Making Agile Working Work

With business rates in the news almost weekly, it is not surprising that many organisations are looking at introducing agile working as a way to downsize the amount of office space they need whilst maintaining employee productivity levels.

Obviously, agile working is not suitable for every business, but if you are looking to introduce it what do you need to consider in order to make it work?

Remote working and telecommuting has been popular for a while, but working in this way can cause communication and collaboration problems, which is why some businesses are looking to bring their remote workers back into the office, at least for some of the time.

The idea behind agile working is the creation of an environment where people are free to work anywhere and at any time. As such, an agile working environments empower employees as they are allowed to get their work done at their own pace. Such environments are particularly attractive to the so-called millennial workers, who desire flexibility and want to know “why” they should do something rather than just following instructions.

However, creating an agile working environment is a significant change and is likely to be resisted by workers who are happy with the way things are.

If a company is to invest in making agile working work (and a significant investment will be required) the management team need to first understand what conditions are necessary for agile working to be effective and then know how to create the new environment so the change produces minimal resistance and maximum efficiency.

One of the benefits of agile working is that it breaks down the physical barriers that separate works in different departments. As such it creates a place where people from different areas of the business are more able to collaborate and share information with one another. However, if this culture of collaboration does not already exist, then simply introducing agile working will not make it happen. A culture of equality, ethical views, and encouraging workers to speak up with concerns must already exist, and this requires skilled people managers. A well trained management team is therefore an essential pre-requisite, particularly if managers are not confident about managing remote teams.

Agile working is often introduced in order to reduce the amount of office space needed, so reducing the fixed overhead costs such as heating, rent etc. However effective agile working environments require the provision of adequate private spaces for individuals, or small groups, to work in. If you are to move to agile working then you must ensure that there are enough “private” spaces for workers to be by themselves, develop a good system that will allow workers to quickly find a place to work, and give them a way to quickly locate where their important colleagues are working.

You are highly unlikely to get the space allocation right immediately. Some agile workspaces you create will be popular and some will be underused. Whilst you can do manual checks to find out which workspaces are effective, it is better to collect such data using technology (eg sensors) to detect both when and where people are using the various working spaces provided.

You will need to be open about the collection of such data, as some of your employees may feel threatened by it. Let them know that the data is collected in an anonymous way and show them how it is used to improve the workspace..

Technology has certainly played a major role in allowing agile working to be effective. So if you want to introduce it, ensure that you also supply technology which makes it easier for people to move around – such as smaller laptops, access to docking stations and follow-me printing.

One of the transition challenges you will face when moving to agile working is that many employees like having a place which is “theirs.” They like to personalise their space with photographs and pictures and this gives them a sense of belonging. Even if this is not the case, it is inevitable that there will be some disputes to get the most “desirable” spots.

For this reason, do not move to agile working all at once. Start with a small test group of employees who already work remotely for some of the time. Then over time, move to a system where more workers start to share working space.