the timing of working hours, whether employees elect to work a fixed 9-5 day, a 4-day work week, or even an 8-month yearly schedule. 

These variations accommodate ebbs and flow in demand. It benefits employers and employees alike because allowing people to choose their workplace and work pattern improves their performance, productivity and job satisfaction, among a myriad of other benefits.

Flexible vs. agile working

While flexibility is all about when and where employees work, agility is all about how employees work, creating organisational resilience. Agility in the workplace is when employees work smarter, not harder. Employees are more collaborative and more productive because resources are optimised, and elasticity in processes is built-in, which means they can adapt quickly to changing circumstances. 

Agile teams come to life when cross-functional expertise converges in a project. This setup is designed to exercise the utmost value - employees aren't having to switch between different focus areas and can, therefore, dedicate their efforts solely to the project at hand. In this way, beyond time and cost efficiencies, this has the added benefit of increased resource effectiveness. 

Progress is assessed, and feedback is given at every stage so improvements can be made and issues overcome before they become a problem. Additionally, the incremental nature of agile working reduces the risk of failure by allowing early action to mitigate the impact of challenges, thus maximising a successful outcome. 

Why foster an agile team?

Embracing a new way of working and approach to product development typically requires company-wide change, so it needs to be worthwhile. While flexible working empowers individual employees to be productive and perform at their best, agile working brings together an effective team that garners impressive results with the following benefits. 

Leverage expertise

All projects can benefit from a multidisciplinary approach. Employees with different specialisms and sets of experiences come together to combine their unique perspectives. This is particularly useful in product development. 

Someone in R&D or IT may have the technical expertise to bring a product to life. However, insights from a marketer and a customer service rep are needed to ensure it meets the needs and preferences of the customer base. A small cross-functional team, sized to follow the two-pizza rule, can increase its potential by merging different specialisms and backgrounds to achieve a common goal. 

Increase speed

The pace of innovation is increasing as technological developments streamline the experimentation and production processes. Additionally, customers have higher expectations of businesses to meet their rapidly changing needs in volatile economic conditions. Traditional methods of R&D are typically gridlocked through cumbersome and lengthy processes. 

Agile teams can respond to changes and challenges, building the business's resilience. Due to the incremental nature of agile working, progress is evaluated and refined regularly. This speeds up development because issues are dealt with as they arise and, in real time, are not left until the second or third iteration of the product. 

Improve end-product 

The same incremental progress also has an impact on the final results. The project is run with a perspective of constant improvement, which means that employees are empowered to think of better ways of doing things rather than sticking to the status quo. As changes are made frequently, users can benefit from regular product improvements and feature enhancements. 

Running beta versions of the product in development can gather invaluable feedback that determines the success of the new development. To this end, external influence or non-typical sources can be consulted for their views. Depending on the project, this could be fellow employees, investors, or even companies in different industries. 

Better meet customer needs

Customer consultation is not the only way agile working enables businesses to meet customer needs. Alongside adapting to their input, agile working is highly responsive. As customer needs and preferences change, a dedicated team can be set up to respond to the change and reposition the business as needed. 

In the world businesses are operating in today, such necessary changes are likely to come thick and fast. Companies need to prevent bottlenecks from forming to stay ahead of customer demands and ahead of their competitors. 

Agile and flexible are words used more frequently in the past few years as the pressure on businesses to become adaptable has increased. This adaptability, in one instance, applies to a flexible working arrangement. In this post-pandemic era, employees demand choice over where they work and when they work. 

Adaptability should also be a characteristic of the way the business works. An agile team has a range of expertise and incremental feedback that allows them to complete projects successfully in record time. 

Flexible and agile work is a potent combination for companies that want to thrive. 

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