In the modern business world, it is already a well-known fact that to ensure the desired results of your activities and efforts you need to create the relevant work environment and build efficient project management processes.
Companies’ executives and managers always look for new approaches and methods to achieve the highest productivity and optimize the use of resources. Today, one of the most popular project management frameworks is agile methodology. But what is an agile work environment? And should you create it?
It is vital to understand that an agile environment is not just transforming the space of your office according to some new rules or providing your remote employees with more freedom. Implementing such principles should be based on the shift in your business culture and your approaches to work organization.
At Geomotiv, we have rich experience in adopting agile processes in offshore software development. In this article, we’d like to share our knowledge related to the peculiarities of work in agile environment and the benefits that both teams and customers can leverage.
What Is Agile Work Environment?
When we talk about offices, it can presuppose providing various spaces for people to choose from. The creation of such a working environment is aimed at eliminating barriers between people that usually exist in traditional offices. As a result, it is possible to boost creativity and encourage closer cooperation between specialists and departments.
The benefits of such a working environment can be game-changing for many industries, and the IT market is no exception. With agile work environment software development companies can achieve outstanding results and deliver highly efficient solutions to their customers. However, given the popularity of remote and hybrid work models among such businesses, it is essential to focus not only on the office space organization. We need to concentrate more on the general principles and values of the agile environment that can be used by teams that do not spend 8 hours daily in offices.
It is impossible to name any strict rules for creating a collaborative agile work environment applicable in all situations and at all companies. All cases are unique, and the creation of the desired working conditions should be organized in a highly personalized manner that will reflect the needs of each business. When you have access to any insights into somebody’s agile work environment experience, you should carefully study them as they may contain valuable information. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that the principles applied by another company will have the same efficiency in your situation.
However, something typically unites all the models of creating an agile working culture. These are some essential characteristics of such environments.
- Accessibility. All your employees should be able to leverage the benefits of an agile environment. If your team works in the office, you must ensure that all the spaces are available to everyone. In some cases, when the preferable space is occupied, employees should be able to use a relevant alternative. To avoid inconveniences for your team members, you can rely on modern technologies and launch a room booking system that will allow users to express their desire to work in this or that space in advance. As a result, it will be possible to avoid unpleasant situations when it will be necessary to spend additional time looking for another place to work.
Based on our own experience, we can say that such booking tools can become a good solution also for those companies that have a hybrid model. In such a case, employees should be provided with access to a company-wide system where they will see whether there will be free desks at the office on the chosen day.
- Possibility to introduce changes. The goal of any company that wants to build an agile work environment is to create the most optimal and comfortable conditions for everyone. However, it is evident that the business landscape is very dynamic, and your work environment should react to these changes and updates.
This principle should be applicable not only to the general approaches to building work processes and ensuring collaboration between employees but also to the physical space itself. People should be allowed to move furniture, desks, and other objects within your office in order to better organize social zones or quiet areas where they can stay alone to concentrate on their tasks.
- Support of communication. Collaboration is among the highest values for every company that has chosen agile principles. That’s why the management team of your company should invest resources and time in making sure that all employees have access to various communicative tools that have been selected for organizing the cooperation of all the employees. The use of such devices is of particular importance for those teams that work in a remote format.
Some decades ago, there were executives who believed that communication at the workplace could distract people from fulfilling their own tasks. Nevertheless, with time flow, it has become clear that communication and collaboration between team members can become excellent drivers for joint success. Namely, thanks to the exchange of ideas, discussions, and viewing the same situations from different perspectives, companies can find absolutely unique and highly efficient solutions.
Different types of agile working environments can be organized in the offices. They can be relevant for companies whose teams work in the offices 5 days per week as well as for those firms that implement the hybrid model.
- Meeting spaces. These locations are the most informal in the whole office. They can be those places where team members can come to eat something or take a drink. There can be comfortable armchairs and sofas there and employees can use these spaces not only for rest but also for communication and brainstorming sessions.
- Experiential environments. These are breakout spaces where employees can not only discuss business questions but also just enjoy communicating with each other, playing some games, or watching a movie.
