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3 Characteristics of an Agile Workforce

Agility is usually apparent in organizations when it is sorely needed and missing. For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted that most organizations were not ready for radical or unforeseen changes to the way they do business, as well as how their people work. Luckily, many organizations were able to be flexible eventually, and survived the turbulence. Others, however, were not so lucky, with over 40% of organizations closing either temporarily or fully due to the pandemic in the US alone.

The challenge with agility is it is an undercurrent, a pre-existing preparedness that lurks beyond the day-to-day grind, and only shows itself when it is truly required. However, having an agile workforce is so important for modern organizations to not only be ready for change and address it quickly, but also to keep the trust and faith of their people, and keep them committed during difficult times.

While we all hope and wish that our organization will not encounter undue challenges or hardship, it bodes us all to be prepared.

Defining Workplace Agility

Workplace agility is defined by being resilient, fluid, and adaptable to change. This means that the people within the organization are able to work together in new configurations, that the working models can also change shape, and that high performance can be maintained despite changes. In traditional organizations everyone had their own roles, a stringent chain of command and it was important to not have overlap lest be deemed redundant or stepping on a colleague’s toes. This is the opposite of workforce agility.

An agile workforce has confident, self-sufficient, and self-determining individuals that work together, and share a cultural value of flexibility and openness to change. It is this culture that allows them to absorb difficult times, decide on the best solution to remedy challenges, and move quickly and accordingly into new organizational structures.

Here is our perspective on ways workplaces can outwardly demonstrate their ability to be agile and the characteristics that bode well for having a truly agile organization.

1.     Flexible Working Arrangement Culture

Post-pandemic many organizations were left grappling with their long-term plans regarding working arrangements. Some organizations decided on fully remote, some fully on-site, while others adopted more flexible arrangements. That being said, each organization has different requirements, with some teams that will function better working closely in person having in-the-moment dialogue, and other positions and individuals are able to function either primarily or exclusively off-site.

Flexible working culture does not dictate that one type of working arrangement is best, but rather that there is a core philosophy about what working styles are best for the specific organization, and then flexibility surrounding that core philosophy. For example, some teams may need to be on-site, but then each team member has one day a week they can work remotely, or they may rotate remote days so that at least half of the team is present throughout the week in the office. It all depends on goals.

When organizations consider their flexible working culture, they should consider how to empower employees, make their lives easier, and provide the agility potential for individuals to be their best at work, and that means considering their personal obligations and logistics.

The opposite of a flexible working arrangement is one that is stringent or overly rigid without reason. This is the old-school method of “everyone in at 8 and no one leaves before 5.” This simply isn’t how the working world works anymore, particularly since so many employees open up their laptops at home or are willing to take meetings or address obstacles over the weekend. Think of it like repaying employees for their flexibility, and demonstrating your faith in their work ethic.

2.     Reducing The Cost of Talent Acquisition

This is an interesting trait of an agile workforce but when you break it down, it makes perfect sense. Agile workplaces tend to have lower acquisition costs simply because they retain their employees. They do this by promoting from within, training their current talent, and keeping relevant knowledge within the organization longer due to higher engagement levels and greater employee tenure.

When employees are engaged, they feel respected and valued, and they are more inclined to bring their best to work. This means buckling down when there are obstacles and new challenges, such as organizational turbulence. If individuals feel that the organization is willing to weather difficult times with them, they are willing to do the same. As a result, people are happy at the organization, forge deep bonds in cross-functional and agile teams, and want to see projects and long-term efforts through till the end.

Additionally, acquisition costs are bound to be lower when you have highly motivated and diversely trained people. Through the culture of agility, there are overlaps in knowledge and learning, and there’s more ebb and flow between teams and across projects. This means that when new challenges or initiatives take shape for the workplace, there is a greater chance that someone already within the organization can step up and fill the role before leadership needs to look externally.

3.     Value Talent that Supports an Agile Workplace

While all employees contribute a strong value to the organization, building an agile workforce means identifying and promoting individuals, and types of work, that contribute to an agile culture.

For example, having a roster of reliable freelance or contract talent can help to bring projects over the finish line more expediently. In tandem, this means making sure that full-time or traditionally employed talent also sees the value in remote or ad-hoc assistance and wants to to work together effectively.

Other types of talent that support an agile organizational model are those that are comfortable and willing to represent their department or area of expertise on cross-functional teams and diverse projects. This means building project task forces that bring in individuals from different departments who have autonomy to make decisions and move forward on behalf of their departments, limiting undue oversight or bureaucracy.

Of course, this also means trusting talented employees to make the best decisions they can with the information they have, and to be empowered to do that quickly, and without fear of retribution. The benefit of this agile decision-making and working process means that projects are completed more quickly, and the organization can pivot in new directions or towards new opportunities with less delay.

Wrapping up

These are just a few indicators that an organization is prioritizing an agile workplace and setting themselves up for success long-term. Of course, there are tools and solutions to help make true agility possible, which involves a mix of transparency, ease of use, and empowerment for employees.

Organizations now look to digital solutions to manage upskilling and reskilling their people, keep track of where individuals are working and how they learn, and creating an internal pipeline to retain and engage talent. This is a far cry from the paper method which involved printing resumes and rifling through old documents manually. Now employees can have an in-the-moment conversation with their supervisor about their skills, what they have learned recently, and which roles and responsibilities they are working towards being ready for in the future.


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