New Horizons - Aug 11, 2021

Agile, done right.

Staying agile at the workplace is nothing new in successful companies. But recent times have seen an unprecedented degree of agility, reactions and mental flexibility demanded from employees. Digitalisation has hit the turbo button. And change is coming fast. We have learnt that unexpected surprises can always be waiting around the corner, and that we have to prepare for them. That aside, agility can really give your workforce a competitive edge. Working out feels good. But which exercises are good for you, yet don’t make you look unprofessional?

It’s become commonplace to offer workout sessions at virtual conferences where participants can join in from behind their screen, which is an obvious incentive to move and stay active. Some join in and others don’t. And it’s exactly the same when you transfer that to the company level. For some, movement is just as important as breathing, others not. But one thing is for certain, to sit still is to stagnate.

The future is uncertain.

Most companies and organisations like to plan ahead, but only having one plan will not suffice, because there are so many possible futures. This is why it is much better to think in different scenarios. Metaphorically speaking, scenarios are like detailed sketches that show a perspective in a comprehensible manner. They should include figures, but not only consist of figures. Adding some qualitative descriptions to these scenarios can make them come to life and motivate employees to work on their implementation. The starting point for all of these scenarios should be for the agile organisation to know how much progress it has made so far and to see the possible directions it could develop in. In order for it to navigate these scenarios and know which one is playing out in the present, every organisation requires a framework and some warning systems, in the event of any upcoming pitfalls, as only then can they be avoided. It’s essential to keep an open eye and implement the right sensors to collect the necessary data for the management dashboard and simulations.

But beware, as it’s important to be agile with the right degree of security. And that can be achieved with a sustainable strategy. The most successful companies have clear values and goals and a set vision. They might make slight adjustments within these parameters, but they always remain on course. This may not leave enough room for radical innovation, but enough to correct the course and reach the destination.

A part of this is being able to improvise to the extent of one’s ability. Some practical examples would be clothes manufacturers switching over to produce face masks, liquor producers distilling disinfectant, restaurants delivering food locally or even across the country and bookshops and music producers delivering goods such as freshly-printed books and pressed vinyl to your front door by bicycle. Orchestras and theatres performing in people’s living rooms via their television screens. The sales and consumption of goods and services are becoming less bound to certain locations and more decentralised. Business comes to the customer, not vice versa. This new aspect of agility remains a challenge, and companies with decentralised locations that can create a sense of locality have some major advantages. In this sense, the right combination of on-site presence and digital components will become a powerful tool for success, to win new customers and tie them to your brand in the long run. It’s this point especially, customer loyalty, that is becoming incredibly valuable.

Improvising and developing flexible strategies can lead to more consistency, for example in customer relationships.

A double-edged sword.

Decentralised, flexible structures will heavily influence what our future workplace will look like. Gone are the days when we see the same colleagues at the office every day, or have our own desk with a plant on it and a family picture. Instead, hybrid working models based on home/office cycles, co-working spaces and other locations will be established and the volumes of workloads may fluctuate more heavily than in the past. This back and forth will require the right organisational framework and some very clear rules. And how will we create trust and community if people can no longer meet up in the tea room? Will empathy and intimacy survive the transition to an everyday made up of chats and video calls? In this regard some formats for shared experiences are being tried out—such as online wine tastings to replace the annual Christmas party—but also in daily collaboration. Who would have thought that a virtual go kart race could motivate people to work harder? But it does, and we will see more of it.

Attaining the necessary skills to work agilely, and refining these, will remain a constant challenge we have to face, especially when it comes to intricate teamwork. In some sectors, jobs are going to change completely. Sales workers that used to excel in one-to-one conversations will now have to land their deals digitally. This might not suit everyone and so, besides providing the necessary technical platforms, it will also require the right training. Then we have several production sectors that will face even bigger challenges, as the means of remote working here are only now being developed—for example controlling a machine at a factory from home. The production of smaller batches on the other hand will become more flexible thanks to 3D printing.

How can we remain connected whilst staying agile? By using the right technology and orchestrating the way we collaborate.

A state of flux.

This enhanced degree of agility requires creativity and new ideas for innovative services, products and business models. Something disconnected CEOs or executive boards won’t be capable of if they don’t change. Agile organisations require knowledge, creativity and shared responsibility. Information is in flux and flows back and forth between hierarchies and divisions and is reflected upon and rated across many levels of the organisation. This leads to different perspectives and evaluations, which are all transparent and valuable in their own way and important for the bigger picture. Collective and individual intelligence will interplay to help make differentiated and clever decisions. The more diverse the network, the better. This approach really welcomes external influences that can bring in new perspectives.

Staying agile.

At the workplace of tomorrow, change is a part of daily business. Not only as a reaction to external influences but in the way we act and develop ourselves. Constant self-reflection will be the norm. But doing so while maintaining trusting relationships to others and yourself will become a powerful force. This will require a lot of mindfulness, from both sides. We need room to experiment, an organised error culture and some completely new routines. Instead of treading on worn-out paths, we will get accustomed to doing things differently. This will lead to a thriving new culture, which will move and inspire employees, customers and partners alike. This new agility gives people, companies and organisations the confidence to solve any problems that the future throws our way.

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Bechtle update editorial team



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This post was published on Aug 11, 2021.