How Agile Workers perform best

  26 Oct 2015   JohnEary

Illustration of business people

Most analyses of agile workers’ requirements are based on workstyles related to job roles e.g. office-based working, homeworking, mobile working etc. However the successful introduction of new ways of working relies on the willingness of the people occupying the job roles to embrace new ways of working – Agile Working needs to accommodate their personalities. However until now there has been little investigation of the needs of Agile Workers with different personality types beyond looking at the needs of extroverts and introverts.

We recently undertook research that looked at the links between Agile Working, personality and performance to see if different people are more suited to different ways of working and if organisations should use different approaches to Agile Working employees to increase their productivity. The research was commissioned by the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei) with sponsorship from DWF (a major law firm) and Santander. Employees and managers from Birmingham City Council, the
Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice and the
 NHS also participated in the survey, 584 in total. The research examined four main personality types based on the DiSC® profiling technique summarised in the figure.


The DiSC personality types

Attitudes to Agile Working

We found differences, as well as commonalities, in both performance and attitudes to Agile Working. Those with an Influential personality profile appeared to have the most challenges, particularly with team working although this was also an issue across a number of personality types. Team working was the only example of Agile Working having a negative impact on performance. Overall, less than a third of Agile Workers felt their way of working had a positive effect on team working with some believing it had a negative effect. Furthermore 20% of employees with a Conscientious personality felt Agile Working had a negative impact on teamworking, more than those with a positive view. A third of respondents with an Influential personality held a negative view, but this was matched with those who had a positive view.

While all participants valued reliable technology there was little interest in more sophisticated technology tools and surprisingly only a small proportion rated a good workplace as very important. In general there were no significant differences between respondents based on age, gender, job role, length in job role or employment status. Team working is clearly an important factor in performance but is difficult to get right. From the survey responses it appears that the implementation of Agile Working in a number of the participating organisations has not effectively addressed teamworking. Furthermore our survey suggests that social events and social media, or the way they were being used, were not regarded as relevant by the survey respondents.

WP-Fig6.jpgAgile Workers views’ on Teamworking

Managing Agile Workers

We concluded that employees need to be managed in different ways:

  • Dominant employees are most likely to enjoy the control available by Agile Working, and will be focussed, needing minimal supervision or interaction.
  • Influential employees will require strong management through direction, expectation setting and opportunities to communicate with the wider team and may need more regular communication than others.
  • Steadfast employees may find Agile Working harder to adapt to and be more likely to work 9-5 anyway.
  • Conscientious employees are likely to thrive in an Agile Working environment without distractions, but require supervision to ensure that they do not work excessive hours and burn out.

Performance and Agile Working

Organisations also need to focus on of the factors that contribute to effective performance for Agile Working for all employees, specifically communication, effective teamwork and diary management to overcome the lack of face-to-face interaction between agile workers, their colleagues and their line managers. The provision of appropriate reliable technology was important to enable fast reliable networks, good remote access to data and application systems that work well when used remotely.

Our research showed that there are clear business benefits from organisations adopting Agile Working and the performance benefits are likely to be greater when staff are involved in its implementation. The lack of face to face interaction between agile workers, their colleagues and their line managers can be overcome through the use of effective communications and conferencing facilities, and through manager training. The research found that if managers are not good role models or fail to be ambassadors for Agile Working its implementation has less chance of sustained success.

Clearly a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to succeed. The conclusion is that the key to obtaining good performance from adopting Agile Working is to recognise the needs of staff with different personality profiles.

paper in Work and Place journal provides more results from this research.

john-eary-100x100-01.jpgWritten 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.

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