- Open-plan spaces. These zones help to encourage collaboration between members of different teams. They become preferable for many creative teams working on various projects together. However, it’s necessary to understand that not everyone likes working in such zones as it can be rather noisy there, which may prevent people from concentrating on their tasks.
- Quiet work zones. These areas are those locations where people can concentrate and enjoy privacy. Usually, such rooms are equipped with sound-isolating walls, and they are not intended for discussions or talks with colleagues.
- Resource spaces. In these rooms, employees can find various tools and devices that they may need for performing their tasks, like scanners, printers, and different office supplies.
- Touchdown and overflow areas. These zones are known to be rather informal but designed so that everyone can sit there with a laptop and quickly perform some tasks, note down some ideas, or implement changes in their texts or code. There are different formats of such zones. For example, you can organize a simple workstation or place a standing desk in the lobby of the building.
In one of our articles, we’ve explained what makes such teams special and what benefits you can enjoy thanks to such cooperation.
How Can Companies Benefit from Creating an Agile Work Environment?
While speaking about this approach to building corporate culture, it is also important to have a look at the agile work environment pros and cons.
To begin with, we offer to consider the benefits of an agile working environment from the perspective of businesses and companies’ managers.
- Attracting and retaining the best experts. The most talented specialists are not afraid of leaving companies as they know they can always get very appealing offers from other employers. It means that your task is to create conditions that will look more attractive than those other employers offer. An agile work environment presupposes providing your team with excellent furniture and recreation zones in offices as well as flexibility and convenient collaboration tools that can also be used by remote teams. The rule here is straightforward: the better conditions you offer, the higher your chances to work with the best experts are. Agile principles can become a good choice for creating your work environment.
- Elaborating better ideas. As mentioned, good discussion and close cooperation are the most potent keys to efficient solutions. Those companies that create and maintain favorable conditions for communication among their employees, including cooperation between specialists from different departments, have higher chances to succeed and leave their rivals far behind them.
- Higher productivity. It’s already a well-proven fact that those people who are happy can work much harder than those who stay dissatisfied. Even if the shift to agile may be rather challenging for some employees, after getting accustomed to all the changes, people usually start seeing only the benefits of all the modifications. Flexibility and comfortable conditions are definitely among those factors that positively impact people’s satisfaction and, consequently, their performance and productivity.
- Better office space management. With an agile workspace organization, companies can better plan their office layout that will be optimal for their business model (office, hybrid, or remote work). As a result, it is possible to find an excellent way to use empty zones in your workplace and to think about how different departments can benefit from this space. For example, you can create a zone for recreation and informal communication where people can spend their time when they need to relax. But what is interesting in this case is that the best ideas can be born precisely in this zone for spending free time.
- Reduction of office rent costs and other expenses. The amount that companies typically pay for office rent is among the highest expenses a business would bear apart from salaries. Nevertheless, the coronavirus pandemic, all its lockdowns, brightly demonstrated that work can be efficiently organized even without physical offices. Thanks to reviewing their politics regarding offices (remote work, reduction of office space, hybrid model, etc.) companies can greatly reduce their operating costs and relevant expenses.
The points mentioned above are perfect proof that an agile work environment is an outstanding idea for businesses, but what about their employees? The benefits that employees can enjoy:
- Encouragement of teams’ initiatives;
- Sense of autonomy;
- Higher job satisfaction;
- Support of employee choice;
- Enhanced freedom;
- Experiment-friendly conditions;
- Increased wellbeing;
- Better mental health and emotional state.
To provide a full picture, we also should share the advantages of agile work environment from clients perspective.
- More efficient solutions;
- Less time required for fulfilling particular tasks;
- More accessible communication with the team;
- Fresh ideas and innovations;
- Simplicity of introducing changes.
Speaking about agile work environment disadvantages, we should focus on the challenges related to introducing and maintaining this model. That’s why if you are thinking about creating such conditions for the employees at your company, you need to consider them first to be better prepared for the difficulties you can face.
