Hybrid work is the future. Hybrid — a combination of hours spent in the office and at home — has been a necessary reaction to the upheavals of working through a global pandemic. With an evolving working future so different from from the past, the philosophies and methodology that guides work must also adapt.
While agile work has been ingrained in industries like software development for years, the method is making its way into the mainstream. As businesses contend with a decentralised workforce and business goals shifting, the answer for many lies in the freedom of agile techniques.
Agile for a distributed workforce and new expectations
As we adjust to a hybrid working model, business goals are changing too. Peter Moutsatsos, head of integration program, Bank of QLD/ME Bank, suggests that businesses are facing increased pressure to bring products quickly and inexpensively to market, whilst also prioritising user experience.
“No one wants to spend hundreds of millions or even tens of millions on a new software application or a new banking platform anymore,” Moutsatsos says. “They want to spend less and get it out faster.” Businesses are adapting their methods to suit this change. “That’s driving an accelerated move to agile thinking, which is ‘how do I get something to my customer faster and test it with them and iterate and evolve rather than waiting until it’s perfect before launching it?’” says Moutsatsos. PMI champions this pillar of agile, too, stating that agile helps businesses understand “what is needed through regularly showing our work and acting on feedback.”
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It’s this confluence of development speed, user experience and worker independence that makes agility so important to the future of work. Take the agile sprint, for instance. In a sprint, an agile scrum breaks down large projects into chunks of, generally, two weeks in length, chasing tangible outcomes. The sprint is highly effective at generating results, allows products to get to market sooner and, importantly, doesn’t necessitate workers all being under the one roof. Sprints — and agile more broadly — relies instead on what Moutsatsos calls ‘asynchronous workflow’: working together to achieve a goal, but not necessarily all at the one time and place.
“With hybrid working, [agile] is connecting at the start together, but then in between you can largely be distributed and asynchronous and work on your tasks independently,” says Moutsatsos. PMI describes the workflow of a sprint as requiring only daily team communication: “During the sprint, the team checks in daily with each other in the form of a 15-minute meeting known as a scrum.” It means that, with an agile method, employees are able to work effectively whilst separated by distance and time, while reaching those new business goals.
While businesses should prioritise an agile method for its benefits to productivity, this concept of asynchronous workflow has real benefits to staff wellbeing too. People want hybrid work, and agile methods facilitate a successful home/office model. This means more industries can adjust to asynchronous models, increasing worker autonomy and, largely, worker satisfaction.
“We are seeing greater job satisfaction for the people that are at home, we are seeing better health conditions, more happier staff,” says Moutsatsos. “I think successful companies and successful teams are the ones that have been able to make the shift from the office to home but have utilised the best components of agile successfully, which is supporting the ability to be distributed and independent of each other to do work.”
Moutsatsos suggests that many industries — even those not traditionally associated with the method — can ultimately trade the office for a hybrid model by leaning on agility. “I would challenge it,” Moutsatsos says. “I would say, if you look at what you’re producing for the customer, they are consuming it in non-real time, why can’t you break it up? Why can’t you give your team a choice? Trust your team to deliver in an agile way and have them prove to you that they can actually still be more productive.”
“Work is not where you go, work is what you do,” says Moutsatsos. The key to realising the potential of agility in a hybrid working world relies on technology that bridges those physical gaps.
Take the product backlog for instance. A backlog is a list of deliverables, such as product features and changes, and is a key feature of PMI’s Agile Artifacts. With a centrally-located staff, visual boards (like whiteboards) are a common means of keeping track. Transitioning to digital boards — such as that provided by Atlassian’s JIRA — makes achieving agile outcomes simple across the digital divide.
Besides the visual boards, Moutsatsos recommends a few other key pieces of software for an agile approach outside the traditional office structure. “Things like Wikis are really critical,” Moutsatsos says. “Whether that’s Wikipedia or Confluence, they’re all so indispensable because teams need to be able to capture and share unstructured data notes.” Shared network drives such as Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive are vital for remote workers to access and share work, while Moutsatsos also emphasises video collaboration software such as Zoom or Google Meet. “I think with those four things you could run any company around the world,” Moutsatsos says. “The software and the right use of that software by the team really enables and prolongs the ability to stay hybrid and to stay remote.”
Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world's leading professional association for a growing global community of millions of project professionals and changemakers worldwide. Building on a proud legacy dating to 1969, PMI is a “for-purpose” organisation working to advance careers, strengthen organisational success, and enable changemakers with new skills and ways of working to maximise their impact. PMI offerings include globally recognised standards, certifications, online courses, thought leadership, tools, digital publications, and communities.