01 August 2019

The approach that will determine the winners in our digital economy

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Around the world, the traditional working practices that we have all been accustomed to are being scrapped in favor of methods that have emerged out of the need for an increasingly flexible workforce. With fewer constrictions, more competition, and constant developments in tools and other technologies, can there be a solution for optimizing your business?

Technology is redefining the very nature of work and challenging the structure of the traditional 9-5 role. It’s also raising questions of the requirements of a central office space. Digitalization is creating an increasingly interconnected world where the once-problematic idea of distance has been close to eliminated as an obstacle. Our workforce and hierarchical systems now should reflect the changing landscape, and adapt to a world in which work is no longer defined as a place, but rather an activity--that can be carried out from anywhere with an internet connection.

Wim Janssens, a UX designer at Monkeyshot in Antwerp understands this changing dynamic more than most and is calling on large corporations to embrace some of the more flexible employment structures which flourished so successfully at many of the world’s most innovative startups. Speed and adaptation have been key, and yes, there is one path which can lead you to both.

Why agile is the term you keep hearing

One such ideology which is increasingly gaining traction is agile, which aims to remove the traditional parameters which defined hard work such as attendance and time spent at the office. Agile instead to focus on a more target based approach which prioritizes the completion of goals, regardless of where and when they are completed. One of the most prominent adopters of this approach has been Unilever which in 2012 set about its mission to free itself from the constraints of what they believed to be the outdated working day. The company encouraged workers to instead complete their objectives more on their own terms which has helped to foster an environment of greater efficiency as success now revolves around the number of tasks completed rather than the amount of (often inefficient) time spent on each one.

Janssens views this increasingly speed-and-efficiency based approach as crucial to the success of a company in the modern economy. He cites companies such as Google which employ the idea of the Design Sprint (whereby employees are given 5 days to find a solution to a complicated problem) as an example of a company leading the charge in regards to innovation, thanks to its prioritization of speed.

Cranking up the speed

Speed is what will ultimately separate the winners and losers in the modern economy. A vivid example of future economic patterns can be seen in the case of FinTech companies: they are challenging the banking establishment with innovations that have lowered the barriers of entry into the financial sector. There is a clear need for corporate structures to question their own value as faster and more flexible startups eat into their market share.

Janssens questions the ability of large corporations to adapt to the changing tide of an increasingly digital economy, stating that “When 3000 employees have been doing the same job for 20 years, it’s extremely difficult to tell them that everything has to change. People are such creatures of habit. I see a lot of big companies adopting more lean and agile methods, but it takes a while for this to spread throughout the whole organisation”. The big players in the global economy must therefore change their culture or risk seeing a growing number of startups pull from their margins in the blink of an eye.

Shifting a culture

It is also critical to remember that adopting agile practices is a change in culture. Agile is as much as mindset as a way of delivering work. There is an amazing opportunity in agile to allow teams to fully access human emotions and vulnerabilities, directly correlating with their success. This is a huge shift from traditional workplaces, and can be extremely challenging. Being vulnerable--really, being human--can be downright terrifying, especially in the workplace. However it brings the benefits of creativity and openness, along with trust and reinforcement. The human rewards can be just as important as the ROI seen with true agile organizations.