Why Should Your Organisation Consider Implementing Agile Working?
Contributed by: Paul Allsopp, The Agile Organisation Ltd
The obvious response is, why wouldn’t they? The current changing financial and business dynamics in the UK mean that all organisations, public and private alike, face unprecedented economic pressures, performance and service challenges. But it is the pace, unpredictability and scale of this change that is the greatest challenge for organisations today, and this makes the focus on corporate agility paramount. To not be on the agile journey is to be behind the curve and the difference between surviving and thriving.
Agile working is not new. Many organisations profess to have plans to introduce, are progressing or have already implemented the concept in some form. But what do we mean by agile working?
When people are asked to define agile working most immediately think of hot-desking, homeworking, flexible working hours or even software development methodology. Clarity and establishing a clear definition is an important starting point to get everyone onto the same page.
I like the simplicity of Unilever’s definition of agile working which captures the key ingredients of the concept:
“An approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It goes beyond just flexible working or telecommuting and focuses on eliminating the barriers to getting work done efficiently and effectively”.”
Underlying this definition are 4 pillars of agile working which form the holistic structure for successful implementation:
- Work Practices – work anytime, anywhere provided business and legal needs are met.
- Workspaces – designed around work activity, not individuals or hierarchy.
- Culture – engaging and empowering people in an environment of trust, backing this up with the right policies, cultural change, training and communications.
- Technology – enabling advanced mobility and virtual collaboration around work activities.
The real business benefits that flow from successful agile working include performance improvement in terms of productivity, innovation and service outcomes. For the individual, they gain more autonomy, trust and responsibility which makes working more satisfying and appealing. Many organisations also focus on the development of working methods that are attractive in the fight for talent, and provide the ability to react, adapt and change to constantly changing business circumstances.
UK productivity levels are among the lowest in Europe and therefore improving productivity is the “holy grail” for many organisations. But agile working is more than doing similar work at different times and/or different places; although this may be part of it. The real focus is getting people to think, manage and work differently – recognising that nothing stands still if it is going to survive and thrive.
Agile working is not just about efficiency. Many FMs will recognise the regular clamour to do more with less. Perhaps squeezing more desks in the same space, and/ or pushing desk sharing ratios for people per desk. While these actions may cut costs and boost collaboration, they can cause workers to feel uncomfortable, de-motivated and are often cited as the biggest cause of unproductiveness in the workplace.
Finding a balance between efficiency and effectiveness is key to agile thinking. This involves understanding the various activities of work, and different workstyles before creating the appropriate and effective supporting technology infrastructure, activity based environments, experiences, and training. The key to success is multi-faceted, not one-size-fits-all, evidence-based holistic solutions.
However, the opportunities that the new infrastructure and services provide are not going to pay dividends if we continue working in the same old way. To reap the greatest benefits, we need change in the people dynamics, organisational culture, business mindset and individual behaviours.
This change puts a real focus on trying to maximise human potential, performance, and productivity. Whilst you may want things to change rapidly, the implementation of agile working is most effective when considered as a holistic evolutionary journey. There is often much to change – ditching old symbols, altering custom and practice, taking up new freedoms and understanding new boundaries, using new tools, developing new behaviours, management styles and learning new ways. These do not happen overnight or easily and always require much early and ongoing engagement and involvement, communication, leadership, organisation as well as coaching.
For managers to “let go” and for employees to take up more responsibility are the biggest agile challenges. Removing artificial measures of success, such as time and attendance, and focusing on performance, giving people a level of autonomy and empowering them to find the most appropriate ways of delivering work outcomes is a big step in creating relationship of trust that underpins agile working and the productive benefits that will follow.
Ultimately 20th Century methods are no longer sustainable in 21st Century organisations and that is why agile working is a concept that no organisation can afford to ignore. Successful agile working will produce a healthier, responsive, resilient and sustainable workforce capable and prepared for working beyond “existing boundaries” to meet the demanding business challenges and changing customer outcomes that lie ahead.
Paul will be speaking at the next FMCentral event which will be held at Adapt UK, Milton Keynes on Wednesday 27th September 2017. Book your place now and find out more details about the event at www.fmcentral.co.uk/events.