What does agile working mean and how can I use it in my small business?

Published: 28/09/2021

The way we’ve all been working in 2020 has changed pretty dramatically from years gone by, who’d have thought as many of us as we are would be managing to work from home?

This shift to new ways of working has prompted many to question the status quo - do we need to be shackled to desks from nine to five in order to get the job done?

Seemingly not, as early research has found the at-home workforce has demonstrated a productivity boost of as much as 13% - but what does this mean for the future?

The agile methodology is one some businesses have begun to investigate as a new model of working, and in this article, we’ll give you the low down on what it is, how it works, and how you can implement it in your small business to boost success. 

What is agile working?

The term agile working is bandied about a fair bit in organisational circles, but a clear-cut definition isn’t always easy to nail down - many use the term agile working interchangeably with flexible working, but in reality, it’s not the same thing at all.

According to the Agile Organisation, agile working is:

“About bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).”

In essence, agile working is about offering flexible working but it goes much further than that, it’s also about businesses adopting a whole new approach to their workforce, putting less pressure on the likes of job titles and roles, and more emphasis on fluidity, collaboration, and output. 

How does it work?

The way agile working is put into action will vary from business to business based on their specific needs. For example, while an office-based business could offer hot-desking, working from home, and flexible shift patterns, a restaurant couldn’t exactly let their staff turn up when it suits them and expect productivity to improve.

That being said, there are a handful of characteristics of agile working that a business may adopt:

  • Flexible working conditions - This could mean flexible hours, but it could also refer to things like unlimited days off, the option to work remotely where possible, term-time only contracts, etc. These ideas might not sound conducive to business success but actually, companies who’ve implemented them have reported lower turnover and boosted productivity levels.
  • Less emphasis on titles - It’s about getting the job done in the most efficient way possible, not about who does the job. Putting less pressure on job titles allows workers the autonomy to work in the most effective way possible and can make things much more varied and interesting for your workforce. 
  • Speed over structure - When it comes to getting things done or making decisions, the emphasis in agile working is on speed. The lack of strict titles and roles means a workforce can be quick to adapt to a new priority and work as one to get it done as soon as possible.
  • The workplace - Your workspace needs to allow your workforce to fully adopt an agile working culture. For some, this is easier than others, but whether you run an office environment or shop, the emphasis is on giving your staff a place where they can focus, use technology to connect, and focus on the task at hand. 

How can I use agile working in my small business?

There’s no one size fits all answer to this question, as we’ve said, how it works in one business will vary significantly from another.

That being said, we’ve put together some ideas as to how you can begin to adopt the agile framework in your small business.

Remember: It’s not an all or nothing approach - you don’t need to dive into agile working with two feet if it doesn’t suit your business. Simply tweaking some of your practices to be more agile could still have positive effects on your small business. 

1. Foster trust

A workforce that shares knowledge and ideas without fear of judgement, with unwavering support from above, and (importantly) honest feedback, all for the collective good of the business is critical within an agile working environment. 

You can put this into practice right away within your small business, for example, by holding daily or weekly team meetings to discuss ideas and suggestions, areas for improvement, and honest feedback. Your team should all be working towards the same goal, and when you’ve managed to foster this hive mindset, the impact will follow. 

Flexible working within an agile business is another way to demonstrate that trust, as essentially you’re allowing your staff to work whenever and wherever suits them and trusting they’ll still do their best work. Like we said though, this won’t necessarily be suitable for all businesses.

 

2. Make use of technology

As we saw in the definition of agile working above, technology plays a key role in the methodology. 

It’s particularly important if you do allow remote and flexible working, as it will allow the ongoing communication of your workforce via tools and apps - it’s important you choose the right platforms which support the likes of team project work and virtual meetings. 

Even if you can’t offer flexible working you can still lean on technology to make your business more agile. For example, by employing staff scheduling software so your team can work out shift patterns that suit their specific needs and schedules. 

Good to know: Our EPOS till system has inbuilt staff scheduling functionality. 

3.bStrengthen bonds

We mentioned trust already, and one important way to ensure there’s an atmosphere of trust is to encourage tight bonds between your workforce. 

As the business owner do what you can to encourage friendships between your staff. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • By putting on staff events - social events away from work designed to get people having fun, relaxing, and building bonds. 

  • Team building exercises - we often shudder at the thought but these sorts of organised activities are ideal for trust-building and fostering feelings of camaraderie. 

  • Pairing up employees - whether you have a big sales target to reach, a large order to fulfil, or whatever it is, putting your staff in teams to reach the goals will ensure teamwork and hopefully, build trust. 

 

4. Develop structure

We know that sounds ridiculously counterintuitive when we’ve been going on about autonomy, but actually, in order to allow greater flexibility and autonomy, you need to set clear boundaries upfront. 

What we mean is, everyone needs to know where they’re up to, when there’ll next be a meeting, how they access information, how they communicate with their colleagues and you, and so on.

Setting out a clear schedule for when team meetings will take place is a great place to start, will you want everyone together every morning for a few minutes? Once or twice a week? Set these dates in stone well ahead of time so everyone knows where they’re up to.

Equally with technology, outline exactly which tools or apps you’ll be using, how they’re used, and where your workforce can find any information they’ll need. 

To find out more about how our EPOS till system could boost your business’ productivity head to our website or reach out to one of our dedicated experts on 08082 390 206. You’ll find heaps more useful resources created especially for small businesses over on our jam-packed blog. 

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Copywriter

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