Why it’s time to ditch the nine-till-five

19 October 2017 -

Agile WorkingAs technology, behaviours and culture evolves, so does the way we view our work. New futurology research reveals how organisations that introduce agile working substantially improve productivity, save on costs and find it much easier to recruit

Jermaine Haughton

The relationship between employees and how they work is continually developing. Flexible working and working from home are among the most common examples of the increasing flexibility many employees, particularly in the professional services industry, have been experiencing over the past decade.

Increasingly, similar flexibility is being introduced in other areas of business management, including the design of workspaces, job titles and leadership structures, with some companies even allowing employees to take other work with other employees, as long as it doesn’t cause a conflict of interest.

Focusing less on where and how long employees spend on work, and more on outcomes, futurologists and change management experts propose that this approach will become more prevalent as businesses look to operate more agile and robust businesses, prepared to tackle the uncertain economic and geo-political future.

In the newly-published management research paper The Agile Revolution, a cross-sector BPS World poll of employees and employers found that attitudes towards the ‘traditional’ way of working are shifting, with the traditional nine-till-five working day potentially dying out in some sectors.

Only just over a third of working Britons (38%) now see the office as an essential base to work from most of the time, with just over quarter of bosses (26%) thinking the same.  In fact, 10% of the bosses surveyed go so far as to say that the office is ‘an outdated concept’ in their industry.

This change in attitude has seen a rising trend in people finding alternative places to work, whether that’s from home, in work hubs or in coffee shops.

One recent study showed that 81% of office workers now spend three and a half hours working out of a coffee shop each week, and while it was once seen as the preserve of start-ups, the same study found that three out of four staff working for companies with over 250 employees actually prefer working from a coffee shop.

According to Paul Allsopp, managing director of The Agile Organisation, agile working is “about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how to achieve it).”

England’s largest local authority, Birmingham City Council (BCC) has led the way in reacting to the trend by modernising their back-office culture and buildings to transform the way they delivered their services in 2006. This included moving 78 offices into eight, which saved £100m, and creating optimal locations for 10,000 employees, such as the opportunity to do extra hours from home in the evenings.

Lloyds Banking Group, meanwhile, improved its job share register and launched an enhanced Shared Parental policy to offer greater choice and flexibility for its working parents in 2015, and the company is also investing £1bn over the next three years to improve its technology infrastructure in order to better aid agile working practices.

The Business Benefits of Agile Working

The BPS World poll found that 43% of people said their organisation is between 6-10% more productive thanks to agile working, and 10% even felt their organisation’s productivity was boosted by an impressive 20% because of it.  Most importantly, they reported that it is easier to attract talented employees, with 84% saying it’s easier to hire skilled staff.

A 2009 government report, Engaging for Success, also found that workplace flexibility improves team communication and productivity. Managers who participated in the study reported improved team communication, team interaction, productivity and even customer service. In fact, 98% of managers identified no negative impact of workplace flexibility on their business.  

There is no singular framework to follow when creating an agile workforce, but they often include a shift in managerial culture and mind-set, a willingness to engage and empower employees and then the implementation of flexible policies, new technology and workplace opportunities.

Megan Knapp, start-up coach and business strategist, offers four steps to an agile workforce: “To successfully implement an agile working programme, a company must make sure everyone’s on the same page and has similar benefits. People are people, and jealousy is inevitable, not to mention a tricky thing to manage. Agile working may not be applicable to every position, so how can the company account for those who won’t benefit from it? Or are there ways, like incorporating flexible hours instead of remote working, for these employees?

“Then, the issue of technology has to be addressed: what else do we need before we can successfully work remotely? Next, create a plan for keeping company culture up even with individuals working outside of the office. This may mean more informal events, conferences, or some face-to-face meetings to keep everyone feeling connected. It has to be addressed at a company level, as preferences will vary.”

She added: “Last, decide how progress will be monitored and performance will be reviewed. Will it still be by the hour? Will it be by the project? It’s up to you as a company.”

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