The way global businesses operate changes in the blink of an eye. Typical ‘office environments’ are starting to look like relics of the past, while remote working – across multiple time zones – is becoming the new normal.

To thrive rather than just survive, companies must not only keep pace with the breathtaking speed of today’s interconnected world, but face up to its challenges.

With the global environment more turbulent than ever before, and local political and economic events becoming increasingly capable of sending shockwaves across borders, organisational agility has never been more important.

But what empowers an organisation’s ability to change, adapt and innovate in real-time? Whether it’s learning to manage remote workers more efficiently, investing in new technology such as artificial intelligence or adopting smarter ways of working, a high degree of organisational agility can help companies turn volatility into opportunity.

Empower employees to call the shots

Large, successful companies know that agility is critical, but often struggle to implement it. Deeply entrenched, top-down hierarchies promote stability, but fuel a culture that is borne out rigid rules and inflexible processes. In a world that is shrinking by the day, companies need a more flexible approach to identify and exploit opportunities before competitors.

In recent years, remote working has emerged as one of the most significant and transformational drivers of agility. Hotel rooms, co-working spaces, homes – remote teams can do anything they would in the office, from anywhere. By unshackling workers from their desks and allowing them the freedom to work on any device, in any country, businesses can gain a competitive edge and access to the sought-after skills, despite local uncertainty.

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More importantly, remote working has led to a slew of new technology tools that solve legacy issues such as confusing email chains and unreliable phone networks. When employees collaborate in the cloud in real-time, companies benefit in the shape of faster decision-making and a culture of knowledge sharing.

Give employees the tools to succeed

Like all great improvement initiatives, the agile workplace sounds enticingly simple: Give employees the best tools and they will work smarter. Marshalling the technology necessary for radical digital transformation, however, can be a pretty daunting task.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks? Outdated or inflexible platforms. Today, few companies can afford to spend years developing a product before discovering whether it’s a hit with consumers. Social media trends fuel the perception among customers that they can have whatever they want, now. Agile technology gives companies the organisational elasticity to reflect these cultural movements and profit from shifting markets.

Hiring the ‘right’ people, with the right expertise is another big piece of the agility puzzle. Unless you set teams free to make rapid-fire decisions, your smartest minds will be left grappling with mundane tasks. Flexible organisational structures supported by state-of-the-art technology empower teams to be more responsible and set them free to make rapid-fire decisions. Faced with a global skills crisis – China, for instance, faces a shortage of 23 million university graduates by 2020 – companies need to get the most out of their most-skilled employees.

Imagine that every team in your organisation was permanently connected to every other team. Not only would it dismantle silo mentality and increase resource sharing, but it would also allow technology such as artificial intelligence to pinpoint communication breakdowns and suggest smart solutions.

Working at the speed of opportunity

The winners of the future will be those who can out-change the competition. A study of Chief Innovation Officers by IESE Business School reveals that 9 out of 10 think that “agility was highly important to the future success of their companies,” yet only 26% rated their company’s current agility as “high or greater”.

And therein lies the secret formula for organisational agility: companies can never be agile enough. By never underestimating uncertainty, it’s possible to navigate the pitching seas of political unrest, ambiguous trade wars and changing customer expectations.

Of course, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to economic downturns. But the beauty of an agile organisation is that it depends on human factors such as honesty, responsibility and engagement – factors that also help attract the smartest and most ambitious talents.

Done right, organisational agility rewards on multiple levels – from improved employee satisfaction to faster, more innovative responses to disruptive market shifts. And, ultimately, to better performance.

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