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13 Top Technology Trends for Agile Workplaces

August 07, 17
13 Top Technology Trends for Agile Workplaces

Agile workplaces are changing the way we work. With an increased focus on deliverables and meaningful productivity, workplaces are finding more freedom to work when and how they want, which can lead to increased personal responsibility and better results for the business. Creating the best agile workplace involves leveraging trends in technology to better collaborate, communicate and track project goals. Let's look at 13 trends we're seeing in the agile sphere, and how they can benefit your workplace team.

What are some of the benefits of the agile working environment?

While Agile might be relatively new to some industries, businesses are already benefiting from agile methodologies. Current trends point to a number of benefits that come from a more flexible and task focused approach to work life.
  1. Increased productivity: Staff have more ownership and personal responsibility over their role, leading to better productivity.
  2. Less staff turnover: Staff who have more control over their work hours are generally happier in their jobs.
  3. Cost savings: Electricity, floor space and other efficiencies are made possible through agile.

1. An increased focus on balancing work and life

For the past couple of decades there's been a lot of emphasis on the world/life balance, and how it can improve overall health, happiness and productivity. The basic precept of the work/life balance is that everyone has needs outside of their day job, and that finding the balance between work commitments, home life and social interaction can be unique to the individual. This focus on improving our work/life balances has helped us look for more flexible approaches to work, including mandatory holidays, regular contract hours, parental leave and flexible scheduling. In many ways, technology helped drive this change. Telecommunications made it easier to connect and share information regardless of location. Now, we live in a world where everyone carries a powerful, always connected computer in their pocket. As a new generation enters the workforce, one that sees less distinction between work and other aspects of life, we're seeing a trend to a more integrated workforce. Just as agile environments challenge our expectations in the office, the work/life blend challenges our notions of productivity by offering more freedom for staff to go out and achieve, regardless of where they are located. This allows them to approach work through personal technology and help define as well as engage in work culture. Inherent to this trend are a few key points:
  • Support for BYOD devices
  • Ability to articulate measurable goals
  • A culture of collaboration, ownership and proactive engagement.
The work/life blend can take many shapes and forms. Some staff might be fully remote. Others might come into the office for specific reasons. Some may work nights or weekends. Many will still prefer the traditional 9 to 5. Work and life integration is about breaking down boundaries and providing greater levels of freedom for your team, and is essential for agile workplaces that want to embrace a more fluid and creative dynamic across their staff.

2. Using activity-based working models

With studies finding up to 60% of our traditional office space is wasted at any given time, it's easy to see how activity based working models can work in conjunction with agile, non-assigned seating to provide a more fluid, task orientated work space. Activity-based workspaces focus on collaboration and productive use of time in the office. Each workplace is different, so an ABW model has to consider the goals, behaviours and movements of staff to be effective. At the core of this is the idea that at any given time staff and teams should be able to transition to new work tasks without interruption. Importantly, Activity-based workspaces aren't limited to a small group of users, maximising the use of space and encouraging collaboration and communication across the agile workspace. This is a trend that offers value in the form of more efficient use of space and better productivity.

3. Activity-based workspaces as a solution to staff behaviour

One trend that's providing a more rapid adoption of activity-based working models is the power of behaviour. Futurescape identifies the three fundamental pillars of activity-based workspaces.
  1. The physical environment
  2. The technology to support mobility in activity-based working models
  3. The behaviours of people
It is number three here that represents the biggest challenge for adopters of activity-based workspaces. Business leaders can provide the best technology and workspaces, but it's up to the employees within them to embrace the chance and value the positive impacts they can provide to their day to day working life,

4. Using Big Data to measure workplace utilisation

It's one thing to plan an agile workplace under best case scenarios. Tracking and measuring their success is another. Enter Big Data. As much a paradigm shift as a trend, Big Data will help you measure the utilisation of space around the agile workplace, drawing information from resource schedules, physical sensors and digital touch points, and linking them up into meaningful data structures. By collecting relevant information and passing it through shared databases, managers can better track how effectively space is being utilised across the office. Metrics to collect include:
  • Swipe card data: Who's using various office areas and spaces including activity-based workspaces, breakout rooms, cubicles and conference rooms.
  • Lighting sensors: How much electricity is your office drawing, and where?
  • Desk sensors: How often are hot desks being utilised? Are there blind-spots or places staff prefer not to sit?
  • Smartphone sensors: Co-ordinate with your staff and their drives to better track movements through the office.

