With an increasingly uncertain future, resilience, adaptability, and flexibility have never been more important to businesses.
Morgan Stanley’s co-president suggests we could be facing a paradigm shift in the economy, with the war in Ukraine, inflation, and interest rate increases marking a sharp departure from the post-2008 crash status-quo.
Yet it’s not only the economic status quo that’s shifting. Work itself is fundamentally changing. And whether we enter a recession or not, organizations can come out of this moment stronger. But to do so, as business leaders, we have to nurture agility.
Agility means something different for every organization and every employee, yet there are common elements: a willingness to experiment with new technology, the embracing of flexible approaches to work, and a responsive mindset that can pivot to meet new challenges are all key.
Rightly, the vast majority – 69.5% of UK businesses according to The Economist Impact, have recognized the importance of agility and made tangible investments in it.
But where should those investments be prioritized next in order to hardcode agility into our DNA? As we emerge from the pandemic era into new challenges (and toward new opportunities) there are two areas we must focus on driving agility in particular: a new approach to the office, and the processes that power it.
Rebuilding the office on agile foundations
While there’s no crystal ball that will reveal the exact future of the office, one thing is for certain: for agile companies, the pre-pandemic approach won’t be making a return.
This doesn’t mean every company will abandon the physical environment. However, to enable more agile ways of working we will see organizations rethinking how they put the square footage available to better use – to make the biggest impact for employees.
It’s clear that bringing everyone together—requiring long and expensive commutes—simply to have them sit in rows, heads down using their laptops, is a waste of everyone’s resources.
Instead, we need to start experimenting with how we use physical space to genuinely foster a more agile approach. That might mean removing executive offices, reducing desks and instead devoting that space to areas for groups—for example, expansive and open spaces for large all-hands meetings, rooms dedicated to interactive brainstorming, space for standing meets or areas for social gatherings.
The goal should be to transform the physical work so that it adds value to specific activities that benefit from it, rather than simply offering someone another place to sit at a desk for 8 hours. The future physical office will be built around true face-to-face activities, not face-to-screen in a bigger room.
Agility, synchronicity and automation in the digital HQ
Almost every business is currently questioning how they can best use their physical offices. But what of the work that does require us to be at our desk, using our devices? The reality is, for most of us the majority of our work today, both individual and collaborative needs to take place digitally.
For that we can drive agility in other ways, by embracing the potential of the digital HQ—a place that is connected, flexible, and inclusive for everyone to be a part of and contribute to, regardless of their location.
The digital HQ is still something organizations are learning to define, and not all digital HQs are equal. Too often, businesses have tried simply moving the physical HQ online. Emails replace conversations and video calls replace meetings. This is the worst of both worlds—agility falls as the natural flow of information is limited, quick conversations turn into 30-minute calls that fill calendars, and employee engagement suffers.
Building an agile digital HQ requires a more intentional approach and two elements are key: asynchronicity and automation.
Asynchronous working means enabling teams to collaborate without needing to do so ‘live’. It boosts flexibility, helping people to choose how they participate and contribute their best work. That might mean using short audio or video clips that can be listened to at any point replacing long meetings at set times. Or channel-based messaging is being used to break down barriers and collaboration silos. Agility is about embracing flexible approaches to work, and asynchronicity is key to that as it frees work from unnecessary time or space constraints.
Automation meanwhile can make that work much more pleasant and productive. Low-and-no-code solutions in the digital HQ give everyone a chance to automate tasks and reduce repetitive manual processes.
At HSBC, for example, developers embraced the potential of the digital HQ, building a custom bot to bring together GitHub, Jenkins, and Jira Cloud to operate entirely within their channel-based messaging platform. It enables workers to simply share commands with the bot, ultimately helping the team to use a wider range of people and skill sets, without having to train everyone on each separate platform. The result is a more agile and streamlined way of working.
Preparing for an agile future
Work is in a malleable state today. The past few years broke assumptions and have opened up new possible futures. It’s now up to us as businesses, whether new startups or centuries-old institutions, to take the initiative and rebuild work around agile approaches that benefit us all.
Because whatever challenges lie ahead, by transforming the office, investing in the digital HQ and embracing the benefits of asynchronous and automated work, we will be more than ready to tackle them.
By Pip White, Senior Vice President and General Manager, EMEA at Slack