Let's get agile!

By its very nature, 'agile working' - which implies being fleet of foot and responsive to change - is difficult for some to define.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 17 August 2020
Let's get agile!
One of the biggest problems is the assumption that flexible working and agile working are interchangeable terms. While the latter can incorporate elements of flexible working, such as allowing employees to work from home, agile working takes the concept a step further.

As business consultant John Eary explains, agile working introduces a "third dimension of flexibility"; namely, autonomy. [1] In other words, companies adopting the agile working model empower people to choose how they work in order to meet their goals to the standards required. It's based on the concept that work is an activity we do, rather than a place we go. If a member of your team wants to finish up that report on their laptop in a coffee shop, does it matter that they're not sitting at their desk? The only thing that really matters, after all, is the report.

Getting started

With the above example in mind, one of the first practical steps employers can take is reassessing the traditional workplace. For agile working to happen, the space you create should be adaptable and fluid, so work can be taken from one place to another. It's also important not to create barriers between 'social' and 'work' areas, so employees don't feel like part of a "divided workforce". [2]

While you won't necessarily want to see meetings being held on a sofa while playing an Xbox, it's worth consulting staff on the kind of environment in which they'd like to work. After all, one of the key things an employer must give a team working in a new, agile environment is trust. If they're given the freedom to get on with their jobs in their own way without having to 'check in' with their boss every five minutes, chances are they'll feel happier and, as a result, be more productive.

The benefits of agile working

Agile working is capable of meeting customer needs while benefitting the organisation in a number of ways, including:
  • Reduced overheads. A move away from traditional office space means organisations can save on rent and other business costs such as service charges, heating and maintenance.
  • Increased productivity. Creating an efficient and optimal working area can help your team to feel energised and motivated.
  • Enhanced corporate reputation. A well-advertised and successful agile working environment reflects well on your brand and helps to continually attract and retain the best people.
  • Greater sustainability. Designing a new office environment and different ways of working present the opportunity to create a greener and smarter workplace. This can greatly improve sustainability while reducing your company's carbon footprint.


Who is being agile?

Agile working is no mere buzz term - it's big business. Lloyds Banking Group, for example, announced it was investing £1 billion over three years to improve its technology infrastructure "for agile working to be embedded in the business and seamless services to be delivered to our customers". [3] And you don't have to look far to find other big-name companies embracing agile working, including Google, Facebook and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ).

International business author Alison Maitland cites global consumer goods company Unilever as a prime example of an organisation that does agility well. "They have very clear principles for agile working that they set out, which apply globally, such as all employees may work anytime and anywhere, as long as the business needs are fully met. Leaders must also lead by example, working in agile ways themselves and with performances determined by results, not time and attendance." [4]

Agile tips for employees

We know what kind of steps employers can take to aid agile working, but what about employees? Here are some simple things you and your team members can do to help you be more agile and effective: [5]
  • Get equipped. If you're not au fait with how to use Skype or how to access your desktop remotely, get fully trained up. It will save a lot of time and hassle in the long run.
  • Be organised. If you're out and about and on your own, it's important to have the things you need to do your job. However, you will also need to de-clutter first. Store what you can electronically and make good use of files and folders.
  • Stay in touch. Working on your own can be productive, but it can also be isolating. Keep in regular contact with your team by phone or video catch-ups, or arrange face-to-face meetings if practical.
  • Prioritise. Make a list at the start of each day and ensure as much as possible that you don't deviate from what needs to be done.

When implemented properly, agile working can have significant benefits for both employers and employees. While businesses will be able to reap the rewards of an invigorated workforce and fewer overheads, staff can benefit from a change of scene and gain confidence from their new-found autonomy . While it won't be a system that works for everyone, you can pick and choose the bits that will suit your business model. 

[1] John Eary, 'Agile working made simple - defining agile working and how it is different from flexible working'. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/agile-working-made-simple-defining-how-different-from-john-eary/ (accessed 4 February 2018).
[2] Nick Pryke, ‘Quick-fire tips on agile working’. Available at: https://www.oktra.co.uk/insights/ (accessed 4 February 2018).
[3] Lloyds, ‘Agile working’. Available at: https://www.lloydsbankinggroup.com/our-group/responsible-business/inclusion-and-diversity/agile-working/ (accessed 7 March 2019).
[4] Alison Maitland, speaking in the GoodPractice toolkit interview ‘Future Work: the World of Work’.
[5] Baker Stuart, 'Ten Top Tips for Agile Working'. Available at: https://bakerstuart.com/top-%20tips-for-agile-working/ (accessed 5 February 2018).

About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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