5. Only come to work if you need to

Key to implementing functioning agile workplaces with activity-based working models is the trend towards working teams that only come to the office when they need to. That's not to say staff aren't working, but rather job KPIs are structured around delocalised milestones and tangible deliverables, rather than simply 'hours logged'. Ideally this manifests as a desire to collaborate in person. To meet face to face with team members and workshop solutions and project plans together, and then break to pursue personable actionables. This flexible, almost freeform approach to work time underpins an ethos of adaptability among teams and staff.

Catering to a flexible and diverse team

In the ever changing workplace, we need to keep in mind the legacy processes that still work well. As staff become more comfortable in agile workplaces, such as only coming into work when they need to, team members who prefer a strict schedule and location shouldn't be driven away. Staff members should be free to:
  • Action work tasks from anywhere that can connect to the internet
  • Define and take responsibility for their own schedules
  • Work the hours they choose
  • Find a desk at their home office when they need to
  • Be proactive in attending meetings with staff and teams.
Tip: It's implicit with any agile workplace that they have the technology to support the above points. If you want to make the most of an adaptable team, your digital workflows should be just as easily adaptable.

6. More control over remote teams

The wonders of SaaS, cloud storage and computing are driving agile and remote teams to greater success. From a business perspective, there's just so many benefits to running a team remotely:
  • Save on office space costs
  • Hire the best of the best, regardless of where they are located
  • Cover timezones globally without overtime
  • Staff interested in remote working are, by necessity, technology capable.
Those already comfortable with the agile culture are starting to spread their wings into the remote working lifestyle.This trend will continue, powered by both generational and technology change.

Generation change

Baby boomers and GenXs are already more comfortable with the cloud and a delocalised work suite, while Gen Y employees have grown up with cloud tech, and arrive in the workforce equipped to deal with digital communications and remote collaboration.

Technological change

Artificial intelligence is already learning how to improve software and provide a better user experience through data. Virtual and augmented reality technology will continue to push the envelope for remote collaboration and sharing.

7. Virtual and augmented technologies will be adopted by agile workplaces

We're only just on the cusp of knowing what virtual reality spaces can do for the workplace, but as these exciting technologies see rapid adoption at a consumer level, they will make their way into the corporate environment as well.

Virtual reality in agile

Agile workplaces with tech savvy, forward thinking staff and executives are already hungry to adopt the virtual office space as a way of coordinating personal projects and collaborative meetings. VR powered offices will:
  • Meet collaboratively online
  • Design, plan and tour virtual blueprints and product prototypes
  • Showcase and share portfolio work in a compelling UX that will destroy the competition.

Augmented workspaces

With the more rapid adoption of pure VR comes the power of AR. Offices won't have to shell out for expensive hardware. Instead, any wall can be used for a conference screen or whiteboard, while all AR connected employees can share and define the physical and digital workplace.

8. Advanced collaboration across agile methodologies

Agile workplaces are already comfortable working in teams across both remote work and through shared software. Simple programs like Google Drive have opened up new pathways to productivity and shared skillsets, while custom SaaS platforms power enhanced integration and information sharing. Technology will continue to drive advanced collaboration in agile workplaces, but smart companies will make technology work for them instead of vice versa.

Reimagining retail

In retail, we are seeing better collaboration between bricks and mortar shopfronts, warehousing and corporate. Brands are better integrating their ERPs to provide multi-warehouse support and advanced logistics. Shopfronts can now respond to online orders, creating better efficiency and use of time for staff. Advanced collaboration is providing:
  • Better flexibility for staff
  • More efficient management of high volume logistics
  • Shareable content across social and web stores
  • More inventory visibility for customers and staff .
Retail just one area where agile workplaces are showing greater efficiency. Advanced collaboration involves bringing the entire workforce into the agile mindset, creating more powerful engagement for employees beyond the corporate environment.

9. The death of 'one-size-fits-all'

Finally, we are seeing the permanent end to a one-size-fits-all response to workplace organisation in corporate environments. This extinction, which is long overdue, is the result of two complementary trends:
  1. The measurable success of agile workplaces
  2. The failure of legacy workplace footprints to compete.
Essentially, workplaces that don't adapt to the agile needs of their staff are being left behind in greater numbers. They fail to:
  • Meet staff expectations
  • Attract new talent
  • Make the most of available resources
  • Respond quickly to market forces and client demands
  • Save money on space and software.
With ever larger numbers of successful companies embracing agile workplaces, legacy methodologies are going the way of the dinosaur.

