What is an Agile Organization? And How to Build One

What is an Agile Organization? And How to Build One

What are the secrets of the fastest-growing companies? What do they do that helps them scale and iterate more quickly than the average company?

There’s no single answer to this question, but there are certain commonalities among companies achieving rapid growth: exceptional hiring and training, powerful tools to help increase efficiency, solid data to help drive good decision-making. 

And what’s the one function that unites all these growth-focused tactics? An agile business operating model. While product teams and go-to-market functions have been the subject of thousands of popular new tools and streamlined processes, ops professionals are often far from center stage quietly plugging away with the same old systems, trying to help their companies operate more efficiently and effectively.

But lately, that’s started to change. A new wave of efficiency-focused management tools aimed at making operations more agile have emerged, changing organizational structures to bring the back office front and center.

In this article, we’ll dive into some of these agile developments as well as layout a framework for how your organization can create an agile operations environment. 

What is an Agile Operations environment?

When looking at the most innovative and fastest-growing companies, people are often in awe of the revenue growth, employment numbers, and venture capital dollars. What is not usually considered is the back office of the business that is fueling its success. As business managers, it is essential to create an agile operation environment that helps the company thrive.

But what exactly does this environment look like?

What are the hallmarks of an agile approach?

An agile operations methodology aims to make companies’ back offices more organized and hyper-productive. An agile operations function requires the right people, resources and processes. Let’s dive into those each a little more to identify the hallmarks of business agility from the bottom-up.

Talent:

First, your company must be able to recruit and retain top-shelf talent. Efficient teams are made up of individuals, and your company needs an easy, scalable process for attracting these types of employees.

Resources and Automation:

Second, agile operations teams need the right resources to achieve their goals and adapt to new circumstances. Manual, labor-intensive work is the enemy of agile practices, and finding tools, products and resources to automate repeatable tasks and minimize mindless work is essential for achieving an agile operations transformation.

Environment:

Finally, you must provide an environment where your operations team can create and refine agile methods that enable efficient and consistent work. This doesn’t only mean arming your operations function with the best methodology, but also consistently evaluating (and re-evaluating) them to ensure that they are still optimal and necessary. 

But knowing the roadmap to an agile operations team is one thing; employing the tactics to get you there is another.

How can you adapt an agile operations strategy in your business?

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at the individual components of an agile operations environment.

Using perks to increase employee retention

Recruiting and retention are two of the most time-intensive and expensive aspects of growing an organization. Luckily, many companies have started to realize that the right kind of perks and employee benefits can help attract and retain high-performing employees — accelerating growth and improving efficiency. 

Employee perks started gaining traction years ago and were rather simple. They included things such as stocked snack cabinets, ping pong tables, and gym memberships. Employees originally did not give much thought about employee perks and whether jobs offered perks or not.

Fast forward to the present day where employee perks, including a supportive culture, have become a “must-have” for every company hoping to attract top talent and retain their employees. Today’s top companies offer far more than just free snacks, they offer a wide range of perks for both work and outside of work. These can range from pet care allowances to adoption assistance. LinkedIn is one company with an extremely broad and high-quality perks offering, which all 14,000+ employees around the world experience. 

But perks don’t only help you attract and retain talent – they can actually lead to a more engaged and productive workforce, a hallmark of an agile workplace.

When it comes to creating your company's perks, there are several different things to consider:

1. Introduce Flexibility-Focused Perks

Having a flexible work program has become essential for companies to attract and retain top talent. According to a 2018 Werk study, “96% of U.S. professionals say they need flexibility, but only 47% have it.” There are several practices companies can adopt to offer more flexible working environments:

  • Unconventional Hours - Allowing employees to set their own schedules and determine what times of the day they want to work. Example: allowing an employee to work from 6am-2pm instead of the standard 9-to-5 day.  
  • Adaptable Hours - Having strict working hours can be a burden for employees when unplanned events occur. Giving employees autonomy can go a long way in keeping them happy. For example: If an employee typically works 9-5, but needs to take time off from 3-4pm one day to pick up his/her kid from school, they should be permitted to so. That hour can then be made up at a later time. 
  • Varied Work Locations. Many employees benefit from a change in environment. Working outside of the office on occasion, at places like coffee shops and libraries, may increase production. Research has found that a moderate level of ambient noise, such as the whir of a coffee machine or the light chatter of a library, improves performance on creative tasks.

