agile working

The Complete Agile Working Guide: Definitions, Benefits & More

Providing a variety of spaces and services to employees on-demand, from anywhere, is becoming the new normal. Our people expect to be able to book meeting rooms, desks, equipment, catering and more, wherever they are, 24/7. 

Agile working extends beyond the space itself, into the realms of workplace culture. It’s about giving people freedom to choose where and when they work. It’s a philosophy that focuses on results and giving individuals the flexibility they need to achieve them however they see fit. 

In an agile working environment you’ll typically find ABW – Activity Based Working.

For instance you might have a video conferencing room equipped with all the latest kit, a brainstorming area with beanbags and whiteboards, a cafe for informal meetings, a boardroom for formal meetings and some private offices or booths where people can make calls in peace. You can also cater for personal preferences, like standing desks. 

The agile working philosophy hinges on allowing people greater autonomy than ever before. Dan Pink famously showed us that autonomy is one of three things that motivates humans, more so than money. 

The other two are mastery and purpose. Flexible working, where employees can choose to come in late and work late, or otherwise mix up their hours, is one way to increase autonomy.

Working remotely is another, whether in public cafes, members’ clubs, shared office spaces, or at home. 

What is Agile Working? Definitions of Agile

It seems like everyone is talking about ‘agile working’ these days, from HR and Facilities, to IT and Corporate Real Estate. Since the Agile Manifesto was born in 2001, software teams have slowly but surely embraced agile development methods to improve the success rate of their projects. 

Before this, they were overburdened by excessive bureaucracy and documentation that slowed down the development process and demotivated product teams. 

The Agile Manifesto adheres to the following principles: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation 
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over following a plan

In more recent years, agile methods have extended beyond our tech teams. These days we often talk about the need for our entire organization to be ‘more agile’. One way to achieve this is by embracing agile working. But what does agile working really mean? There are endless definitions. Here are just a few… 

“Agile working is an approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It goes beyond just flexible working or telecommuting and focuses on eliminating the barriers to getting work done efficiently.” – Unilever

“Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how to achieve it).” – Paul Allsopp, The Agile Organization.

“Agile working is a way of working in which an organization empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimize their performance and deliver ‘best in class’ value and customer service. It uses communications and information technology to enable.” – NHS

The 12 Principles of Agile Software 

Those behind the Agile working movement believed that these agile approaches scared corporate bureaucrats, ‘who are happy pushing process for process’s sake’, versus trying to do what’s best for the customer. They settled on the following 12 principles in order to achieve their objectives.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. 
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. 
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. 
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. 
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress. 
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. 
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. 
  10. Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential. 
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. 
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly

Most definitions suggest that agile working is about enabling people to work when, where and how they like, i.e: 

  • You don’t have to come into the office, unless you prefer to, or have a specific reason to do so.
  • You are given a goal or task to accomplish, but you aren’t told how to approach it. Rather you’re free to get things done however and with whomever you like.
  • You can choose your own working hours. There’s no culture of clock-watching or presenteeism.

In other words, agile working is about giving people autonomy. The right to self-govern. Freedom from external control. Independence. Agile working isn’t just important. It’s inevitable.

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Hannah Cresswell

Last updated May 8, 2020