Organisations that do not adopt agile working practices could struggle to compete globally and attract the talent they need.

Technological advancements, demographic changes and increasing customer expectations mean the world of business is evolving and altering the way people need to work. 

There are fears the UK economy could suffer if employers do not refine how, where and when their staff work. Those that are more agile and are better able to match their workforce to fluctuations in demand see boosts in productivity, a reduction in staff turnover, a drop in sickness absenteeism and improved customer loyalty.

The modern workforce is changing. The nine-hour work day and five-day working week is becoming irrelevant to the modern workforce and global business needs.

 

Adopting Agile

 

Fiona Cannon, group director diversity and inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group and director of the Agile Future Forum (AFF), says a move to more agile working is a serious business issue. The companies that match the needs of the organisation with those of the employees could save between 3-13 per cent of workforce costs.

Lloyds Banking Group was one of the AFF’s 22 founding members along with John Lewis, McKinsey, Cisco, Eversheds, BT, ITV, Ford and KPMG.  There are now about 130 members with technology giant Microsoft a recent recruit.

“Traditional models of work have come under strain,” says Cannon. “Being more agile helps companies of all sizes to compete in a global market but it must be business-led and not just left to the HR department to implement. Every business unit will have different corporate and staff needs.”

There are many examples where agile working has been implemented effectively. For example, when a call centre wanted to introduce an extra shift pattern on a Friday night it struggled to convince its younger workers to sign up. It meant bosses and workers had to collaborate to find a solution.

For project managers the shift to more agile working means joining up all the moving parts within a more nimble organisation. Technology must support the agile approach and staff encouraged to work differently so travel and meeting arrangements become more efficient.

Some of the biggest barriers come from sceptical senior executives or systems and processes not being designed to manage a more nimble workforce. Business leaders must accept the idea of working differently and managers need the mind-set, capacity and skill to manage a more dynamic resourcing model and assess outcomes instead of activity.

Agile working is being adopted by smaller organisations too. Some are making big strategic decisions like adapting pension policies to allow for staged retirement, or moving certain departments to annualised hours to allow for peaks and troughs in demand. For SMEs, it could be as simple as multi-skilling the entire workforce to cover each job role to allow for more flexibility.

 

So what about the future?

 

Traditional employers will have to respond to changing customer and employee demands. But to become more agile they will need a deeper understanding of their business and people.

The world of work is changing and the new generation and the leaders of tomorrow have a variety of needs and expectations. Companies must think again about the way they operate and the pressures they place on their workforce to perform and meet customer demand.

Stephen Jones, chairman of the Association for Project Management (APM) Planning, Monitoring and Control Specific Interest Group (SIG), says customer satisfaction and staff performance will improve as more organisations work in an agile way.

“In my current role I don't clock on or off. I can start at any time before 9.30am and finish any time after 4pm. I just need to work an average of 37 hours per week over an eight week period,” he says.  “If my hours are flexible then so am I.  People are arriving at different times to suit themselves so there is usually someone in the office from 7am until 6pm which results in better customer service.”