- Challenges of maintaining stable in-person collaboration. Even if all your team members work in the office, a collaborative agile work environment presupposes a full freedom of moving around which is definitely a good point for supporting creativity and convenience for workers. But such a situation can cause issues with continuous stable cooperation between people. If 5 specialists have started working together on some tasks, due to the provided flexibility, it can turn out that it will be rather difficult for them to meet all together the next day. Moreover, if you have a remote or hybrid model of work, the situation can be even more challenging. However, reliable, collaborative tools can solve the problem.
- Issues with tracking the performance of each employee. When a company has a traditional office setting, performance monitoring is a very easy task for managers. If a person is away from the desk, he or she is not working. Namely, this thesis was widely applied some time ago (and unfortunately, some managers still rely on it). In an agile environment, when employees do not work at their desks, it means that they can move to different spaces or they can work from home. Let’s admit that in such conditions, tracking the hours employees spend working may be more challenging (but does it really matter?). In an agile office, it’s more important to track the results, not the time spent on trying to solve the tasks. It means that an employer has to set very clear objectives and goals for each specialist and each person should fully understand what is expected from him or her. Only results can be viewed as a demonstration of performance.
- Problems with team management. Team leaders should find the right balance between an individual approach to each employee and the team’s goals. For example, it’s well-known that some people can work faster than others, and when a team has a strict deadline, a leader should find the right person to fulfill the task. Nevertheless, here it is vital to take into account not only the professional skills of each person but also some personal circumstances that can become an obstacle to completing job duties by an employee within a set timeframe.
How to Create an Agile Work Environment at Your Company?
An agile approach can bring a lot of benefits not only to employers and employees but also to companies’ customers, which makes this model of work quite attractive for many businesses. Though different work environments require different efforts to establish agile principles, we’d like to share some tips that can help you choose the right direction. At Geomotiv, we do our best to ensure the most comfortable conditions for offshore dedicated development teams created by us in accordance with customers’ requirements and their project needs.
- Communicate with your team. It is essential to listen to your team’s opinion when integrating the principles of the agile model. You can always ask your employees to share their ideas on implementing agile practices and which of them seems to be the most relevant for your company.
- Start with small changes. It is essential to ensure a mild introduction of agile principles. Thanks to such an approach, you will ensure that your team members will have enough time to understand how their work will change and what new opportunities they can get.
- Create surveys for external audiences. It will be a good idea to find out how other companies managed to integrate agile principles at their workplace. You can issue such surveys on your website or social media accounts if you provide B2B services or products and your clients are businesses. Or you can cooperate with organizations that conduct surveys.
- Implement advanced collaboration tools. Agile companies greatly rely on collaboration and communication between all the teams within their corporate structures. That’s why you should carefully consider selecting tools for exchanging ideas, assigning tasks, and making decisions that will be the most appropriate for your company.
For us, it is essential not just to create an agile work environment but also to follow all the principles of Agile methodology in software development.
What Is an Agile Work Environment in Software Development?
For many companies, especially in the software development industry, creating an agile work environment is not just a modern trend but a necessity that allows them to stay strong even in the toughest competition. By getting the required flexibility and creating the most appropriate conditions for their employees, software development agencies can attract and retain the best niche experts and support the correct values in cooperation with their customers.
When talking about agility in this industry, it’s worth mentioning not only the organization of workspace in the relevant manner but also the approach to project management.
Agile methodology presupposes establishing close collaboration between cross-functional teams and clients whose interests are supported and promoted by a product owner. The entire development process is broken into small sprints to ensure a favorable atmosphere for introducing changes and improvements after the start of the project realization.
In one of our articles, you can find more detailed information about Agile methodology in software development.
Let’s consider tools and activities that can help software development companies follow the principles of Agile in their work.
Cross-functional teams. It’s important to build teams so experts with different skills and knowledge can work together and perform their tasks in close cooperation. Even when you hire the best specialists in the chosen fields, you need to understand that they may need external assistance or consultation to reach some goals. To facilitate communication between your employees who work on the same project but have various skills and job responsibilities, it is recommended to include members with varied experiences in one unit. It will not only streamline their interaction but also help to deliver highly successful solutions.
