Agile Working Progression Model


There remains much confusion in the terms used for new ways of working and limited recognition of the benefits of to be gained from their adoption. The Agile Working Progression model seeks to provide a way of assessing how an organisation is progressing to true Agile Working. Technology has been a key enabler for the successful implementation of new ways of working. Also important are the working environments, management styles and tailored policies  to support staff in new ways of working. The model summarises best practice approaches for these workstyles. The stages in the model reflect the chronology in the development of technological developments to support new ways of working although individual organisations may have followed their own development paths. The term Flexible Working is excluded from the model as its meaning is interpreted in different ways.

jec-agile-working-graph-03_one_half.jpgThe Agile Working Progression Model © John Eary 2014

Stage 0 – Traditional Office Working

The office has been the traditional working environment for most of the last century with “folks like Dolly Parton on the job from 9 to 5”. The fixed location and time periods for work activities of the traditional office model offers certainty for both employers and employees.

Technologies needed for traditional office based working are now well established. Typically each office worker is assigned a designated desk on which a personal computer is permanently placed connected to a local area networked to other PCs so that emails can be sent and received and line of business applications can be accessed. Before the advent of the Cloud, security was relatively straightforward as most data and systems were contained within the perimeter of the building.

Managers who like to manage by walking about can feel they are in control as their staff are under their watchful eye. Meetings can be held at short notice as staff, who are not on leave or ill, are already on site. However to accommodate impromptu meetings, a significant part of the office accommodation needs to be dedicated to meeting rooms even if their utilisation is low. Technology requirements for meeting rooms rarely exceed a video projector and screen.

There is little incentive for process improvement as many costs are fixed. Where there is change new processes are likely to be closely prescribed with little scope for employees’ discretion in decision making. The traditional office workstyle suits employees who find routine comforting and enjoy the daily contact and support of their colleagues.

So there’s a lot to like about traditional office based working and this workstyle is still prevalent. However it comes at a price, in accommodation costs for the employer, and commuting costs for the employee.

Stage 1 – Flexitime

The first variation from the traditional office model occurred in 1971 with the invention of flex(i)time. This introduced the concept of ‘core time’ around which staff could choose when they started work and when they would finish to fulfil there contracted hours. Some schemes also enable staff to accumulate credits for extra time worked and take these as additional holiday. There is little change in workstyle apart from managers having to accept that not all staff will be present in the office throughout the normal working day. As work activities only takes place in the office there is no need to change technology or processes.

The main requirements of this workstyle are the need for a flexitime policy so management and staff are aware of the rules of the scheme and a mechanism for recording time worked, which may be software application or a more informal signing in system. Significantly the emphasis is on time spent in the office (working or not) while the quantity and quality of outputs are typically not measured.

Stage 2 – Home Working

The first change in work location for office-based staff was allowing staff to work at home. In the UK in 2003, the Government introduced legislation that gave parents the right to request a flexible working arrangement from their employer and this right has been extended to all employees in 2014. Working at home for part of their contracted working hours, as opposed to full time homebased working, has been a commonly requested flexible working arrangement. However, as well as these formal requests there are often more informal arrangements and there are also ‘Day Extenders’ – managers and staff who do a ‘full day’s work’ in the office but also work at home in the evenings and/or weekends catch up on emails or finish off a report.

While partial homeworking is normally an adjunct to the traditional office routine with little perturbation to processes this workstyle has additional technology requirements. Early connections over ISDN were often painfully slow but the increasing speeds of public broadband has put homeworkers at a much less disadvantage than their office based colleagues. At a minimum all staff working at home will require external email access. Many homeworkers will need equipment to access office systems. This equipment could be a corporately owned laptop or the employee’s personal PC ‘thin client’ software installed on it using the employee’s broadband service.

This workstyle poses additional security risks that need to be mitigated e.g. encryption to prevent data transmissions being ‘eavesdropped’. A homeworking policy should alert employees to privacy issues from other members of the household having sight of confidential data. The use of a house telephone for work purposes is an obvious no-no where there is a risk of other members of the household taking calls. The usual choice is between a corporately owned mobile phone or employees personal mobile phone where this is agreed by both parties. For calls to colleagues and management Skype may be an option.

Managers need to adapt their style to accommodate homeworking. They should ensure that home working staff are not excluded e.g. by arranging meetings at times when homeworking staff can visit the office.

Stage 3 – Mobile Working

Many staff, such as inspectors, service engineers and sales staff need to work “in the field” i.e. make regular visits to sites away from the office. A delegated management style enables mobile workers who enjoy some discretion in the decisions they make on the ground. However their decisions are often monitored closely through the examination of site visit reports and debriefs when they return to the office.

Technological developments for mobile working have been prolific  – laptops, tablets and smart phones and the coming wearable devices. These mobile devices need be connected through fast mobile data network (such as 3G or 4G networks), public and private Wi-Fi for email and messaging and access to line of business applications, for applications that are feasible for mobile working.

