hybrid work

Thriving with Agile in the age of hybrid working

Agile removes impediments to product delivery and enables teams who have the flair and passion for doing things quickly. But now that the Agile team spends much of its time at home, how can firms keep motivation, productivity and collaboration up? 

A hybrid work arrangement requires higher flexible processes, a product-based mindset, empathetic leadership and a bigger emphasis on trust and psychological safety. What’s called for is a complete organizational makeover, executed through micro-changes that ensure customers still get what they want from employees who are happy to give it to them. 

What does this Agile makeover really entail? 

Last year, our Agile research uncovered certain Agile behaviors (or “levers”) that generate significant business uplift, for both the top and bottom lines. In that survey of 1,000 respondents, we discovered seven specific levers that increase business growth potential by 63% when used together. Six out of seven of these levers have a strong people component and must be adapted to the hybrid world, to be used effectively. These six levers are collaborating across boundaries, instituting self-organized autonomous teams, upskilling through digital platforms, using Agile workspaces, implementing collaboration platforms and organizing around products and the customer. 

Autonomous, highly skilled, and collaborative teams

For autonomy, Agile teams must be pointed in the right direction, with clear KPIs based on business goals and then given the space to get on with things. This means more decentralized decision-making and flatter organizational structures. In a hybrid model, to ensure productivity remains high, populate teams with cross-skilled individuals including full stack engineers who can deliver features end-to-end. In another survey, from August 2020, of 150,000 Infosys employees, we found that when the proportion of cross-skilling in hybrid teams was increased by 20%, teams were as productive at home as they were in the office. When this talent can’t be found in-house, look elsewhere. As long as work can be decomposed into modules of tasks to be done, the gig economy is a good place to look. We found that having an internal gig marketplace provided an opportunity for teams to utilize skills from the larger organization, in the short term.  

Agile workspaces and collaboration tools

In our Agile research, we found that open, Agile workspaces also have a strong effect on IT success. Give employees the chance to meet in person on-site before going home to concentrate on defined tasks in the sprint backlog. By setting up three sprint sessions in energized, collaborative workspaces, we found that asynchronous work at home yielded 5% higher productivity than sprints that were fully remote in the first three months. Hybrid agile workspaces that provide the environment for teams to huddle, brainstorm in the office on-demand, with extensive use of collaboration platforms to leverage when working virtually or with distributed teams, could be the solution. New team members will also need to get up to speed on collaboration tools. Deconstruct training into small sessions, with intelligent nudges for guided learning and virtual playgrounds that allow for “safe” spaces to make mistakes and to voice requests in the absence of impromptu interactions.

Product-centric teams

Business growth accrues to customer-centric teams, with product thinking taking center stage. Firms will need to reorganize their teams around high-value customer journeys and remove all stages of value creation that also create waste. Autonomous pods of highly skilled, collaborative workers catalyze this transformation. Product managers, a high investment priority in our research, can give these pods a strong customer vision to work toward. Objectives and key results (OKRs) help track value flow, create alignment and encourage measurement around measurable goals. One caveat, however, for hybrid teams: There is always the risk that dispersed teams will lose visibility of the status, and even the pathways of communication, of different projects. Enabling early, incremental feedback to remote teams is helpful, ensuring that product teams come to life, stay motivated and course-correct on a working prototype when necessary. This way of working is also good for software developers, cohering their efforts when working on different parts of the same software module. And it gives the whole team a sense of shared purpose, which drives innovation, experimentation and, ultimately, accountability.

By bringing these together and leveraging technologies for cloud, AI, microservices as well a strong engineering base with mature agile and DevOps practices, ensures accelerated business outcomes for the organization. With many organizations realizing that most of their employees want to stay at home for at least 50% of the time, this make-over becomes essential. Using these six Agile levers with hybrid work in mind can ensure firms deliver on promises to their customers and contribute hugely to the well-being and sense of purpose of their employees, just when they need it most.

The article has been written by Nabarun Roy, Senior Vice President, Group Head – Quality, Productivity & Delivery Risk Management, Infosys

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