As described in my previous blog there has been an evolution of flexible working since the beginning of this millennium but the term essentially refers to working that covers all options of work-styles at times and place outside of traditional nine-to-five office-based tradition. However flexible working that uses the same processes and practices outside of normal working hours and/or at different locations is not Agile Working.
So how is Agile Working different? My dictionary defines agility as the ability to move nimbly with speed and ease. This is a definition of physical agility that could also be applied to an organisation that adopts Agile Working. While a definition of mental agility as flexibility of mind, a tendency to anticipate or adapt to uncertain or changing situations could be applied to employees engaged in Agile Working.
In his paper for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Paul Winter defines organisational agility as the ability to change routines without resistance. With this definition, the term Agile Working could be applied to any new office-based of ways working but most uses of the term imply that some form of flexible working is taking place, at least some of the time, outside the traditional office environment.
I shall sidestep a comparison of smart and agile working. As the implementation of Smart Working has largely neglected process improvement and nearly always applies to practices that reduce office space by encouraging staff to work at home and providing hotdesks when staff are in the office.
Defining Agile Working involves the ability to improve processes within a flexible working style. For employees this will require them to react quickly and appropriately regardless of where they are situated. In turn this requires employers empower their employees to work how and when they choose to maximise their productivity and provide service improvement. This promises to be a win-win situation. Organisations become more responsive and effective and their employees gain more control over the way they work.
So why is Agile Working not already happening? The adoption of agile working requires a culture change by both managers and employees. It has long been argued that employees adopting a flexible working work-style should be judged by their outcomes rather than the time spent doing their work. While this is certainly desirable for flexible working when traditional processes continued to be used, it becomes essential for the successful adoption of Agile Working. Agile Working requires management to take McGregor’s Management Theory Y view of their workforce i.e. they will exercise self-discipline and control and learn to accept and seek responsibility. This will be a challenge for Theory X managers who believe that their employees inherently dislike work and must therefore be coerced and controlled.
So a critical difference between other Agile Working and other forms of flexible working is commitment. While flexible working can be readily implemented with today’s technology Agile Working requires far more commitment from management and staff. However the potential gains are much greater. Many flexible working initiatives have been quite small scale with one-off savings but Agile Working promises transformational benefits of service improvements as well as continuing cost savings.
Written by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.