The announcements and subsequent guidance issued by the government on returning to work have left many employers in a difficult position; ultimately placing the responsibility on the employer to decide when and how to safely re-integrate employees back into the physical workplace. For those with operations throughout the UK, the devolved administrations’ approach has added an additional layer of complexity to the immediate decisions to be made.
However, the experience for many during the last few months has seen organisations rapidly adopt agile working. For many employers it is not just a question of considering the immediate challenges in bringing their people back to work but also which working practices to maintain as they navigate the ‘new normal’, supporting those roles that can be performed remotely to continue to do so in some capacity in the long term. It is probably fair to say that for a large number of people, the workplace they left will not be the one they come back to.
Importantly, what this doesn’t mean is just working from home. Agile working refers to where an organisation provides its people with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints with the choice of where, when and how they work to optimise their performance and output.
Done well, having a more-agile workforce can generate significant benefits for an organisation, for example, in terms of engagement, retention and overhead efficiencies. Clearly, there are some roles within an organisation that require people to be physically present in their workplace and others where people have always had to work remotely, also it is likely that many people will not be able or want to work completely remotely.
This can offer tremendous benefits to employee satisfaction and also productivity, but you have to ensure that this new way of working is effective for all your employees. We recommend a three-stage approach to adopt agile working:
As many employers had to react to a more remote way of working very quickly, there was very little time to assess the capability to do so. Before making significant changes, consider how ready you are to move to a more agile way of working.
As businesses see the option to return to the office on the horizon, it's tempting to simply return to the old way of working. But consider what the impact will be if you don’t sustain agile working options:
The current situation does provide an opportunity for change but before you make any significant decisions about new working practices, ensure you consult with your workforce about agile working and consider their response alongside the business impact.
When planning for a cultural shift such as this, careful consideration should be given to the following:
Change management is fundamental to successful implementation and requires a clear communication and engagement plan to ensure both the physical and psychological changes are supported. When implementing these changes, you should consider:
We have listened to many organisations across different sectors and have summarised some of the opportunities and the potential challenges that may be presented by the shift towards agile working.
Maintaining, building and influencing culture when not face to face; trust and acceptance of agile working are critical.
Managing more agile teams will require a fresh approach to managing the performance and development of a team.
New systems will need to be put in place to ensure overall visibility, tracking and reward of workflow and outputs, and with that, a changed mindset of KPIs, which may differ across teams.
This may be affected by work creep, musculoskeletal problems, lack of separation, loneliness and isolation.
What new skills are required and how do we replicate the learning opportunities that come from teams working physically together?
Successful virtual onboarding requires both technological capabilities and also the right level of human interaction.
Investment in improved technology required to support continued agile working.
Maintaining the right level and type of working space to cater to business needs.
Overall, the COVID-19 lockdown has proven that agile and remote working is feasible for most employees and numerous surveys have shown that the majority prefer this way of working. What's left is for businesses to adapt to this new normal, as the genie is truly out of the bottle and it's unlikely that resisting agile working will be acceptable going forward.
For help with implementing agile working for your business, contact Justin Rix.