Architecture & Design, Human Resources, and Real Estate

How agile work boosts productivity

January 31, 2019
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Todd Custer. Courtesy Custer

Look up the meaning of “agile,” and you’ll find definitions like “able to move quickly and easily” or “marked by ready ability to move with quick, easy grace.” If you ask technology professionals for a definition of “agile,” they may tell you it’s a set of work principles from the 2001 "Agile Manifesto," a guide for software development teams.

What you may not know about “agile” is that it’s also a work concept organizations are rapidly adopting today as a way to boost productivity, and that’s changing the nature of office design. According to our partners at Steelcase, agile work promotes collaboration across an organization by creating welcoming spaces and changing the way employees interact with each other.

“Agile work promotes focusing on one project at a time, brief yet frequent team meetings and feedback from customers,” said Sam Massie at Steelcase. “We think of agile work in terms of work as an activity, not just a place. That’s why we’re focused on creating spaces that support work as an activity and give people more control over how they get work done.”

According to Steelcase, agile work requires an ecosystem of spaces, such as “neighborhoods,” “town squares,” “business districts” and “gardens,” designed to support different aspects of work. Additionally, agile work is a mindset that acknowledges technology is always evolving and requires continuous learning in the workplace. Below are some concepts from Steelcase that can help organizations think about work through the agile lens.

Learning

Learning is at the core of agile work. This type of work promotes openness among team members and encourages people to share ideas and work to build knowledge. It also encourages “tinkering” and testing as a method of trial and error to help team members view failure as a path to success because of the learning that occurs.

Space

Agile work encourages organizations to leverage their space in new ways. It promotes being present at work — physically, emotionally, mentally and socially — to help build trust and foster communication among team members. Additionally, agile work encourages letting go of certain tasks and revisiting them when the time is right.

Leadership

According to Steelcase, agile work “shifts from directing to enabling, from telling to empowering, and from creating boundaries to eliminating roadblocks.” This means leaders address issues in real-time and in an authentic way. It also empowers teams to make decisions together. Agile teams work best when everyone understands the organization’s big picture goals and can work together toward those goals.

Community

Bringing employees together is an essential part of agile work. When teams have a sense of shared values and purpose, they can see how their work connects to the overall organization. In an agile work environment, people feel like they belong and are part of a greater community, ultimately feeling empowered to make a significant contribution to the organization. Employees also feel empowered to lend their expertise to others and share their skills across teams.

While agile work is a relatively new concept, it’s an opportunity for organizations to create stronger, more connected teams. To learn more about this new way of working, community members are welcome to visit Steelcase at 7:30 a.m., Feb. 21, for a conversation on the topic of establishing an agile work environment and tour of the space. For more information about the event, contact Nikki Probst at nprobst at custerinc dot com.