2. Personalize Your Perks Program 

Any company can offer basic perks, but those that shine offer personalized perk programs. These programs cater to the people working at the company to make sure they are happy, healthy, and productive. According to a MetLife study, 72% of employees agree that perks customized to them would make them more loyal to the company. Perks have a shared purpose to represent your company’s values and culture. Some of our favorite custom company perks include:

  • Reebok offering employees on-site gym access and free CrossFit classes. 
  • Scripps Health offering not only employees health care but also pet health insurance for employees’ cats and dogs.
  • Patagonia offering employees extremely flexible schedules which allows them to pursue hobbies such as surfing, biking, and climbing. Patagonia’s HQ is located close to the beach and trails and it features a large storage room to store outdoor gear, such as surfboards.

Creating a strong benefits program is essential for minimizing the negative impacts of long recruiting cycles and high turnover. But how else can you use agile methods to attract top-tier talent? 

Use employee referrals to hire 

We’ve talked about how a strong perks and benefits program can help you attract top talent — but what about an agile process for more passive candidates? 

Great businesses are built by great teams. One of the best ways to grow a high-performing team is to have employees recommend people in their network to join. There are many benefits to using employee referrals to hire.

      • Speed - According to a study by JobVite, 67% recruiters said the recruiting process was shorter when dealing with employee referrals. Also, referrals were shown to start their jobs quicker than hires via careers sites. Referral hires take an average of 29 days to start, compared to career site hires who take 55 days on average.
      • Reach - Getting your job opening in front of quality applicants is not always easy. Having current employees spread the word about job openings can bring in lots of applications. Consider this, the average employee has around 150 professional contacts on social media. If 100 employees spread the news of the job opening, 15,000 potential candidates can be reached. That is a lot of professionals to reach completely free. 
      • ROI - According to CareerBuilder, 82% of employers rated employee referrals above all other sources for generating the best return on investment (ROI).  
      • Savings - Hiring via referrals can save companies a lot of money. A survey by Achievers found companies who hire referrals save $3,000 or more per hire, on average. 

Before you pay headhunters and job boards to get the news about your job opening, ask your employees to spread the word and suggest people within their network.  

Of course, agile principles aren’t all about recruiting and hiring — they can also help you create an office environment that promotes productivity and collaboration. 

Create a workplace where employees can thrive

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the “environment” in an agile operations environment. Office managers and operations teams spend a lot of time thinking about how their workspace fosters (or prohibits) productivity. 

Creating an agile office space is extremely important because it fosters collaboration and allows for employees to become hyper-productive. One of the best practices to accomplish this is by having a well-crafted open office. Seventy percent of all U.S. companies use some version of the open office, but the majority of them lack a great design. The two major cons of open offices are the noise and lack of privacy. Let’s analyze both of these cons and determine how to solve them in order to create a great agile office.

#1 - Noise 

Many employees complain that open offices are too noisy. A review of more than 100 studies found that noisy open offices consistently led to lower rates of concentration and focus. It’s not surprising then that 2/3 of the US workers are unhappy with the noise levels they have at work. Moreover, a survey of over 38,000 open office workers found, “one of the biggest losses of productive time during the day stemmed from interruptions by colleagues.” It’s clear that noise is a huge determinant of productivity in open office, so how can you fix this and establish an agile open office environment? Here are some ideas:

  • Install phone booths. If you are looking for a quick and relatively cheap way to create quiet space in your office, phone booths are a great option! Most phone booths are completely soundproof and can easily be moved around. Phone booths have become common at many top-performing companies like Nike, Google, Uber, and Salesforce. Some of the top-rated office phone booths can be purchased from ROOM, Zenbooth, and Poppin.  
  • Use Acoustic Panels. Acoustic panels are a great addition to any office space because they help absorb acoustics and keep the office space quieter. Audimute claims that poor acoustics in office spaces can cause production to decrease a whopping 66%. 
  • Establish Dedicated Noise Zones. It is important to have areas in the office dedicated to different noise levels. Here at Lola, we have several different zones. Our first floor is home to our engineering team and travel agents and they typically prefer to have light background music on to help them focus on building a world-class product. On the second floor, our sales and marketing teams prefer to have louder music to keep them energized and excited. There are also private conference rooms scattered throughout the office which can be used for meetings or just as a quiet space.

