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What Agile Teams Bring to the Digital Workplace

February 03, 2021 Digital Workplace
David Roe
By David Roe

Agile workplaces are designed for maximum flexibility. They empower employees to work how, where and when they choose, and give them the technology and tools they need to do it. Employees in agile work environments are often not constrained by the work day, and in the current climate especially, are free to work remotely.

Agile teams drive it all. Since the generalization of remote working, these teams are keeping many digital workplaces working. So, what exactly is an agile team? 

Defining an Agile Team

According to the Agile Alliance, a team in the Agile sense is a small group of people assigned to the same project or effort, nearly all of them on a full-time basis. A small minority of team members may be part-time contributors or may have competing responsibilities.

The Agile Alliance is a nonprofit organization supporting people who explore and apply Agile values, principles and practices to make building software solutions more effective, humane and sustainable.

There are several pitfalls to Agile teaming, the Alliance explains, with three in particular to note:

  1. Equating a group and a team: Teams do not automatically result from having people work together.
  2. Number of members: A team should have at least three people and will generally not exceed 10.
  3. Projects vs. teams: A single person may be a contributor to more than one project simultaneously, but it is unlikely they will consider themselves as belonging to more than one team.

Related Article: Breaking Down Agile Business Strategies

Agile Tech and Remote Work

As work has become more remote and the tech more reliable, these changes have introduced new ways of working such as Agile. In fact, the basics of Agile development go hand-in-hand with the digital workplace, said Caroline Lee, co-founder of Singapore-based CocoSign.

Agile work is often characterized by digital tools and processes that foster and enhance communication and collaboration between employees, which is close to the idea that is driving digital workplace development. The success or failure of Agile development depends on the digital workplace since Agile teams are fragmented across locations and geographies. For the Agile team to establish effective communication and collaboration, it must have a strong digital infrastructure.

Digital workplace makes a real difference for the Agile team since they can share their screens and work on shared tools. The workflows and processes of a digital workplace ensure team members receive timely feedback and improve communication between teams.

“The proper blend of digital workplace and Agile is that they create an environment that makes it easier for employees to do their jobs,” Lee said. 

Related Article: Being Agile in a Non-Agile World

Team Collaboration and Agility

As workplaces have become digital, the argument for having knowledge workers commute to a physical location only to sit in front of a computer to get their work done with others no longer makes sense. The positive impact of remote work on individual productivity and organizational performance through teams is undeniable.

For over a decade, most of the Agile literature and almost all Agile thought leaders have been promoting co-location as a prerequisite to agility, said Molood Ceccarelli of Sweden-based Remote Forever, a training company for Agile work. The agile community was resistant to change despite the move to online communication and remote collaboration.

Agile ways of working and the teams that have come out of it have empowered employees to design how they work for maximum flexibility. In agile organizations, they have the autonomy to choose how they work and use technology. And with the move to remote work, beautiful office spaces with ping pong tables and free snacks are not as motivating.

“Our workplaces are now digital," Ceccarelli said. “They have digital tools and require us to upgrade our skillset to lead and motivate employees remotely, communicate effectively with our colleagues remotely and get work done digitally.” So how do Agile and the digital workplace fit together? She has three suggestions:

1. Carefully design the digital workplace

A well designed digital workplace empowers individuals and teams through their tools and processes. A digital workplace, much like a physical office, needs to be intentionally and meticulously designed by experts so that it enhances the interactions people have.

A common mistake that companies that shifted suddenly to remote work made was assuming that providing a video conferencing platform was enough for a digital workplace. To embrace the benefits of Agile, a digital workplace should offer the ability to communicate effectively asynchronously. Exchanging information using appropriate tools and explicit processes can empower individuals and teams to interact effectively with one another.

“It can also allow each individual to be much more productive as they can access information whenever they need it without depending on real-time meetings with their colleagues,” Ceccarelli said.

2. Tap global resources to advance diversity and innovation

As digital workplaces replace physical offices, Agile teams can benefit from the advantages of diversity. Companies are no longer limited to hiring people in one city but can expand their search to a global pool of talent. Diversity and innovation are linked together, and remote work can be an inclusive form of collaboration through which employees can enjoy the freedom to work from anywhere they are most productive.

“A digital workplace merely serves as a virtual office for agile teams to break the barriers of time, location and social skills and combine their unique ideas to create great services and products,” she said.

3. Choose the right tools

Digital workplaces minimize time-wasting activities and accelerate the response to change. Agile was born from a need to quickly respond to changes in the market and the world, and a digital workplace is the ultimate environment for remote colleagues to collaborate and adapt.

Think of a digital workplace as a virtual office for your Agile team. That means it needs to be designed with intention. Every tool needs to have a clear purpose and the way tools and communication methods fit together should empower interactions, creativity and freedom, Ceccarelli said.

Related Article: HR Struggles With Agile Principles for Good Reason

Don't Neglect the Psychology of Agile

The key to making Agile teams work in a digital workplace is psychological safety, said Sergei Anikin, chief technology officer at New York City-based Pipedrive, which develops a CRM platform for sales and marketing teams.

Successful teams enable people to step outside of the status quo, and ensure that mistakes will not lead to undue consequences. Teams should allow people to feel secure and confident enough to engage in constructive risk-taking behaviors rather than feeling undermined or shamed.

A self-managing, agile organization requires focus, Anikin said. He offered two suggestions:

1. Review productivity and business communication tools: Are employees using all features available to them? In fact, are they using the tools at all? Use a systematic approach to work management that provides clarity to hit goals quickly.

2. Look at asynchronous communication: Asynchronous communication is focused on messages that do not receive or demand an immediate response. This communication style allows employees to review and build on activities when convenient for them.

Employees should be given room to perform at their highest levels. That's what is best for their own morale, but for the business as well.

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