10. Autonomy to differentiate in the agile workplace

While there are many office environments that celebrate a flexible working culture along the axis of time and location (work when you want and where you want), the true hallmark of an agile workspace is the autonomy and empowerment granted to staff to set their own goals and achieve them with creative thinking and action. Obviously, there are always boundaries and parameters. We can't escape many of their factors that bind us to the workplace, including:
  • Deadlines and schedules
  • Compliance and regulatory requirements
  • Legal obligations
  • User access control and limits of authority.
Not every task will fit easily into an autonomous, agile working environment. We only have to look at the differing autonomy between sales teams, who are bound by a single metric, and operational support with many competing demands, to know that not every role can have high levels of autonomy all the time. However, it's important to remember that agile workplaces benefit both the employer and the employee. When we think of autonomy, it's shouldn't be thought of as 'lack of supervision'. In fact, that's probably not a good way to think about it at all. Rather autonomy is a positive act of empowerment and trust. It's saying to staff, 'You know yourself best.' As John Early put in in his article Agile Working Made Simple: "By empowering their employees to work how, where and when they choose there is evidence that they increase their productivity and provide service improvements by working in a way that suits them best. There is the very real prospect of a win-win situation."

11. Real talk in the workplace about the trade offs that come with agile environments

As we move into a more integrated work/life blend, it's becoming increasingly prudent for employees and employers to speak directly to the tradeoffs that come with this newer way of working.

Accepting the employee challenge

For staff, it's vitally important to recognise that the challenge that comes with flexibility in working is the greater responsibility to succeed under personal motivation. To meet deadlines and commitments without micromanagement from team leaders and motivators.

Managing through direct actionables

In an ideal agile workplace, staff come and go as necessary. The legacy model of heavy supervising and micromanagement just isn't possible under agile methodologies. In fact, a manager who tries too hard to track the comings and going of staff will not only frustrate themselves, but their employees as well. Instead, measurable commitments become the touchstones of success, deadlines instead of timecards. This promotes a healthy culture of completion and personal responsibility, and drives productivity. Central to this is an honesty and commitment to the agile process, with open lines of communication throughout the organisation's employers and employees. This speaks directly to what is expected in the agile workplace, and addresses concerns that may arise with staff who are comfortable in a legacy system.

12. Redefining human resources through agile work

As we see agile workplaces change the way we do business, organisations must consider how they structure many of their HR and executive practises. You're already familiar with the potential trade offs for employees working in an agile framework, but for manager and employers there are also tradeoffs. "Adopting a relaxed attitude to their staff working practices, particularly to when staff choose to work," is one consideration highlighted by John Eary as essential to shaping an agile environment. Human Resources also need to redefine their approach to many of the axioms they take for granted. We're seeing trends, particularly in small SaaS companies, to reimagined descriptions of work hours and annual leave entitlements. Instead of defined weekly hours, employees are offered 'unlimited holidays and time off'. Essentially, it falls down to the staff member to meet deadlines as best as they can. The rest of their time simply belongs to them.

13. The rise of lifestyle technology signals the end of desktop first hardware

It's long been the case for many enterprise level organisations that technology has shaped business practice, rather than vice versa. So says Frank Mulcahy from Experteq: "Employees have become limited by the way legacy technology enables them to work, instead of having the flexibility to work as, where and how they require to meet productivity levels." As agile workplaces allow for more flexibility in the work/life blend, adoption of activity-based working will have a run-on affect in the area of workplace physical technology (the hardware and software we use to achieve work tasks).

Mobile agility with SaaS

Both software and hardware adoption is already changing in the business place. We're seeing an avalanche of SaaS services replace cumbersome legacy programs. SaaS offers a lot more value to the company with features such as:
  • Low to zero hosting resources
  • Monthly fees instead of complex licensing arrangements
  • Account management through the web
  • Universal patching and updating from the vendor.
On the hardware front, SaaS is already saving costs for businesses through the reduction of on-site hardware, with many SaaS deployments running on their own cloud or capable of working on your business cloud.

Personal devices for business success

We're also seeing hardware savings for businesses, as BYOD devices become the exception rather than the norm. It was only five years ago that the business technology world was making a big fuss about supporting BYOD devices. Now, the trend is such that agile workplaces don't just support BYOD, they actively encourage it. Mulcahy says: "Staff increasingly wish to bring lifestyle technology to work, rather than bringing work technology home. In many ways, work style and lifestyle are becoming intertwined through technology." The run-on effect for businesses that supply agile workplaces with ABW structures is savings across hardware volume. Instead of a desk and computer for every staff member, fluid workplaces encourage device sharing, BYOD and collaboration outside of the silo.

Embracing technology for a more agile workplace

In order for employers and employees to experience the benefits of an agile working environment, technology in the workplace must be able to adapt and accommodate the requirements needed. Having up-to-date technology enables employees to work to higher productivity levels, and increases their happiness and autonomy at work, benefiting the employers through increased staff retention and staff satisfaction. As technology is ever-evolving, businesses need to keep an eye on current trends, to maximise their potential benefits from workplace technology developments.
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