Mobile technology allows mobile workers to keep in touch with management, colleagues and clients also provide an opportunity to reduce travel time and costs. By enabling mobile workers to access the information while they are ‘on the job’ they can go straight to their first appointment from home rather than divert to the office. Similarly technology can enable mobile workers to file reports remotely without returning to the office saving further travel time and enabling greater efficiencies. These savings in commuting time can increase productivity through additional visits and/or reduced travel can contribute to the organisation’s green agenda.

The use of mobile devices creates additional security risks that need to be mitigated. There should be authentication measures to ensure that corporate systems and data are accessed by authorised employees. By using a Mobile Device Management system an organisation can lock down applications on the device or wipe data from the device if it has been lost or stolen.

In reality, although they may not regard themselves as mobile workers, these technologies have afforded managers and staff the same benefits, and security risks, when travelling to, and attending, offsite meetings. Therefore the appropriate use of mobile technology should be included in an augmented security policy for all staff.

Stage 4 – Smart Working

In Stage 2 organisations react staff requests for homeworking. When organisations adopt Smart Working staff are proactively encouraged to work at home for part of the working week. When staff are working in the office they are likely to be required to work at hot desks. Hotdesking breaks the link between individual staff and designated desks and therefore increases the flexibility of accommodation. As a result of these initiatives fewer desks, and other physical facilities, are needed so there is consequential reduction in office space required. This reduced requirement can be realised as a cash benefit from the sale, or rental, of surplus accommodation. This benefit is the driver for many Smart Working initiatives.

The hot desk area needs to be ergonomically well designed otherwise staff will be distinctly cool about hotdesking if the environment is inferior to the facilities they have previously enjoyed. Some hot desk areas are simply touch down points where staff can connect their portable device. Where equipment is provided, each hot desk needs to offer uniform technology features and a common desktop interface. Meeting rooms should be equipped with conference phones so staff working off-site can dial in and participate.

A wireless network supporting the hot desks and meeting rooms will offer advantages of convenience although the increase vulnerability to external eavesdropping will need to be addressed. The adoption of Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) provides additional flexibility as it enables communications services such as voice, SMS, and voice messaging over the public Internet. Staff member’s phone number can be routed to their temporary hot desk. As well as flexibility calls via VoIP can be made at much less cost than via the public switched telephone network. A Smart Working policy should define employer and employee responsibilities incorporate a procedure for the booking of hot desks.

The other benefit promised by Smart Working is summed up by the slogan, ‘work smarter not harder’. To realise this benefit existing procedures need to be examined to identify opportunities for business process improvement. Smart Working assumes that a proportion of the work activities will routinely be carried out away from the office. The organisation can continue to provide its services at appropriate and acceptable levels when staff are working away form the office. Unless web based, line of business application systems will need to be tested and possibly modified to ensure that their performance is not significantly inferior to that when used in the office environment.

Moving paper to and from offices is neither desirable nor feasible and Smart Working requires organisations to switch to  readily accessible electronic documents. The implementation of an Electronic Document and Records Management system (EDRMS) will enable documents to be managed effectively and securely.

Stage 5 –  Agile Working

Agile Working differs from Smart Working in that it is transformational i.e. based on fundamental changes in working practices rather then incremental improvements. With Agile Working performance is explicitly based on objective measures of output, and managers need to allow flexibility in how these outputs are achieved. Similarly Agile Workers can choose when and where they carry out their work activities provided they fulfil the business need.

Technology has evolved to support Agile Working In an increasingly connected digital world exploiting newly available technologies such as the Cloud. Unified communications and collaboration services can bring together all fixed, mobile and desktop communications services in one integrated platform that is accessible from any device. This technology enables each employee to have a single incoming and outgoing phone number across their fixed, mobile and desktop phone as well as one voicemail box and contact directory. This unified approach extends to collaboration tools so employees can easily share ideas through instant messaging, video conferencing or through enterprise social media tools on any device through the same unified application. A specific example is screen sharing where participants in a videoconference can simultaneously see documents such as spreadsheets and presentations.

Increasingly staff are willing, and expecting, to use their personally owned smart phones, tablets and other devices for work activities. Organisations need a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy that sets staff responsibilities in the use of the organisation’s systems and data on their own devices and define what support the organisation is able to offer to staff who wish to use their personal devices for work activities.

As well as holding personal and business information on the same device Agile Working often requires staff to mix their business and personal time to meet deadlines or provide a timely response. In this new way of working, sometimes called a connected lifestyle, work-life balance becomes work-life integration.

Agile Workers require a conducive environment for work activities that add value for their organisation. Quiet areas for reflective activities such as report writing and stimulating areas that inspire and support creative activities. While some organisations will provide these areas within their own premises others will identify appropriate independently managed co-working spaces providing further stimulation of developing ideas with employees from other organisations.

To realise the benefits of true Agile Working managers will need to engender a significant change of culture and ensure that staff who are working in a more autonomous way feel valued and supported. A light touch management style is needed based on results measured on agreed targets. Agile Workers need to be empowered to make their own decisions within their competence and to react quickly and appropriately regardless of where they are situated. Agile Working cannot be dictated by policy but with education and involvement a voluntary commitment to Agile Working can be elicited from employees.

To discuss the model, and how it is relevant to your organisation, contact John Eary, on or 07703 501135.
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