#2 - Privacy 

In an open office, finding a balance between transparency and privacy is essential. Transparency is great, but without privacy employees can suffer. A 2013 study found that a lack of privacy is the #1 reason why employee morale gets drained. So how can you make sure your office has enough privacy? Here are a few solutions:

  • Mobile marker board and screens - Mobile marker boards and screens are not only helpful collaboration tools, they also can be used to create private spaces. Knoll offers a great mobile markerboard for offices. 
  • Meeting booths - Meeting booths are a great solution to provide employees with more privacy than a typical shared desk. Urban Office offers various different meeting booths.
  • Desk Dividers - Sharing a desk can be great for collaboration, but there comes a time where people need privacy. Desk dividers are a great low-cost, non-permanent way to provide employees with privacy when needed. Wayfair offers several different desk dividers which can easily be clamped onto desks. 

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Your company will thank you for creating an agile environment. Let’s recap the benefits:

  1. Perks will help the company retain employees by keeping them happy and healthy.
  2. Employee referrals will help the company recruit top talent quickly and cheaply. 
  3. A properly designed open office will make employees more productive as it promotes collaboration while also providing needed privacy and quiet spaces. 

So far we’ve discussed simple ways to attract, retain and optimize a high-performing team. But what about some of the more “back office” tasks that can help your company achieve optimal production? Things that employees have to do for their work — but that aren’t necessarily part of their principal job — are ripe areas for agile operations improvements.

One such example (that is especially relevant to us here at Lola.com) is corporate travel management. 

Agile Solutions To Corporate Travel Management

How do agile operations apply to corporate travel management?

In traditional organizations, corporate travel management is one of the least agile aspects of companies. In many companies, several problems arise when it comes to managing business travel. These include:

  • Employees wasting time booking travel online instead of working - This happens because many employees are confused about what accommodations are approved by their company. Also, many employees end up wasting time because the booking site used is overwhelming with numerous options and advertisements.
  • Employees choosing options that don’t follow the company travel policy - The employees can break the company policy by booking accommodations that are either too expensive or too inexpensive. This usually occurs because the company lacks dynamic pricing policies which change the price cap for travel depending on the place. For example, the budget for New York City trips may offer a higher price cap than trips to Buffalo, New York. 
  • Employees not having good travel support - When employees use online booking sites such as Expedia or Booking.com, they are limited to the sites’ run-of-the-mill support which is usually outsourced and unreliable. Also, many travel sites support systems are reactive rather than proactive, which makes employees spend valuable work time trying to solve problems.

Needless to say, there are many problems with traditional travel management. Luckily, there are agile solutions which can help simplify the process and promote agility throughout your organization. The principles of agile operations can be applied to all different areas of corporate travel.

How might your corporate travel management benefit from agile operations?

Agile operations can revolutionize companies’ corporate travel. By using agile tools you will make booking and managing travel easier for all employees. Travelers will benefit from agile solutions by being able to book more quickly, easily expense travel costs, and have better support while traveling. Business managers benefit from a travel portal to easily analyze travel, approve expenses quickly, and customize options so out-of-policy bookings are limited. 

How can you integrate agile operations into your corporate travel management?

Agile solutions to corporate travel only work when employees are aware of them and see their value. When it comes to integrating agile operations into your corporate travel management, there are several things you need to do to make it a success. 

  1. Talk to your team - It is important to talk to your team about all the changes you are thinking about making to your company’s corporate travel practices. You want to give employees as much info as possible regarding the agile solution before establishing it. This will allow your employees to ask questions and determine whether the solution is appropriate or not.   
  2. Set realistic guidelines with your policy - Considering many agile solutions allow you to integrate your travel policy into the platforms, it is essential you set realistic guidelines. To do this, look at past expense reports to get an understanding of how much employees spend and remember to consider setting corporate travel rates by city.
  3. Launch the policy officially - It is essential to launch the agile operation solutions officially within the company rather than just rolling it out silently. Launching policies officially can be done by sending a company-wide email/slack or by having a meeting dedicated to the solutions.
  4. Understand that issues will occur - Installing agile solutions does not mean that problems will not occur. Often times businesses have to deal with problems such as employees who fail to follow the company Travel & Expense (T&E) policy. It is important to deal with problems swiftly and learn from them to optimize the success of agile solutions. 

Benefits of using agile solutions to manage corporate travel

How can agile solutions streamline your corporate travel management?

