Historically, “Flexible Working” has been seen of the domain of the working mother. Trying to return to a previous career – juggling work demands and the school run. It conjures up images of telephones in one hand and a screaming baby in the other. Harried women trying to “have it all”
Agility is a not a modern phenomenon – there has Always been the need to be able to do things differently – to maximise the opportunities that all elements of the workforce are able to offer, in a way and time that suits life. But more often than not, the stuffed shirts of the boardroom decided that change was not in fact a good thing, That innovation , god forbid, may actually increase productivity and perhaps mean change for themselves. And so we carried on doing what we always did.. and guess what…
The outbreak of the 2nd world war truly started a work revolt. Women were managing traditionally male dominated jobs and the home – and guess what – necessity truly was the mother of invention and this proved that looking at things differently still got the job done.
Back in those days the game of Women’s Football had a greater following than the mens…
But back then there were not the opportunities to practice genuine agility in the workplace. The modern technologies that we take for granted as a means to stay connected just didn’t exist. There was a genuine need to be always physically present at work.
But today we don’t have those restrictions. Technologies have moved on so much that there is a strong case for advocating more , not less, agile working. And before I become accused of too much femininism – there is no reason that this need to have a role that fits around the school run / life should continue to be the mainstay of women.
Surely the holy grail of work should be the ability to get the job done – in way that is most productive to the business whilst still allowing a high quality of life. A balance that leaves the employee empowered and ready to work during those “agile” hours?
So what does Agile Working mean?
Its an incredibly difficult definition to make – perhaps because quite simply there isn’t just one definer.
The RICS highlighted the fact that work is an activity, not a place – and that points us towards remote working – but it again it cant just be as simple as that. Some jobs do require you to be in a certain location..
So I would argue that Agile working isn’t just about time and space, its also about doing work differently, being more effective. Being outcome focussed rather than hours driven.
The Agile Future Forum whose aim is to provide leadership and practical support to disseminate agile working practices, considers these practices across the 4 dimensions of: time (when do people work?), location (where do people work?), role (what do people do?) and source (who carries out work?).
But however you choose to define it – the aim of agile working must surely be to ensure that you capture the most effective talent – utilising the right people, process, technology to ensure the most effective outcomes of a task.
Task Driven working – without restrictions as to how and where that is carried out.
It sounds amazing – and something we should all aspire to. Yet the concept of allowing more people to work in this more innovative way has been a slow burner. There is a reluctance to relinquish direct control over staff members – a fear that performance will drop without big brother peering through the office window. A reluctance to give up that concept of office “facetime” – the more hours I am here the better I must be.
This is an antiquated old school tie attitude – and one that needs vast readjustment. But like all leaps of faith – they require a degree of trust. Trust in your staff (which brings us back to the need to hire well!), trust in your technologies and trust in yourself.
By all accounts BT is trying to adopt a truly agile approach – they are using it in call centers – allowing carers to come back to work – in a virtual call center – sometimes even in shifts as short as 30 minutes. And they are finding it pays dividends. Ironically staff are now “working” longer hours – the need for “facetime” gone – and commuting down means that employees are actually able to devote more at work time.. to work. KPI performance has increased and employees are happier.
Plot this against the national return to work rate for mothers which sits at approximately 40%.. at BT that figure is over 90% – directly reported as being due to the adoption of agile working practices.
Sickness rates are down and the ability to employ a more diverse workforce is up. Stress related illness alone is reporting a 35% decrease. Cognitive diversity breeds innovation – and the ability to become a more socially inclusive employer brings business benefits and personal ones.
A side effect of this agility is also an improved carbon footprint. Sustainibility is high on the government agenda and BT has witnessed agility bring improve its sustainability.
But agility can’t happen all by itself. A company must have a cultural mindset that welcomes innovation and strong trust in its people. Cost per head – technology is cheaper than space – so business wise it makes financial sense to consider a different approach. Diversity improves innovation and empowered and engaged employees deliver far more when they are genuinely trusted to get on with task focused work.
And so on that note – I will stop working for my agile employers on a Tuesday night and sign off happily… (as Tuesday nights when the kids are in bed is a time and a place that works for me… Task completed, no boundaries!!)