We’re all living through an unexpected huge global change right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams used to in-person collaboration and engagement are now connecting remotely; working parents are now sharing office space with their kids; colleagues who live alone or far from their home countries face unique challenges; and organizations are switching rapidly to a totally digital environment a lot sooner than planned or expected.

This presents undeniable challenges—and opportunities. If your journey to agility has not yet begun, it must start now.

Kit Friend joins me on the latest episode of Talking Agility to discuss how the pandemic is changing the way we work, the way we learn, and what it means for agile transformation journeys. Kit is a self-described “agile addict” and a senior principal with Accenture’s Technology Strategy & Advisory practice, where he coaches some of the world’s leading organizations through their embrace of enterprise agility and agile ways of working. He’s also a martial arts instructor and a proud father of two.

Here are some highlights from our conversation.

The pandemic is a reality check for enterprise agility—and an equalizer

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed organizations of all industries and sizes to embrace remote working at tremendous speed. This rapid, forced change can be seen as an acid test for enterprise agility.

“It’s a reality check for a lot of companies,” says Kit. “Some firms have been forced to jump 10 years forward in two weeks.”

Some businesses have adjusted to this more smoothly than others, of course, but Kit noted one interesting effect for every one of the stampedes towards remote working.

“The current environment is a great leveller,” he says. “There’s no hero office where the most important people are.”

Since the move to working from home, I’ve appreciated empathy and understanding in meetings with both my clients and my colleagues even more. Working from home means a child or a pet or a passing family member might interrupt a meeting. We can all relate because, while we’re not all in the same boat, we’re all in the same storm. While some of our colleagues are finding time to exercise, bake bread, and connect with their families, others are struggling to balance new challenges and new realities.

Kit also sees this more human part of workplace culture getting amplified by working from home, ironically enabled by virtual ways of connecting. He thinks it will make remote work more attractive to many, even when the pandemic is over.

“I used to think I’d never like working from home,” Kit says. “But now I think I’d like to do it a couple days a week.”

Likewise, the explosion in digital meetings we’re seeing right now is probably going to persist past the pandemic, especially since people have demonstrated they don’t need to be in the physical workplace to be productive, or be in a classroom to learn effectively, or need an office space to hold large meetings.

Distributed agility requires the right tools

Kit, who has coached teams on adopting agile ways of working for years, says that shifting from in-person to remote work can be no big deal—if a team has a strong grasp of agile techniques.

“A team that’s running a well-built stand up might not have to change all that much,” he says. “But being physically proximate can also cover up unclear communication or subpar agile frameworks.”

“I can’t say there’s a really clear case for flying 200 people into a room after this,” Kit says. “I think we’re going to want to harness the benefits of this.”

Even experienced agile teams can run into trouble if their digital collaboration tools are ad hoc instead of top notch.

“We really don’t want people to pick tools randomly,” he says. “For example, some teams really like digital whiteboards. These are useful for design thinking and for learning, but if you want to run a sprint team or do backfield grooming with one, it doesn’t work.

“A key part of what teams like mine do is say, ‘I understand you’re under pressure now, but you need to take the time to properly implement these tools. Otherwise you’ll just end up in a slightly different kind of chaos.’”

Working from home is great for agility—unless it isn’t

Kit’s take on how remote work is impacting the workforce overall surprised me.

“There’s a strange dual experience people are having in the current situation,” he says. “Some are more productive—I think millennials are going to be campaigning for remote working to become a right when they come back to the office. But others are experiencing negative impacts, both personal and professional.”

The long-term path to peak agile productivity for most organizations, then, is probably a mix of work-from-home and traditional office work, with room for each team member to flexibly choose what works best for them—and that might hold a whole new employer value proposition to future talent.

My discussion with Kit was full of powerful insights. He was a real pleasure to have on the show. You can hear all of what he had to say in the full episode of Talking Agility here:

And, as always, I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for the show. You can either reach me here or share your feedback through your preferred podcasting platform by commenting under each episode.

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