Corporate Culture & Productivity

Workplace agility: traits and best practices

Joe Scaramellino
October 12th, 2022

Workplace agility is top of mind for just about every company, as we navigate a post-pandemic world with new technologies and workplace trends popping up seemingly every day.  

A company’s ability to quickly pivot as necessary relies in large part on their employees’ abilities to quickly pivot as necessary. That means employees need to be given the right tools, the right training, and right types of workplaces to ensure maximum agility.

In this article, we explore workplace agility. We review why it matters, as well as how to create more (and better) adaptability in any work environment type

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What is workplace agility?

Workplace agility is about employees working smarter—and more collaboratively, productively, and effortlessly—not harder. In short, agile employees (and therefore their companies) are willing and able to move and adjust quickly and easily to change, as often as necessary.

Agile organizations are able to pivot without impacting productivity, employee engagement, or workplace experience. They’re also more likely to identify problems before they arise, responding to them in real-time. Like Daniel Newman, principal analyst of Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, succinctly writes in Forbes, agility stems from the ability of employees to work “quickly, seamlessly and cohesively,” making it the “true secret to improving productivity and efficiency.”  

As we learned during the pandemic, there are some things you can predict, and some things you can’t. Organizational agility is ultimately about the ability to not only respond well to the unexpected, but even to turn the unexpected into new opportunities. 

The goal isn’t just to adapt, but to become even better, because of that adaptation. 

This is the approach Johanna Rodriguez, Senior Managing Director of Occupant Experience at Savills, takes to helping her clients navigate hybrid workplace change strategies.   

In a recent panel discussion with OfficeSpace Software, she stresses that “now is the time to take a step back and understand what is key and really important to your physical office space. This is an opportunity to realign what you have in your space to what is actually needed.”

At the same time, as Gallup’s Ghassan Khoury and Maria Semykoz also highlight, companies have to adapt to new technologies and workplace trends “or be swept aside.”

The focus here is often on employees and helping them develop new skills. However, if they’re not also empowered with a flexible work environment and the right workplace culture, even the most agile team member will be stymied.

To survive, let alone thrive, firms today must learn to embrace the new business reality: they are entering the age of Agile.

Steve Denning, Forbes

What’s an example of agility in the workplace?

Syneos Health® and their post-pandemic office reopening offer a glowing example of good agility in the workplace. Syneos is a fully integrated biopharmaceutical solutions organization with a wide variety of teams who need in-office access. Going fully remote was never an option. Of course, COVID had other ideas. 

To respond to the pandemic and deploy a robust return to the office strategy, Syneos decided to empower each of their locations to oversee their own plan. This meant giving each location the workplace management tools, reports, and insights they needed to comply with local regulations. But also while keeping employees engaged and happy. 

Armed with desk booking software that integrated with workplace health checks and a simple social distancing planner, Syneos employees were able to continue their important clinical research safely and with minimal disruptions. They’re now also using the same software to more easily plan for their future space needs. This turns the challenge into an opportunity to create a better workplace going forward. 

What about agile working?

Although intimately linked, workplace agility and agile working are not the same thing. 

Workplace agility is an overarching approach to change and development, focusing on quick pivots and enhanced problem solving. Meanwhile, agile working is a specific flexible working strategy that allows employees to work when, where, and how they feel most productive. 

Companies that embrace agile working will typically give their employees both time and location flexibility. They also need to ensure that the physical office is outfitted with a variety of different types of flexible seating and collaboration spaces. This allows employees to actually embrace agile working in practice. 

Like so many famous agile work examples highlight, this workplace strategy shares many of the same benefits of workplace agility. Such as more employee empowerment and improved workflows.   

Ultimately, agile working is often a great way to improve workforce agility as well. 


Why is it important to have agility in the workplace?

Research backs up what most of us intuitively know to be true. Agility is what makes us (and our organizations) more productive, more flexible, and better able to withstand challenges that life inevitably throws our way.  Agile and empowered employees ultimately lead to highly competitive, highly successful companies. 

Indeed, comprehensive global surveys find that highly successful agile workplace transformations lead to 30% increases in efficiency, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and operational performance, making the organizations faster and innovative.

Ultimately, one of the most powerful advantages of agile companies is their ability to give employees a sense of optimism about the organization’s capacity to survive — and thrive — amid disruptive marketplace conditions.

Gallup Workplace

What are the benefits of workplace agility?

