A significant number of businesses, large and small, are embracing agile working, not just to follow government guidelines on being flexible about when employees work, but looking at how and where they work. The benefits are not just in cost savings but also in better employees and business performance. In this, the second in our Future of Work series, we look at agile working and it’s benefits in more detail.
What is agile working?
Agile working is more than flexible working, because it is not just about time. Many companies will allow staff to start the day earlier or later or work around childcare issues. However, this is not enough. To be truly agile, companies are looking at empowering employees to work where and how they will perform best. This may involve the office, but may also involve other places of work that fits individual needs and lifestyle. Agile working can be described as fluid, flexible and adaptive and it asks the questions of when, where and how work should be undertaken and how the value of the work should be assessed.
So what are the alternatives to a full time, private office?
- Home working – this is the first choice for many for convenience, avoiding the commute and working around family life. All that is required is, ideally, a separate working area, good broadband and at least one mobile device. Virtual office facilities can be utilised if needed, even a complete virtual desktop, with software, email, etc as part of a package or simply using Google, Dropbox or similar. This is easily manageable for freelancers and mobile workers, start-ups and small businesses.
- Co-working – this is an open space with workstations, informal and formal meeting areas, possibly some smaller booths for concentration and support facilities like copying, fax, admin support, etc. Most will have mentoring, business support services and events, acting a lot like incubation hubs which make them suitable for per-start and start-ups and particularly those in creative and technology sectors. It is a very flexible form of space and low cost.
- Mobile working – there is usually a specific reason why people are mobile and sales representatives is the obvious example, although regional managers, exhibition company workers and trades people are further examples of those who are rarely in one place. Just as for the home office, there is an array of services available to make working on the move easy and affordable, like cloud products and telephone answering services. Additionally, mobile workers may need hot-desk services, meeting rooms, cafes, etc to touch down and meet with colleagues and clients. Mobile workers may have no fixed base, work alone or be a part of a larger company.
- Third places – an array of additional places to work include cafes, libraries, trains, client offices, etc.
Benefits of agile working
Many organisations have already seen the benefits of flexible working, which include happier and more productive employees and real estate cost savings. BT’s own Workstyle case study (Flexible Working, 2007) clearly illustrates many of these points:
- 70% of staff are flexible workers
- Home workers handle 20% more calls and take 63% less sick leave than office-based staff
- 99% retention rate following maternity leave
- Over €725m a year saved through reduced office estate
- €104m a year saved in reduced accommodation costs from home working
For small businesses and start-ups, the adoption of technology is fairly straightforward and low cost and the economic climate is not slowing down start-up rates: according to Start-up Britain, there will be over 500,000 start-ups this year, as opposed to 484,224 in 2012 and 440,600 in 2011. For larger companies, the cost of the IT infrastructure required to facilitate agile working are more than outweighed by the savings made.
According to research undertaken by the Agile Future Forum (AFF) in 2013, most value created by agile working is in adapting to fluctuations in demand, increasing quality of outputs through training and attraction and retention of staff with flexible work patterns that increase engagement, productivity and happiness.
Costs can also be saved by avoiding the time, stress and fuel involved in commuting, which reduces the carbon footprint of the business. In turn, for the wider environment, these actions use fewer resources and ease congestion, helping to substantiate any claims a business may make concerning corporate social responsibility.
This still leaves the question of how dispersed teams should be managed, which will be discussed in the last blog of the series: Working in the future, now.