In the age of the agile worker, nothing it seems is fixed…

In the age of the agile worker, nothing it seems is fixed…not your job, your place of work, or the hours you work. So, what are the changes that will lead us to abandon the old ways of thinking?

How many jobs would you like?

Increasingly, these days, your job may not be a job. Often people combine contract and freelance projects with more regular employment, or have a main job, but do a variety of things on the side.

So many of the people I know in business have multiple income streams. My main job is running the Colston Office Centre and I love it, but I also host wine tastings and work front of house at a variety of events and functions evenings and weekends. I also help on one or two marketing and copywriting projects, plus little ad-hoc work for various charities, in my spare time.

Some of this activity earns me a few extra quid, but mainly it is about developing my skills and interests and doing things I enjoy. I also meet more people, learn more and find that all the activities feed into, and are enhanced by, each other.

I think many people are fed up with idea of long days at a desk doing what you hate. We often hear about work/life balance, which is a phrase I hate because it implies work is not life. It is and it should be enjoyed and add value to your existence.

And, if we expand you job into your career, again we find less people sticking to the same task (let alone the same job) for life. Many want to change around, move on, learn, gain skills, develop ideas and get more out of their work.

Of course, this is not all about unlimited freedom and choice – our society is not quite that enlightened yet. It is also a response to the economic situation and to the desire to balance work with the other areas of our lives – family, friends, hobbies, etc.

So our job is often something of a moveable feast and even our goals are more likely to change throughout our careers. For example, children can change the way not only mothers but also fathers feel about work – so much so that some dads opt to stay home.

Moving through time and space

Many of us still have a fixed location for work, but changes have already occurred and are likely to continue apace.

More companies are waking up to the benefits of flexible working for employees. It is part economic imperative and part social pressure. When employees truly have flexibility over when and where they can work, not only does productivity and engagement increase, but there are savings to be made on office space, utilities and equipment costs.

Organisations like BT, Microsoft, HP, HSBC, for example, have adopted some or all of these practices. Flexible working means less staff on site at any one time; hot-desking takes advantage of this and of other absences (like illness and off-site meetings); space can be designed around this fluidity so that, even if you work in only one location, the chances are your work space is a movable feast.

That is without the growing army of entrepreneurs and employees that work from home, coffee shops, hotels, client sites, co-working spaces, airports, trains, even the car.

This means that even having your own desk is no longer sacrosanct, never mind a regular office environment.

Open all hours

Potentially this is the biggest change: the idea that we can work when, where and how we like. However, it is not yet common practice, or even that common.

The legacy of the industrial age – of hours spent at the workstation – lasted right through the end of the last century and into this one. Many entrepreneurs, freelancers, mobile workers, etc are fully aware of what is open to them, but far fewer employers are similarly enlightened.

You can look at flexible hours as a sign of change, but even if your employer allows you to start late or finish early, he will still very likely be monitoring your hours in some way and expecting those hours to amount to something.

What I am talking about here is a change in attitude that replaces hours worked as a method of measuring staff, and concentrates instead on performance. If an employee is making a positive contribution to the business and if they deliver to brief and to deadline, then when, where and how long they work becomes much less important.

As various studies have shown, giving genuine flexibility in this way creates happier and more engaged staff and improves productivity. This is because we all respond well to being trusted and being given responsibility for our actions. Our lives also improve if we can better balance work with family and social needs.

A possible downside to this is often seen in the current ‘always-on’ culture of mobile technology and the blurring of boundaries between work, social and leisure. Certainly some may suffer from this – I know I like to have clear delineation. But I am old school and, while I might need some time to acclimatise to these changes, I don’t see younger people having the same problem.

Another important benefit from truly agile working is less commuting: fewer journeys to work; shorter journey times when you do go, due to travelling out of rush hour; reduced stress; cheaper fares and less petrol costs; fewer parking spaces required by businesses; reduction in parking costs for employees without a company space and so on.

All this saves individuals time, reduces congestion and decreases environmental impact. By creating a much more fluid working environment, companies can genuinely help to reduce their carbon footprint through these practices, increase productivity and boost profits.

Who and what are you working with?

The concern with different working habits is what happens to the team, to communication and to the development of relationships, not just with each other but with senior management and clients also.

Here is where technology plays an important part. With VOIP telephones, Skype, Google Chat, mobile devices, cloud software, etc., everyone can connect with everyone else wherever and whenever they are.

It also helps if your data is freely accessible. Whether this is in-house, in the cloud or in a hybrid set-up, it is important that everyone can update and see updates, input and share information from home, on the move or client sites as well as in the office.

Investment in technology, from IT infrastructure to suitable mobile devices and security protocols, will be required as well as training to ensure employees know how to work and what is expected of them.

Like everything in life, the key is balance. We are social animals and benefit most from physical contact. As long as absences and technology-enabled contact is countered with regular, physical contact, teams can be coherent and strong.

Needless to say, there are often limits to how much you can put these changes into practice.

Businesses will often need a central admin core at all times. Sectors like manufacturing and catering do not lend themselves to this style of work and any direct sales force will usually have to stay within regular office hours.

However, that still leaves a great number of workers who can benefit from connecting with colleagues, clients and data from more than one place.

Who do you think you are?

Increasingly, people are rejecting money as the focus of their lives and looking for more in the way of self-development. Whether through family and friends, networking, studying or through the way we develop at work, there has never been so much flexibility about how we live our lives.

Of course, in difficult economic circumstances, this is tempered for some by concerns about job security and compromised incomes.

Nevertheless, there does seem a shift away from chasing dreams toward creating them; an idea that pursuing more personal goals, rather than the traditional goals society creates (a good job, salary, house, etc,) can be more fulfilling; and that family and social needs are more important than money, per se.

There is more choice than ever about who we work for, how we work and how work balances with the rest of our lives. We are demanding more and there are more opportunities do things differently.

In the age of the agile worker, the only thing that is fixed is the belief that we have to stick to the old rules.


For more information on this, here are some interesting articles:

Changing office space and working practices from Flexibility

More space with less property from Flexibility

Britain’s Young Strivers not afraid to start up from Business Matters:

Spaceless growth, hidden opportunity from The Agile Organisation:

An earlier blog

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