Sprints/iterations. Organizing the development processes in a sprint sequence is one of this approach's main characteristics. Each sprint typically lasts for 2-4 weeks (in some cases, it can be longer) and has some precise goals and tasks. The result of each sprint is the creation of some functionality or its part.
When the sprint ends and the client is satisfied with the results, it is possible to move to the next sprint. However, it is necessary to remember that the outcomes of one iteration may directly impact the next iteration and its goals. It can be caused by different reasons, such as external factors, changing conditions, or updates of requirements introduced by the customer.
Special roles. Suppose you want to follow the principles of Agile in your project realization. In that case, you need to add to your team some parts that will ensure high efficiency of workflows and the correct distribution of job responsibilities within a group.
- For example, a scrum master will facilitate communication between team members and the leadership to achieve the desired outcomes. This person will also guide the team within the development process following scrum practices.
- A product owner is responsible for ensuring the project realization aligns with customer needs. Such a specialist also needs to oversee and prioritize the team’s tasks.
- One more role you should be aware of is a project manager. It is a person who creates a project vision and helps maintain it, coordinates the allocation of budget and resources, manages risks, communicates with stakeholders, and does many other important things to ensure the project will succeed. You can read more about the role of a project manager in Agile here.
Daily meetings. Stand-up meetings are a viral tool among many agile teams. During these meetings, developers and other experts involved in the project realization process can share their thoughts about the progress, explain their challenges, how they are moving towards their goals, etc. Such meetings are crucial for tracking the progress and estimating whether all the tasks will be fulfilled in time without delays. As a rule, these stand-ups are organized at the start of every workday.
Agile testing. Testing in Agile plays a vital role in the entire development process. Various types of tests, including regression testing, are conducted in the framework of each sprint to avoid situations when serious issues are noted only when the team delivers a ready product. By fixing all the bugs during the development process as soon as they are detected, the team can reduce the time and resources needed to finish the project.
Sprint review. When a sprint finishes, it is impossible to proceed to the next one without discussing the achieved results and the conclusions made during the previous stage. That’s why a sprint review should take place. As a rule, team members, product owners, and other stakeholders take part in such meetings that provide a good platform for evaluating what was done well and what could be done better, whether the set tasks and deadlines were realistic, and how team members performed. Based on the discussion results, it can be decided to change something in the team’s approach to development, or the goals of the next sprint may be updated.
User stories. In Agile, every development team should extensively focus on users and their goals. The final goal of every Agile development process should be to deliver the highest value to end-users and help them address their issues or solve their tasks with the highest efficiency. That’s why it is recommended to create so-called user stories that are short descriptions of the results that users expect from your product. While making such descriptions, a team should understand who will use a future product, how they will do it, and when it will happen. Based on this information, it will also be necessary to mention how the solution will work, what functions it will have, and how the interaction with it will be built.
Pair programming. This programming technique is gaining popularity among Agile development teams. What does it include? This type of teamwork presupposes that two developers work in pairs on one task. It is believed that thanks to this collaboration, it is believed that programmers can demonstrate significantly better results, cope with tasks faster, and avoid a lot of mistakes that can be made when a person works alone. The exact allocation of processes within one task between two developers may depend on the specificity of the task and project, but quite often, when one person is writing code, the second specialist is responsible for adding and fitting this code into a larger codebase.
Though this technique may look quite appealing, before introducing it to your team, we recommend you discuss its benefits and pitfalls with your developers in order to understand their attitude. If all your team members are against this approach, sometimes it’s better to reject the idea of implementing this technique than to make your team members feel uncomfortable.
While some businesses are only considering the principles of an agile approach to organizing their work processes, other companies work in agile environment and have gotten accustomed to this model. While sharing their agile work environment experience, people often say they feel significantly higher job satisfaction and are ready to do their best to help the company achieve its business goals. Job satisfaction is one of the key boosters for performance and productivity, and we at Geomotiv fully realize it.
For us, it is crucial to see that all our employees feel comfortable, that all their needs are heard, and that they can freely communicate with their colleagues. We pay a lot of attention to the organization of close interaction between all the team members, which is always vital for software development projects.
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