Specifically, implementing more business agility brings a host of competencies and benefits to an organization. Think accuracy, decisiveness, faster and more data-driven decision-making, faster time to market, more productivity, and a higher level of engagement and employee experience. 

In other words, workplace agility can give a company an outsized competitive advantage. Even higher profit margins are on the table; companies with highly agile leadership have 25% higher profit margins.

Moreover, when workers think their company is agile, they’re more likely to have confidence in its current and future success. Meaning agility can help with talent attraction and retention efforts, too. This dovetails with Gallup research. It suggests that employees who believe their company is agile are more likely to recommend it as a place to work.

Changes wrought by digital technologies and the globalization of markets have come at a breakneck pace in the past decade, forcing businesses to adapt or be swept aside.

Ghassan Khoury and Maria Semykoz, Gallup

How to create more workplace flexibility

There is no one roadmap to more workplace agility; different companies will all need their own approach. The most traditional workplace can be more agile than one that relies heavily on remote work. If they focus on their people better and ensure they have what they need. 

In a nutshell, you need an agile workforce to create an agile business. That agile workforce grows organically from a flexible work culture. This is in addition to carefully considered policies, carefully selected workplace technology, and carefully curated spaces. 

In a recent study, McKiney & Company describes companies that are successfully embracing agility at scale as “reimagining the entire organization as a network of high-performing teams, each going after clear, end-to-end business-oriented outcomes, and possessing all of the skills needed to deliver..”

In practice, this looks like an agile work environment that blends company needs with employee needs. And it almost always starts with creating a better connected workplace and a more inclusive company culture.

Of course, focusing on workplace wellbeing and culture has many downstream benefits, too. This highlights how nicely workplace agility dovetails with other business concerns.  

Beyond this, Gallup research points to three critical areas for business agility:

  • Readily adopting new technology that enhances productivity
  • Creating an environment in which employees are able to experiment with new ideas and strategies, without fearing being unduly criticized for failure
  • Enhanced cross-team coordination and information-sharing

Note that according to a McKinsey Global Survey, leadership has to lead the way.  That means business leaders always need to communicate the ‘why’ of any new workplace strategy initiatives. And they need to ‘walk the walk’ as well! 

Johanna also suggests that leaders need to approach change by asking the right questions, and understanding where their company currently stands. 

Instead of waiting for agility to happen bottom-up, organization leaders need to take charge.

Wouter Aghina et. al., McKinsey & Company

Finally, since workplace agility is all about embracing change, companies need tools in place to manage that change. Good request and move management software can help anticipate needs. This gives facility managers (FMs) the ability to create and test options for future moves. 

Connect employees with technology

Collaboration and connecting with employees is critical to workplace agility. Across the board, employees need a digital workspace that works everywhere. It should provide them with good tools for both synchronous and asynchronous communication (think Zoom, workplace Slack and Teams integration, and the like).  

Workers will also benefit from more visibility into the office, especially when they’re using a hybrid work model. That’s why a visual directory can go a long way towards improving agility. It can help employees find the people and resources they need for their given workday. 

If I need to work from a hotel across the world or my home office, I should be able to do either. This is the core of what workplace agility is all about.

Daniel Newman, Forbes

The workplace is the backbone of workplace agility

Like Newman tells Forbes, creating an agile workplace takes strategy, vision, and the right technology. That means “as more and more employees begin to work from home or on the road, company productivity shouldn’t suffer. Employees should be able to work wherever, whenever and however they wish.”

Of course, for all this change and digital transformation, stability is still critical. This stability often comes from the physical workplace itself. It provides both collaborative workspaces and areas for heads-down work as required. Today’s hybrid office can be the home-base that supports everyone on the team, whether they’re in-house for the day or not.   

Companies therefore must be able to quickly pivot and/or adapt their workspaces to align with organizational priorities, which, like we’ve covered, are liable to grow and change over time.  This means having a data-informed corporate real estate strategy, along with dashboards and workplace reports and analytics to drive any future changes. 

The hybrid office also requires collaboration between management teams, workplace planners, FMs, and the employees themselves. FMs in particular may find themselves in more of a leadership role, as FM responsibilities are evolving to include change management and workplace strategy as well as their more traditional duties.  


How do you show agility in the workplace? 

You show agility in the workplace when you’re excited about change, instead of threatened by it. It might mean different things to different companies and employees. But ultimately, workplace agility is more than just a buzzword. It’s the roadmap to the future-proof office every company needs to survive.  

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Photos: Pekic, AzmanL, Delmaine Donson, Drazen_, filadendron