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Business agility in the post-COVID-19 world

At the forefront of mental wellbeing and ED&I solutions, Hebburn-headquartered ed-tech firm eQuality Solutions Group (eQS) is all for driving positive change in the North East business community. Here, chief executive Andy Gough reflects on the new ways of working in the post-COVID-19 workplace and how businesses that stay agile are the ones who will thrive.

As we continue to navigate through these sometimes tricky waters of a world halted in its tracks by a global pandemic, it’s pretty hard to imagine life as it was before COVID-19 disrupted our routines and objectives.

We’ve adapted and pivoted, shifting business goals and priorities as the situation on the ground made it clear this was indeed a crisis time for business.

With a handful of vulnerable employees and our headquarters in a particularly high-risk area, we made the decision very early on to make some seismic shifts in the way our business operated, and it is those decisions that have helped to shape the future for eQuality Solutions as a group.

The most significant of which, I feel, and one which has continued to underwrite our successful acquisition drive and expansion, is becoming an agile business.

An agile business is a living organism

Back in 2018, McKinsey shared ‘The Five Trademarks of Agile Organisations’, stating that “agile organisations mobilise quickly, are nimble, empowered to act, and make it easy to act. In short, they respond like a living organism”.

 

 

Traditionally, business hierarchy reflects a top-down approach, but in a post-COVID-19 world we’re learning that these models are too slow to enforce change, lack flexibility in allocating resources, and are too restrictive when business is far from usual.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, we realised the advice from Government was changing sometimes on a daily basis, and that we needed to be able to pivot quickly in order to support new ways of working with as little disruption as possible to the business.

My key takeaway? Rapid decision making and moving to an implementation and test model that allows us to take action, trial ideas and adjust as suited to the business and our team.

The hybrid office

As the winter months approach, and speculation arises as to whether the Plan B measures suggested by Sajid Javid in September will come into play, a lot of us will be continuing to question how to strike the balance with the office.

Over the pandemic, necessity forced almost half of us to begin working from home, according to ONS figures from the first lockdown in 2020.

Indeed, many businesses who have never offered flexible working for staff might have been surprised (and somewhat relieved) to discover the ease with which teams adjusted to a new way of working.

An interesting piece last month in North East Times revealed that an overwhelming majority of individuals (89 per cent) in a recent report said “they would want remote working to continue to some extent as restrictions were eased.”

If your business is one of the fortunate that has survived the pandemic, then your employees know you can afford them greater flexibility in shaping their working lives.

In our experience, we’ve seen greater ownership, motivation and performance from those individuals who had the option to adopt a new hybrid approach, one which does not require them to return to the office on a daily basis.

Introducing tried and tested agile methodology

Coming from an IT background, my first instinct at the beginning of the pandemic was to shift towards an agile business model.

For those sharing my experience, Agile is an iterative project management approach, favoured by most IT organisations, in which teams deliver faster, with fewer issues by delivering projects in smaller iterative sprints.

Teams meet for daily stand-ups, and as part of the framework are given the opportunity and encouragement to disclose any issues they encounter that prevent them from working or hinder their work.

Throughout the pandemic, one of the simplest actions we’ve implemented is those daily stand-ups that will be so familiar to my colleagues and peers working in IT.

But for those who have never worked on Agile sprints, the experience has been transformative. Staff who previously might not have had much day-to-day interaction, have regularly met and discussed their current workload at these stand-ups, and it has promoted a much stronger sense of team spirit and moral.

Despite the pandemic’s interruption, and the hastily assembled workplace of the new normal, we’ve found greater staff performance and a more engaged team who are driven to strive to achieve our organisational goals as the business continues to expand.

Unsurprising, given Deloitte’s reflection that “when workers see and appreciate how their individual work helps to advance goals they support and find meaningful, they will likely be more engaged, more motivated, and more likely to perform at a high level to drive gains in organisational performance”.

Our daily stand-ups have helped reinforce and nurture a sense of belonging for team members that may have felt isolated by the sudden shift in their working lives at the start of the pandemic, and it is something which I know we will continue with as the business continues to grow and expand.

Next month, I’ll be discussing how to create a positive working environment and tackle workplace bullying. As a business leader, I feel it’s important that all employees feel confident to approach their managers, or HR officer, with any concerns and by creating a positive and supportive working environment, we set our teams up for success. Join me next month to find out how.