Agile working can help your organisation attract and retain talent and create a workplace that keeps your employees motivated.
Whether you adopt it in your department or across your whole organisation, there are commercial and cultural, as well as legal, factors to consider.
Is agile working right for my organisation?
Competition for talent across all functions in the modern workplace is as fierce as ever. And recently, alongside salaries, bonus structures, personal development plans and other employee benefits, we’ve seen the emergence of agile working as a major incentive in the recruiter’s toolkit.
What is agile working?
The term agile working refers to the range of options an employer can offer its employees regarding how, where and when they get their work done.
The overriding focus behind agile working is on the quality of the work and what it contributes and achieves rather than exactly when and where it’s carried out.
For the avoidance of confusion, the agile working we’re looking at here is distinct from Agile Project Management and Agile Software Development. These are processes developed specifically for the creation and ongoing improvement of IT projects.
The aim of agile working is to empower everyone to work to their full potential. We’re all different. Some of us like to be surrounded by colleagues while others do their best work in splendid isolation. Some of us are early birds, others night owls (or at best late risers). Your home life may dictate that you compress your full-time working week into four days, while for others, a split shift is the ideal alternative to the 9-5 Monday to Friday standard business day.
What agile working could look like
Clearly, some roles within an organisation lend themselves to agile working more than others. Factors such as skills specialism, urgency and interdependence on other roles, for example, could either limit or enhance an employee’s options.
As a general guide, however, some of the most common types of agile working include:
Working from home
Ideal for field-based employees and people who can submit their work by way of email, virtual private networks (VPNs) and online collaboration apps. Many employees who work from home (or from desk co-working locations) put in longer hours, free from the worry of cancelled trains or gridlocked roads extending their working day.
Pros for employer: greater productivity; a happier employee; cost savings in office space and workstations.
Pros for employee: no commute; greater autonomy; no workplace distractions.
Cons for employer: loss of employee oversight; it may be hard to make contact with employee.
Cons for employee: no personal colleague interaction; isolated from organisation’s culture.
Increasingly popular, job sharing sees two people being employed part-time to share a position that would otherwise be held by one full-time employee. It allows the role-holders to work reduced hours without losing seniority and cooperate with each other on both operational issues and actual working shifts. Caution: Job sharing really only works when both job holders get on and work well together.
Pros for the employer: two heads instead of one mean more insight, creative thinking and problem solving potential; where flexibility allows, it’s easy to arrange holiday and sickness cover.
Pros for employees: greater work/life balance; peace of mind when they can trust the other role holder.
Cons for employer: greater HR workload; potential conflict between role holders.
Cons or employees: potential conflict or ‘competition’ with other role holder; possibility of differing operational priorities.
This is where an employee works a full time working week, but not necessarily over five working days. A typical example is where an employee with a 40-hour per week contract works 10 hours per day from Monday to Thursday, with Friday part of their extended weekend.
Pros for the employer: a full time contribution from employee; greater motivation.
Pros for the employee: no loss of income; a long weekend – every weekend.
Cons for the employer: reduced employer availability for meetings etc; possible increased stress and fatigue on employee.
Cons for employee: physically and mentally draining work schedule; possible difficulties in securing adequate childcare; possible exclusion from after-work social activities.
This allows employees a degree of choice over when they work their contracted weekly hours. There’s usually a core element of required hours that the employee must work, (say 11.00am to 4.00pm) with the remaining hours chosen by the employee.
Pros for employer: attracts employees with other life commitments, such as caring or second jobs; helps to keep round-the-clock cover.
Pros for employee: provides flexibility to meet non-work commitments or maximise work/life balance; opportunity to commute outside rush hour.
Cons for employer: possible increased admin for timekeeping/payroll etc; possible loss of continuity in daily operations.
Cons for employee: potential disruption to sense of team spirit; possibility of being called to meetings in 'off time'.
A split shift sees an employee work twice in a single day. This could be a morning shift from say, 7.00am to 10.00am followed by a further shift from 3.00pm to 6.00pm. Common among workers such as school bus drivers, though increasingly popular with parents, carers and people with second jobs or outside business interests.
Pros for employers: increases their appeal to a wider range of employees; can enable deployment of people when and where they’re needed most.
Pros for employees: allows work to slot into convenient ‘windows’; offers variation of activity throughout the day; can avoid peak time fees for gyms, cinemas, etc.
Cons for employees: potential loss of continuity; possible need to cover hours between shifts (see job sharing).
Cons for employers: possible doubling up on commuting times and costs; possible loss of motivation to return to work for second shift.
What else should I consider?
As well as the pros mentioned above (and there are doubtless many more, depending on both employers’ and employees’ priorities) organisations that embrace agile working tend to enjoy greater staff morale, engagement and commitment from their workers. Reduced absenteeism and improved employee retention are also possible.
You may, however, need to think about more than just offering people greater choice over where and when they work. How, for example, will agile working affect the workplace itself? Is hot desking in an open plan environment more appropriate than rows of single offices? Will you need all those expensive parking spaces/passes your organisation is paying for any more? And can agile working go hand in hand with the rise in the BYOD (bring your own device) trend?
Depending on the existing culture within your organisation, you may need to consider organisational change as a prerequisite to adopting agile working.
And, as a responsible GC of course, you will need to be fully up to speed on current employment law when you prepare your employee contracts.
Agile working (as opposed to Agile Project Management) is about creating the conditions for your employees to be as motivated and productive as possible. By focusing on outcomes rather than defined times and places, it gives employees as much control over how, when and where they work as the organisation can offer. Types of agile working include working from home, job sharing, compressed working, flexitime and split shifts. All have their own pros and cons, however, agile working is generally seen as advantageous to employers. It may involve cultural change – and it’s essential to be mindful of employment law when considering your options.