The social housing sector is currently going through an era of significant change and many housing associations are responding to this with huge investment in digital transformation programmes and moves to mobile and agile working for colleagues.
They are looking at new ways of working to become more cost effective, enhance their services and to meet the demands of evolving sectors, as well as those of their customers and employees. Organisations are also facing the challenges and opportunities that new technology and growing globalisation bring, and ever-increasing numbers of employees are asking to work more flexibly.
To survive and thrive in the 21st century, the more traditional methods of working won’t necessarily work in an environment that demands change, flexibility and agility.
Implementing an agile working strategy is something that many organisations have done successfully, improving morale, retention, productivity and creativity. These new ways of working go far beyond flexible working initiatives and have been shown to deliver proven business benefits.
What is agile working?
Agile working is an adaptable and flexible way of working and begins with the understanding that “work is an activity not a place.” One definition says: “It is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and to do their best work”. The latter definition may be a step too far for some organisations, often for very valid reasons.
Does agile working benefit the employee or the organisation?
Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the number of UK workers who have moved to remote working has increased by nearly a quarter of a million over the last ten years, with 40 per cent now taking the opportunity to work from home at least once a week and 1 in 10 now working from home full time.
So, what’s fuelling this growth in agile working? Beyond the obvious business benefit of reduced office costs, research also tells us agile working improves morale, increases staff retention and importantly widens and unlocks a bigger talent pool, thereby enabling a business to recruit talent, regardless of where they live. And for all those parents unable to commit to full-time roles, it has provided a new avenue to access work.
Recent research by the Agile Future Forum (AFF) demonstrates that in the areas reviewed, agile working practices saved 3% to 13% of workforce costs, with the opportunity to increase that by 3% to 7% if agile working practices were implemented more extensively.
Some businesses are still concerned that if left unchecked, their staff productivity will fall. In fact, recent research from Stanford University, suggests the opposite is true – productivity increases exponentially and remote workers are 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts.
Trust is key. Agile working requires an entirely different outlook in team management and leadership. A strong, structured and systematic approach to managing work is needed, where managers have a clear focus on outcomes rather than inputs as a way of measuring performance.
By setting clear performance outcomes, tracking performance, and having regular individual and team communications, managers will encourage a more empowered team, trusting them to manage their time and workloads independently.
What are the golden rules for implementing Agile Working?
- It must be business led and collaborative to ensure that the creation of agile working practices address the needs of the business, their employees and also those of its customers
- The needs of the business and the workforce must be clearly understood. Start with the business objectives to develop a view of the ideal workforce and then establish how agility can help to achieve both. Considering value to both employer and employee will lead to balanced, and more effective, agile practices.
- Develop the agile working model bottom-up. Ensure your approach is at the right level – a business or single unit at a time as one size does not necessarily fit all
- Think big, strategic changes. The more ambitious you are willing to be the greater the potential benefits.
- Educate the leadership team first. Having the senior team on board is vital to ensure the successful implementation of new agile working practices.
Implementing new agile working practices is not easy, but the benefits of a more agile organisation – one that performs better and has a more engaged workforce, thereby benefiting the employee and the organisation – makes this a worthwhile investment.
Liz Johnston, Principal Consultant, Altair