No Office, No Limits Part 4: Why Being ‘Remotely Agile’ Is Becoming Essential For Business Success

staying agile and adopting remote working to thrive

It’s the fantasy of every business owner to spot the next big trend or breakthrough innovation before it hits the mainstream.

It’ll happen on a quiet Sunday morning when you least expect it. You’ll be sipping your coffee and leisurely browsing through a newspaper or blog when you’ll come across a small story from the US or China.

You’ll read on half-engaged and suddenly the light bulb will spark on.

Next thing you know you’ll be scribbling widely on a napkin and making plans to implement the winning idea that’s sure to elevate your business to unprecedented heights.

Sure it could happen—the event is abundant in the tales of great inventors and scientists. But if you’re holding out for it to happen to your business, you’re wasting your time.

Not because there’s a shortage of unconventional solutions and untapped ideas out there—there’s plenty of those. But because a game-changing gem of an idea is not found in the same place, the same routine, and the same old thinking.

So what do we do? Summon all for a brainstorming session? Take a trip to Hawaii? Plan a hearty day of team building activities?

Temporary intermissions from the day-to-day thinking can work wonders for generating new ideas, but come Monday morning, any bright idea is soon weighed down and sunk by the shackles of bureaucracy and corporate red tape.

This is more often than not the fault of the five barriers to innovation.

These are a set of barriers that form the clunky, unsexy part of the entrepreneur’s journey that Hollywood biopics usually cut out.

In the real-life, unedited version, we’d see a long and arduous struggle against the five barriers to innovation which, according to IBM, are funding, time commitments, risk avoidance, siloing, and ROI measurement.

With such difficulty generating ideas from scratch, and the barriers to innovation sitting between the conception of an idea and its implementation, a vast no man’s land separating success and failure has opened up — which the majority of businesses inevitably fail to cross.

Not adapting to change and innovation is one of the main reasons 96% of businesses fail within their first 10 years.

In their time, the traditional barriers to innovation have taken the lives of many businesses.

But no longer do we need to fight our battles in the trenches. No longer do we have to sit back and wait for others to make the first move. And, crucially, no longer do we have to take huge risks and make huge investments to keep up with the curve.

Today, the traditional barriers to innovation don’t stand in our way. They are only blockages on the old path of thinking, paved on conventional and age-old corporate structure and values.

A small percentage of businesses have long understood this and escaped onto a different path. They are the Apples, IBMs, Amazons, Connecteds, and Automattics of the world. They’ve put in place the underlying values, systems, and methodologies to ensure they stay ultra-relevant in constantly changing markets.

They are first in recognising new innovations and approaches, rapid in their testing and iterating, and seamless in their implementation and cycling of the process.

They are Agile businesses

Agile is something many of you in the digital space may already be familiar with. It’s an alternative to traditional project management—used a lot in software development—based on a core set of values that promote adaptive planning, rapid and flexible response to change, early delivery, and continuous improvement.

But Agile doesn’t just offer a different approach to managing things like client projects, it also allows us to tackle the monstrous organisational changes—the sort of changes like converting to a fully remote workforce which cannot be sustainably integrated into the culture and inner workings of a company overnight.

Adopting an Agile approach is essential in today’s markets

In the early 70’s, futurist Alvin Toffler released the best-selling book ‘Future Shock’ which recognised the phenomenon that rapidly changing technology causes a constant state of anxiety and stress.

Toffler was ahead of his time, forecasting the current rise of AI and robotics and being the first to use the term “information overload”.

Many believe that today we’re no longer suffering from ‘future shock’ but ‘present shock’. Thanks to exponential technology, every day the world around us is changing ever more quickly—improving, getting smaller, growing bigger, anything but staying the same.

For this reason, to exist and make your home in such a transient environment change needs to be interwoven into the very structure of your organisation.

With a system like Agile, you can stay light in a crowd of overweight businesses, keep on your toes, hop on the latest big trends or breakthroughs, and respond to the fleeting wants of the market.

An Agile business is a remote business

It’s by no coincidence Agile organisations such as Automattic and Connected and those mentioned above are long time adopters of remote working.

This is because the remote working model lends itself to the Agile way of working. Remote working complements the core values of Agile and provides an ideal basis for its philosophy to flourish:

  • It’s built on the needs of individuals, and empowers and trusts people to get it right whilst knowing that sometimes things first need to go wrong.
  • It’s focused on collaboration and communication between all stakeholders and breaks down the traditional “you” and “us” mentality to encourage a level playing field.
  • It’s focused on results, welcome of changing requirements, and understanding of the importance of keeping up pace and quality rather than keeping “busy” or “getting the hours in”.
  • It’s flexible and adaptive; it throws out convention in favour of new means and methods that can better drive home the organisation’s core values.

But what really makes Agile and remote working such a handsome couple is how they support each other in the innovation process.

Remote working is a catalyst to lateral thinking, new ideas, and discovering innovation, while Agile is the fast track to testing and implementing innovation and making lasting change.

The ideas of Agile organisations don’t all come from the morning paper or the same dreary four walls, but from working on a hilltop near Machu Pichu, or from an international conference call with the developer team, or from unexpectedly bashing heads at a co-working space.

These approaches aren’t just some other flimsy, off-the-cuff solutions to temporarily shaking up tired and conventional thinking. They’re a long-term fix to sustaining innovation and keeping organisations at the leading edge of their space.

And as we’re only going to need more and more of those eureka moments to keep up with the market and stay ahead of the competition, the ‘remotely agile’ approach is quickly becoming an integral characteristic of what it is to be a thriving business today.

Part of our five-part series No Office, No Limits, broken into Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Joe Hunt is a freelance writer from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, meditation, and more.