When people talk about developing agile working practices, they often focus on the technology infrastructure needed to support them. There's nothing wrong with this outlook - it's true that outdated and inflexible legacy systems can quickly scupper agile initiatives, while cloud services and other innovative technologies are powerful enablers of agility.
However, there's another key aspect to agile working that is frequently forgotten or overlooked, perhaps because it's more complex and less tangible. This is the mindset of people in your organisation. Becoming truly agile can require new ways of thinking and a cultural shift - things that will come more naturally to some people in the business than others. Achieving this on an organisation-wide scale, combined with the use of innovative technology, can have a huge impact.
Lessons from agile marketing
At the moment, a lot of interesting ideas about agile working seem to emanate from the marketing industry. It's unsurprising when you consider how marketers have seen traditional ways of working disrupted by social media and mobile technology. Leaders in this industry simply had to become more agile to survive, so it is perhaps a good place to look for clues about developing the agile mindset.
In Marketing magazine's recent feature about agility, there was an intriguing comment from Isabel Massey, head of media and futures at Diageo Western Europe. She suggested that part of the challenge faced by organisations is empowering people to bring their "natural agility" into the workplace. People regularly make quick decisions or think creatively to overcome obstacles outside the office, so why is it that these qualities don't always translate to work?
"There’s no reason why we shouldn’t adopt the same modus operandi at work … Yes, the stakes might be higher, but the prizes are bigger, too," Massey said.
It's an interesting thought, particularly when we consider how people are increasingly comfortable bringing the technology (devices and apps) from their personal lives into the workplace. This blurring of the boundaries was responsible for driving BYOD, one of the biggest business IT trends of recent years, and informs what is often referred to as the ongoing consumerisation of IT. Perhaps the next frontier, as Massey suggests, is encouraging people to share their naturally agile qualities in the corporate environment?
A number of factors can explain why this doesn't already happen more frequently, particularly for larger and more established organisations. It could be down to an outdated notion of what constitutes appropriate behavior at work, or a rigidly hierarchical structure that denies more junior staff any decision-making influence. Complex chains of command and long approval processes can also mean that employees learn to abandon any natural tendency towards agility and dynamism as soon as they walk through the door.
This is certainly a challenge that a rapidly growing number of organisations, across all industries, will have to tackle as the need to implement agile working becomes even more vital. Furthermore, it's clear that cloud collaboration and other cloud tools can help to encourage an agile mindset.
Cloud services are inherently agile because they can provide instant access to additional capacity whenever it is needed. With a collaboration tool like Kahootz, new online workspaces can be created in minutes and users are invited to collaborate and share information with a few clicks. This provides a stark contrast to the traditional model of setting up a new IT system, where the involvement of support and administration typically complicates the process and lengthens the timescale.
In this way, the cloud provides users with an experience that will more closely reflect their experience of deploying technology outside the workplace - quick, responsive and agile. It could be the key to changing mindsets and harnessing the "natural agility" of your workforce.