A Guide By Colin Stuart
Agile Working – An Introduction
This guide seeks to demystify agile working and help you find the way of working and corresponding working environment that best suits your organisation; both now and more importantly in the future – to help you find you own “agile”. It is the first part of a forthcoming series of articles to help explain agile working,to help you decide what is the right policy for you and help you implement it successfully.
Agile Working has been called many things since the concept was first conceived in the mid-90s. Whether you call it new ways or working, smart working, better working, flexi-working or anything else, agile working appears here to stay. It is gaining much wider acceptance as the leaders in our organisations realise the significant benefits to both the organisation and the individual.
Every year there is a new phrase or acronym for agile working, designed to show that those using it are ahead of the curve, and, more often than not, aimed at trying to sell us new furniture. However, it’s not about the acronyms, or the slides and the beanbags we hear so much about. It’s about real fundamental change in how we interact with each other and how we are managed. It’s about real fundamental change in our working environments and well-being, and in how we work in the modern world to best suit the services and products we deliver.
A Definition of Agile Working
Agile working is simply the:
“ability to work in the place and at the time most appropriate for the task in hand”.
It is not just about hot desking, and nor is it just about working from home. These are just two of many constituent parts of what agile working can be. You can have agile working without hot desking and, similarly, you can have agile working without home working.
Sometimes called Martini working (after the famous 1970s advert) “anytime, anyplace, anywhere”, Agile working is about providing a working environment and way of working that allows choice and flexibility. It allows the individuals within our organisations to work wherever and whenever best suits the outcomes (the products, service or tasks) they have to deliver.
It’s about treating them as adults and trusting them to make the right choice, it’s about managing them in the right way, encouraging, guiding and training them to make best use of agile working to improve their productivity and the quality of their outcomes.
Why Do We Have to “Do Agile Working”?
The widespread adoption of agile working in the last five years has been due principally to significant changes in the type of work we are doing. The data revolution and the rise of the knowledge worker has meant that traditional, sedentary and very hierarchical ways of working are no longer relevant, and no longer get the best performance out of the ‘worker bees’ in the organisational ‘hive’. This has been enabled by the revolution in IT, from the advent of mobile communication, the availability of powerful lightweight laptops to improvements in IT infrastructure and Wi-Fi.
It has also been driven by a perfect storm in terms of the recent economic headwinds of the credit crunch in 2007 and subsequent recession, the rise of the socially connected (and apparently very demanding) millennial generation and the increasing demands and stress of modern life in a hyper-connected world taking a toll on employee health and morale.
It is not all doom and gloom however, there are very real and major benefits to both the organisation and the individuals within the organisation, with gains in staff morale, well-ebbing. To read more about the benefits please see your article on “The Case for Change – the Benefits of Agile Working”.
What Types of Agile Working Are There?
There are many types of agile working that can all form part of your overall approach to agile working, principal amongst these are:
Hot desking / Desk sharing – Desks are not allocated to individuals but to a team or group of teams on a shared basis, often to a predefined ratio. Usually a constituent part of any agile working policy to make better use of desks and free up space for other, more appropriate, work-settings.
Flexible working – the ability to work flexibly within one office location as a necessary extension of desk sharing. The flexible worker will work in the most appropriate work setting within the office deepening upon the task at hand. It can also be the ability to flex your hours to adapt to the demands of the role.
Remote working (also called Teleworking or Telecommuting) – working away from the office often remotely from the rest of your team, can include home working. Remote workers are people who work remotely in multiple locations or from a client site, only visiting the main office occasionally are often called remote workers, field workers or nomads.
Mobile Working – working from one office location (base) but also working remotely from the main office on a regular basis due to the demands of the job role. Usually a combination of remote working and, when in the office, flexible working.
Home working – A form of remote working, specifically undertaken in your home. This can be on an ad-hoc basis to suit the task in hand or as a designated “home worker”.
For more information, please see our article “The A to Z of Agile Working – Agile Working Terms Explained”.
But What Type of Agile Working is Right for Me?
There is no easy answer. As you can see agile working can take many forms and what works for one organisation does not necessarily work for another. It is usually a combination of a number of types depending upon the particular worker or job role. When developing your own agile policy and the associated workplace model, it is important to consider your own organisation as unique and look at your needs, business objectives, the desired culture and the activities performed and the best way of working in each job role needed to deliver those outcomes.
Any agile plan needs to be mindful of the three “B”s – the bricks, bits and brains; in other words to make it work successfully and deliver all the benefits (and to continue to deliver the benefits) you not only have to look at the design and locations of your workplaces (the bricks) but the IT infrastructure and processes (the bits) and how you are going to change the mindset of the people (both staff and manager) within your organisation to embrace the new way of working (the brains).
Additionally, the resulting agile model could be a combination of a number of elements, the workplace design itself (the various work settings), the policies on how the space is used (desk sharing, remote and home working) and the management style (outcome focused rather than presenteeism).
For further information, please see our article “How to Define an Agile Working Policy”.
Agile working, in whatever form it takes in different organisations, has been proven to have significant benefits for both the individuals and organisations adopting this way of working. It can be very very successful with very short return on investment periods. However it needs to be implemented correctly and with consideration of the needs and concerns of the staff working within the organisation.
You do need to spend the time to consider what is best for you – to find your own ‘agile’ – one that is tuned to promoting the right culture and delivering your organisation’s objectives. In doing that, the improvements in staff welfare and productivity have benefits for all: not just the organisation, and the employees, but also the customers we serve and even the families of our employees and our wider community – like ripples in the pond. Why should it not be a fundamental human right to have a workplace that helps you thrive and make you happy?
You will find that morale improves, retention improves, and the culture shifts to one that is much more friendly, collaborative and innovative. It’s a simple equation: if you empower your people and give them the facilities and equipment to better manage their days, they are going to be happy and more productive. Happy people = loyal people = productive people = better outcomes. At the end of the day, why shouldn’t adults be trusted to behave as adults otherwise why did you employ them in the first place?
But this is not rocket science, as one of my clients recently said to me, this should not be seen as something scary new or novel, it should become the norm and be the way we naturally “just work”.
Further Baker Stuart Guides
Agile Working Series
- The Case for Change – the Benefits of Agile Working
- The A to Z of Agile Working – An Agile Working Terms Dictionary
- How to Define an Agile Working Policy (coming soon)
Office Design and Space Planning Series
- Office Capacity Limitations – A Baker Stuart Guide
- Office Space Planning and the Law – A Baker Stuart Guide
- Toilet Provision in Offices – A Baker Stuart Guide
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