We talk a lot about the importance of Agile principles, practices, and the ever-important Agile mindset. However, one key element that can help reinforce all of these elements is a great Agile work environment.
After all, we all know that our environments have an enormous impact on our mindsets. It’s hard to be cheery and productive in a dark windowless basement and it’s tough to be Agile in a bad Agile environment. So it’s time we went through some simple steps you can take to create a place where great Agile work can happen.
What Is an Agile Work Environment?
Obviously, the most basic way to think about Agile work environments is as places that facilitate Agile work. But what are the core elements behind any good Agile workplace?
For one, Agile work environments are designed to break down silos, whether physical or digital. Silos are barriers that prevent collaboration and generally reflect a mentality that favors the status quo. For example, if each team in an organization jealously guards their data, methods, and responsibilities lest another team use them to gain at the original team’s expense, that’s an example of silo thinking in action.
Agile work environments need to encourage collaboration and flexibility, two bedrock concepts behind Agile ways of working.
Creating a Physical Agile Workplace
Let’s start with things you can do to create a better Agile work environment when your team physically works together in the same place.
Unsurprisingly, flexibility is key. The ability to quickly work together in different ways is a fantastic method for encouraging Agile teams to be more Agile. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Try Hotdesking
Hotdesking is when people don’t have set desks, often meaning you reserve a desk for the day. Sometimes this is done through software or apps, but it can also be less formal. However you approach it, the benefit here is allowing people to easily work in different places and arrangements to suit the needs of the moment.
For example, if two Agile teams share a designer, it’s better if that designer can easily set themselves up with either team depending on where they’re needed. If you’re using an app to manage your hotdesking, this can also be a chance to track usage and apply that data towards improving your Agile work environment over time.
2. Experiment with a Physical Board
It’s no secret that we love Kanban boards for visualizing work, aligning teams, tracking output, and so much more. But while most Kanban boards today are digital, it can be nice to work on a physical version as well.
The key is choosing what work to track, because if it’s important that people outside the office have access to the information on the board, absent some kind of perpetual webcam situation, it’s not ideal to go physical. You might use a physical Agile board to track something a little more fun like office management and improvement.
3. Prioritize (not just Physical) Comfort
A great Agile working environment is a comfortable environment. Agile requires asking team members to be creative, experiment, and take risks. It’s easier to do that in a comfortable and supportive environment.
For example, does your office feel like a panopticon where everyone feels pressured to focus at all times because their screens are always visible? Try using 1-1s or surveys to gather feedback from team members and learn about what makes them feel physically or psychologically uncomfortable in their working space and try to address those concerns.
Creating a Digital Agile Workplace
With so many Agile teams working mostly or fully remotely today, how do these approaches apply to a digital work environment?
1. Comfort Remains Key
Just because you don’t have a physical office to deck out in cool comfortable furniture doesn’t mean you can neglect the psychological side of comfort. In fact, when teams are remote, comfort becomes even more important for supporting an Agile working environment. This is because starting a new position on a fully remote team can feel quite alienating, especially if the recent hire isn’t familiar with Agile ways of working. That’s why everyone, especially new hires, should get plenty of support. For example, giving everyone access to an Agile coach can be immensely helpful to team members new to Agile and can help answer questions they may have.
Like with in-person teams, leaders of remote teams should frequently take the temperature and look for ways to make team members feel more comfortable in their roles.
2. Use a Knowledge Base
A great way to improve comfort and empower team members to be more Agile is through a knowledge base. This is when you create a kind of online wiki containing everything from vacation and sick day policies to places to introduce new team members and have a bit of fun.
What’s so important about knowledge bases is that they eliminate the need to ask many questions team members have. By enabling individuals to easily find the information they need, they can feel more confident in their ability to get things done on their own. That experience is great for building Agile mentalities and ultimately a more Agile work environment.
3. Push Seamless Communication
We’ve mentioned how important flexibility is for Agile work, so it’s no surprise that seamless communication is critical for ensuring teams stay flexible when working remotely. Even the best knowledge base doesn’t eliminate the need to discuss and ask questions from time to time.
A communication tool like Slack allows team members to easily talk with each other and share wins, flag blockages, and get the information they need to do their work. Obviously, a way to have digital meetings, like Zoom, is important as well. Regardless of how you approach it, a good Agile work environment should prioritize easy communication.
4. Focus on Alignment
Tying many of the points we’ve already made together is the importance of alignment. From what’s in the knowledge base to what’s on the Kanban board, an Agile work environment should help keep everyone aligned.
In practice, this means making it clear to everyone what the team’s and organization’s goals are and tying all work done to those goals. Depending on whether your team uses Kanban, Scrum, or a hybrid Agile approach, this can be done in a variety of ways. But for everyone to feel like their work is meaningful, they should know how they’re contributing to larger goals together.
After all, getting team members to feel their work is meaningful is one of the best ways to keep them inspired and effective.
5. Gather Feedback
As we’ve mentioned throughout, one of the best ways to reinforce all of these techniques is gathering feedback. A leader might easily think their team is comfortable, aligned, and feeling great about Agile, but the reality could be quite different. Even if you don’t use Scrum, the best way to gather this feedback is through regular retrospectives.
If the team sees you’re listening to them and using their feedback to genuinely improve things, you’ve already gone a long way towards creating a better Agile work environment.
A Great Agile Work Environment Begins with Agile Fundamentals
Ultimately, it’s never going to be easy to make people feel great about an Agile work environment without a strong foundation of Agile knowledge. We recommend getting started with an Agile Marketing Fundamentals course. It will help team members understand Agile principles and then translate them into actions, all while giving them the foundation to feel more comfortable and content in the Agile working environment you’re building.