Agile solutions help streamline business travel by providing travelers and managers everything they need in one place. They allow employees to easily follow company policies and book quickly thanks to simple, easy to use user interface. Managers also benefit from increased policy compliance, reduced traveler spending, and increased spend visibility. 

How can agile solutions reduce your company's travel costs?

Each agile solution prides themselves on being able to offer the best discounts and rewards. For example:

  • Brex offers fantastic rewards which help startups earn points faster with multipliers on the categories that matter most. Regarding travel, Brex offers 7x points on rideshare, 4x points on general travel, and 3x points on restaurants. Brex also has no cap on points, meaning you can earn an unlimited number of points. Brex truly offers one of the greatest reward packages of any corporate card.
  • Airbnb for Work users save an average of 49% a night booking work trips on Airbnb over traditional hotels. This is especially appealing in major, and more expensive, cities like NYC, San Francisco, and Boston.
  • Lola.com helps businesses save money on corporate travel with access to negotiated fares, refundable tickets and automated travel policies. Travel is the second-largest controllable cost behind only payroll, so it is essential to have it well managed with a booking tool. 
  • Uber for Business usually offers the most convenient and most economically-friendly ground transportation. A recent study by GoBankingRates found that Uber was the more economical choice in 16 of 20 major U.S. cities. Uber for Business also makes expensing transportation far quicker, saving time and money.
  • Expensify allows employees to create and submit expense reports with a single click. According to their website, "Expense reports with Expensify take 83% less time" and as we all know, time is money.

GoBankingRates found that Uber was the more economical choice in 16 of 20 major U.S. cities (1)

How can agile solutions save you time when managing corporate travel?

  • Free support for travelers and managers - Agile solutions typically offer free expert support for travelers. This saves managers from countless hours of dealing with travel troubles from employees. This will also save employees time because they will get expert answers quickly. Here at Lola we have expert travel agents at our Boston headquarters who help travelers 24/7/365. 
  • Integration Automation - Many agile solutions have integrations with other companies to make processes quicker and save business managers time. For example, Brex integrates with Xero, Expensify, and QuickBooks Online. These integrations save business managers a lot of time because transferring data manually between platforms can be a slow and monotonous process. 
  • Easy to use websites - Agile solutions focus on offering easy to use platforms for travelers and managers. Airbnb for Work is an extremely simple tool for travelers to use thanks to its customizable and fast booking engine. Users can search not only by date and location, but also by price, type of property, amenities, and the language of the host. They can even add keywords (such as "close to the Museum") to further narrow down their search.. 
  • Artificial Intelligence - Artificial intelligence can help save users time by making repetitive actions automatic. For example, Expensify uses AI to analyze receipts and form expense reports. This saves travelers and managers from manually needing to find and enter information on receipts.
  • Report Creation - Most agile tools allow for automatic report creation so that managers do not have to create them manually. For example, Uber for work allows business managers to generate reports and review a roll-up of all trip activity from a single dashboard. These reports can then be shared with the team and archived for easy lookup. 

Tools and resources for creating agile operations in business travel

What are the best tools and resources for creating agile business travel operations?

Brex - The ultimate corporate travel card 

Brex is a revolutionary corporate charge card built for startups. Brex is powered by modern software and offers instant approval on corporate cards. Brex cards offer many advantages over traditional cards, including uncapped rewards, travel points that never expire, as well as analytics on the backend to help you track spending. Brex also offers users 7x points on rideshare and 4x points on travel. The credit limits on Brex are higher than any competing card thanks to their proprietary underwriting process. Brex also offers virtual card solutions for easy and secure payments. Looking to grow your startup? Brex cards can easily scale with companies and save them time by offering receipt matching, issue and set limits on cards, and analyze spend. 

Expensify - Make managing T&E a breeze

Expensify is an agile software solution that simplifies the management of travel and expenses.. Once trips are booked employees can create an expense report on Expensify. They upload the receipt and Expensify’s artificial intelligence will scan the document and record all important info to make an expense report. There is also an Expensify app, perfect for employees on the road. Once claims are submitted, office managers can easily view the expense reports and reimburse employees. 

Ultimately, Expensify saves both employees and travel managers tons of time dealing with the expensing process. Gone are the days of crinkled up receipts and spending countless hours creating expense reports! 

Another perk of using Expensify is that you can integrate it with Lola.com. This integration makes the expensing process even quicker because any trip booked on Lola.com is automatically created as an expense report in Expensify. Travel and expense management will be a breeze with Expensify!

