To some, an agile workplace might mean an open office where no one has assigned desks or offices and there is flexibility in where, when, and how an employee works.
But, it’s really the people that make a workplace agile. The term agile has come to mean many things, it’s a buzzword that is thrown around flippantly. In this post, we’re just talking about agile as it relates to software development. Agile software development posits that the best outcomes come from self-organizing teams that are focused on responding to change.
Agile is about people
Agile development is about the people who do the development. One of the four parts of the Agile Manifesto is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” The people are more important than the tools they use.
Going further, one of the principles of agile development is: “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
These point to a deceptively simple idea: trust people and they’ll do their best work. This goes against how many companies operate; a set number of vacation days, multiple managers for a single project or employee, and set working hours does ensure that people show up for work and look like they’re working. However, this style of management doesn’t usually prioritize productivity or employee well being.
Agile work policies
At Agileana, we started making the switch to an agile working environment 8 years ago. We have been fully remote for 5 years. We’ve set up policies built around agile software development, including:
By allowing people to set up their workspace how they like and work in an environment that suits them, they can more effectively do their job without distractions. However, this takes a great deal of trust. Sitting at a computer in an office for 8 hours a day to prove that you’re working isn’t always useful. But it does prove you’re working.
So the flexibility of remote work could be taken of advantage of, sure, but people tend to do the necessary work when they’re bought into the success of a project. And they tend to be happier because they don’t have to commute to the office.
Generally speaking, Agileana has a flexible work schedule with unlimited paid time off. Couldn’t this policy be abused also? Sure, but this rarely occurs. And it rarely occurs because, again, with personal buy in, people don’t want to take years long vacations. What we’ve found is that people want to prioritize their family and their personal health. These are critical to being a functional person and often require taking time off.
And when people feel invested in their projects, they usually want to complete them. If they’re working with a strong team, they’ll want to support that team. Unlimited time off just gives people flexibility in case a big life event happens. We’ve implemented this policy for years and have yet to have someone take every day off.
We try to work on east coast time to sync up with clients in the DC area. Sometimes people need to start late or take an hour off to run an errand. As long as they inform their team about changes in their schedule, this is okay. Sometimes you’re just not doing work, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to sit at a computer doing nothing. This also means that people occasionally work nights and weekends when they are more motivated. Flexible working hours ensure you’re getting the most out of your time.
People who are bought into a project and trusted tend to want improvement. People also tend to want to learn new skills and support their team. We will pay for work related classes and certifications for team members. Just like we facilitate buy in from employees on projects, we buy into our employees. If they’re more skilled, we’re more skilled.
Are you going to rush out and implement these policies? They’ll mean nothing without agile people.
The agile workplace in practice
Agile working might sound great but it’s not always easy to implement. It goes against a lot of norms around working.
If you ask Chief Happiness Officer and HR head Angela Ospina about the differences between Agileana and other places she’s worked, she’ll tell you that they are numerous; “the PTO policies, the environment of trust in the employees, not having a hierarchical administrative structure, and working together for a common goal are things that I had never had in my years of work experience.”
This presents some upsides, Angela notes that trusting employees creates a culture of engagement. Employees understand company priorities and teams put their work in the perspective of that purpose.
But, it’s also difficult to hire people who fit the company culture. Again, it comes down to people.
“For me, autonomy and self-discipline are two essential attributes that are difficult to find in remote employees,” says Angela. “Remote workers often need to solve problems and track down resources required without having their managers tell them what to accomplish to remain productive throughout the whole workday.”
There are multiple interlocking parts to an agile workplace. Just setting up policies that are built on trust don’t make people more trustworthy. And hiring people and not giving them trust isn’t agile. An agile workplace needs to be transparent and hire with the environment in mind. Agile workplaces need agile project managers to help with agile teams and their interactions with the non-agile world. Employees need to be self-directed and bought into the mission of the company.
All this to say, building an agile workplace requires a lot of work. Hopefully this post is a place to start thinking about agile and how to implement it, but creating agile policies is just a start.