A year ago, when we talked about agility, we were market-focused: Is our company agile enough to handle new privacy regulations? The death of cookies? The shift in retail habits?

Now, market needs have clearly changed. It's not just about privacy legislation and cookie-less advertising—there's been a global shift in priorities. Supply chains have flattened; people have lost jobs; some borders are closed—then reopened, and closed again, then again reopened.

How has all that affected your business—and your clients' businesses?

How agile are your product plans?

Has your team been able to react quickly and confidently to the market's needs while keeping your company's end goal in sight?

When the pandemic ends or becomes endemic, and we adjust to live with it, which practices are you likely to keep?

Right now, business agility is more important—and more multifaceted—than ever. And each of those facets is critical to your company's success.

Business Agility and Time

Now that you are probably saving hours on your commute, on top of days saved on travel—how effectively are you using your time? How agile is your team with their time?

After working remotely for the majority of 2020, I realized how disrupted my day used to be. Between daily internal meetings, getting stuck in traffic, flying to client offices, or just getting caught up in conversation in the office kitchen, I wasn't using my time as efficiently as I could have been.

Many of us are using that new-found time in ways that, on the surface, seem wise. We're filling the hours in ways that are proving to be very productive for the business—but possibly counterproductive in the long-term.

How so? We use those hours to complete tasks, checking items off the to-do list rather than allowing ourselves to simply sit and think, talk, and collaborate.

Sitting and thinking may seem like a waste, but how else do you arrive at brilliant creative ideas and strategies? How else do you find the space to innovate?

Some of the time we're allocating for mundane tasks might best be spent collaborating with peers, or just staying away from the day-to-day to formulate new ideas and allow them to percolate.

Business Agility and Collaborative Work

In previous years, you may have had multiple offices that met once a year for an all-hands event. This past year, face-to-face meetings were restructured or even eliminated. Collaboration was challenging across office locations in the past, but at least groups could grab a conference or huddle room and work together to brainstorm ideas or hammer out projects.

Now we've gone from having limited interaction geographically to no interaction even locally. A lot of the things we'd learned about how to work across locations helped us put those things into practice when we had to shelter in place. However, even in companies with offices and remote employees across the country, work communication has taken a big hit.

Talking to the people you deal with day in and day out is easy enough, but it's the people who get the ancillary benefit of listening to those conversations who are missing out. It's something we always took for granted, but it's a legitimate business challenge.

Newer hires and less experienced members of the team benefit from listening to sales conversations and other collaborative discussions between managers or more senior colleagues. They learn about the company culture, nuances of the industry or niche, and details about certain clients, among other things.

Those people are also missing out on the chance to network with others in the industry; they don't get the chance to form crucial working relationships with those outside of their immediate colleagues and clients that they will hold for their entire career. That's less of an issue for those of us that have been around a while, but for it's something that can affect newer team members' ability to understand the business in a wider industry context. As a result, the ability to bring people in line with business objectives is more difficult.

We need to be aware that communication has fundamentally changed, and we must find ways of keeping everyone in the fold by providing virtual networking opportunities. There are companies that are leaning more on their messaging apps, and others with employees who stay on Zoom, Meet, Slack, or Teams all day with their cameras on so they can focus on collaborating and listening to each other.

We need to find what works for our respective organizations to stay connected and aligned.

Business Agility and Your Product Road Map

As important as it is to be agile, some businesses that focus too much on business agility lose sight of the end goal.

There's a balancing act between reacting to a market—that is, having the ability to change things up—and remaining dedicated to a consistent goal. An organization must understand where it's headed in the long term and not be completely disrupted by short-term reactions.

I wish I had a crystal ball to serve up the answers, but I suspect most businesses are trapped in a cycle of short-term planning. We're myopic, focusing on what's in front of us rather than endeavoring to plan for the next two years. There are still long-term goals, but we are generally planning for shorter-term executions and then taking the temperature of the market to understand what's next.

To use my own company as an example, we've been thrown curve ball after curve ball in the ad tech space for the past three years. We've been dealing with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and the sunsetting of third-party cookies, all of which brought a lot of uncertainty to our corner of the industry.

Some companies have closed their doors permanently, others ceased operations in certain regions, and still others have absolutely thrived. We've always been sure of our long-term vision, but we still need to be nimble enough to react to short-term market conditions. Knowing your final destination is important, but how you get there might need to change.

COVID's impact on business has been similar in some ways. In our particular case, certain verticals we service have reduced their activity significantly, but they are now slowly coming back. Other verticals prospered because so many people were online, which in turn gave us insight into new audiences and their behavior, helping future planning.

* * *

Business agility is important, but it's not the same for every company. What it comes down to is finding the ideal balance between short-term planning and long-term consistency. It's not easy, but it's important to keep in mind as we continue through the new state of doing business in 2021.

More Resources on Business Agility

How to Achieve Business Agility: These Four Shifts in Mindset Are a Must

How to Use Scenarios to Achieve Marketing Agility

Three Effective Ways to Stay Agile and Relevant in Trying Times

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Business Agility Is the New Norm. Do You Have What It Takes?

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image of Aaron Jackson

Aaron Jackson is chief growth officer at Eyeota, an audience technology platform.

LinkedIn: Aaron Jackson