Airbnb for Business - Book lodging, experiences, and workspaces with ease

Airbnb for Work is a must for any agile enterprise as it reimagines how employees travel, connect, and collaborate. Airbnb offers three different ways for employees to travel and connect:

  1. Work-friendly homes and boutique hotel rooms for business travel complete with wifi, self check-in, Laptop-friendly workspace, hangers, hair dryers, shampoo, flexible cancellation, towels, and more.
  2. Activities that allow for team-building and creativity.Workspaces for teams to have meetings, off-sites, and other events.
  3. Workspaces for teams to have meetings, offsites, and other events.

One of the primary benefits of booking through Airbnb is the savings. Compared to traditional hotels, Airbnb fares are far less expensive. Airbnb reports that travelers around the world save an average of 49% booking through Airbnb.

Airbnb for Work also offers a dashboard that allows travel managers to easily contact employees and view their expense reports. 

Airbnb for Work is designed with safety as a top priority, from their secure payment system to reviews from prior guests. Airbnb also offers customer support specialists to help travelers 7 days/week during business hours.

Airbnb for work is a great agile tool that saves companies time and money on corporate travel, whether they’re a huge enterprise or early-stage startup. 

Uber for Business - No more worrying about taxis, use it with the corporate card

Uber for Business is a great agile ground transportation solution. Uber offers business travelers the on-demand ridesharing mobile app they except, while also giving travel managers the resources and customization they desire.

Uber’s transpiration HQ dashboard allows travel managers to manage all trips and customize how employees can use the company Uber account. 

  • Expensing - Travel managers are given the option to either choose a payment option for all employees to use or have all employees simply expense their business travel. Uber also integrates with Expnesify, among seven other expensing platforms.
  • Outlook - Uber for Business gives travel managers an overview of all individual trips taken including the prices, times, locations, and vehicle classes. This information can be exported easily to generate reports.
  • Policy - Uber makes it super simple to have employees follow the travel policy because travel managers can customize the rules. This means that employees will not be taking out-of-policy rides because the platform is customized to your needs.

Don’t make your employees take taxis, when Uber for business is better for travelers and managers.

Lola.com - The ultimate corporate travel management solution

Lola.com makes Agile Travel Management a reality by providing a simple way to manage, book and report on business travel, saving employers and travelers time and money. Policies that allow for positive employee travel experiences can be set up in five minutes, and automatic itineraries are created for the travelers. Lola.com uses machine learning and 24/7 support to help travelers easily book trips, while empowering travel managers to create policies, view budgets and expenditures, and monitor their globetrotting team efficiently. Lola.com customers continue to rave about the platform on online review sites such as Capterra and TrustPilot. 

What should you look for in tools and resources for agile business travel operations?

It is important to know what to look for in tools and resources for agile business travel operation. Choosing great solutions will increase employee adoption and success. Here are several qualities you should look for in agile tools and resources:

  • Ease of Use and User Interface (UI) - The whole point of purchasing tools and resources is for them to be used, but nobody will want to use them if they have extraneous options or buttons. A clean and simple user interface is essential for mass adoption. It is also essential for technology tools to offer easy set up so that all travelers can be on-boarded quickly and easily.
  • Support - When it comes to choosing an agile travel tool it is important to make sure the company has a great support system. Support systems help swiftly deal with problems when they arise. Agile operations is all about saving time and 24/7 expert support is a great thing to have.
  • Pricing/Savings - Agile business travel tools and resources should offer users great savings. Many of our recommended agile resources do offer savings/ROI calculators that allow you to see just how much you will be saving by switching to them. A key aspect of agile operations is saving money while still being hyper productive. (Expensify Calculator and Lola Calculator)
  • Track Record - When considering a new tool or resource, it is important to check the companies track record. You can look through the companies’ customers and user stories to validate their service, and you should check out their social media interactions to make sure there are no red flags. It’s also a wise idea to check out the company’s reviews on review sites such as Capterra and TrustPilot.
  • Customization - Agile tools and resources should all offer travel managers the option to customize the settings so that their travelers will not be confused about their options. 

Looking for more information about Agile Operations? Check out our podcast, The Agile Operations Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts. We are also hosting the first-ever Agile Operations Summit this November! Get your tickets at Lola.com/AOS


About the Author: Tom Riley