Agile Working

On Friday, as we gathered in the school playground to pick up our kids on the last day of term, there was a giant cloud hovering over the playground. For once I mean a metaphorical cloud, the sun was actually doing A* shining up in the sky that day.

The mood was bleak and sodden because parents were about to embark upon the dreaded summer break. For the working parents the triple-multi-tasking of job and childcare begins. Meanwhile for the stay-at-homers the relentlessness of entertaining their offspring for 6 weeks was about to seriously challenge their sanity.

For the last two Summers I have been an in-betweener, in so much as I broke with my long tradition of full time work to go freelance and part-time for a few years. So for us, the start of the Summer holidays is totally thrilling. Choc-Ices for breakfast, the french windows flung open revealing football on tap, me on a video conference chatting away, and all of us having a whale of a time.

The only thing missing is the Pimms.

That’s because while the boys play football and climb the dizzy heights of the wendy house roof to sit and talk tactics, I am actually working. Technology has made it possible for me to work anywhere. I have even worked on a contract while on board a friends yacht in the South of France (Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds) and my client didn’t know the difference. As long as I delivered, why should it matter where I work.

Therein lies the rub however. It seems that for most of us there is a culture of distrust prevailing in our workplaces, where working from home can only mean one thing. Shirking from home.

Even, London mayor, Boris Johnson capitulated on the whole WFH thing during the Olympics, calling it a ‘skivers paradise’ and that most people who worked from home would ‘sit and gorge on cheese from the fridge’. (I actually think that last quote says more about Boris then it does about what he calls ‘general malingerers’…).

Technology can allow us the possibility never to actually work in the same office as our peers. I have one colleague who works from home the entire time. The offices are in Old Street, London. His home is in Israel.

O2 introduced a trial flexi working day at its offices in Slough in preparation for the Olympics. On that day just 10% of staff showed up for work and then only because WFH wasn’t practical for their particular output. O2 surveyed staff to find out what they experienced on the day. Some 88% thought that they were as least as productive as normal and 36% felt they were more productive.

BT have also done some work in this space. Their report stated that an £87m saving was made in 2009 / 10 via home-working and conferencing, with a 20% increase in productivity. They also reduced absenteeism by 63%, saved £550 million on estate costs, and most tellingly achieved 96% of their new mums returning back to work. That’s twice the national average.

In my last corporate role, I managed a global team. There was no way I could lead or manage through presenteeism. Not unless I could do some serious teleporting to follow the sun every day. The working culture had to be based on trust, along with people understanding the impact to others if they didn’t deliver. It mostly worked too, with some learnings along the way. Interestingly, as a by-product our organisational structure (organically rather than by design) became flatter and less hierarchical. (I am also a passionate advocate of Collaborative Leadership, so this was a welcome addition).

It’s no surprise that it’s tech’ based companies that have lead the way in this space. If they can’t make it work then no one can. That said, and it’s born out in BT’s report, it’s a culture shift alongside technology alignment that really drives the benefits of mobile working forward.

So what are the elements we need to consider to drive greater adoption of mobile technologies:

1. People. Always start with your workforce, and those towards the frontline. As it is they that are often disconnected from the overarching strategic vision. Can productivity be measured positively by working away from the workplace? Understand their demographic, their psychographic (essentially their appetite and capacity for change). Work with them to identify opportunities for change. It is them that will help you drive the changes through, so make sure it’s devised for them, by them and truly enables what they do.

2. Strong Leaders. Leaders need to be visible and open about the degrees of flexibility they already enjoy and more vocal about a worker’s contribution to the value they bring to the business rather than the hours they work. Fundamentally focus needs to be outcome based and the leaders need to help their managers to understand the difference.

 3. The Team Rather than The Individual. Shifting the focus from individuals who ‘get flexible hours’ (usually working mothers) to what the team need to achieve and how they are to achieve it. This is quite a seismic shift culturally for most organisations, as it moves the focus towards a collective responsibility for more positive outcomes. Think of it like a virtual game of football all coming together for the common goal (pun intended) regardless of where they are playing.

4. Technology. It seems obvious to say it, however, the technology really needs utilisation capacity to support concurrent workers accessing the network. If internal systems cannot be accessed without giant delays, or home bandwidth is limited, then the ideal isn’t going to work. And that means partnering with the technologists to make sure that all scenarios are covered. I worked with an organisation recently where HR and senior management had worked with facilities on a flexible working initiative. Essentially to decrease real estate costs and work towards their sustainability agenda and CSR, only for them to be scuppered because they only had remote access capability in place for less that 5% of the workforce. (Read senior management).

So while some live and breathe agile or mobile working and the technology is definitely there to support it, there is still a long way to go culturally before it’s a sustainable and common working practice.

While Writing This Blog:
Cups of tea made = 3
Loads of Washing Completed  = 2
Goals Scored = 8
Work Calls = 6
Cheese Gorged on from the Fridge = 0
This entry was posted in Agile Working, Business Relationship Management, ITIL, Usage and Adoption of Technology, Video Conferencing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Agile Working

  1. I really concur with the requirement for the technology to work. I am presently recovering from glandular fever and so suffering from post viral exhaustion. To help me get back to my part time work I have been working from home (to save a two hour daily commute). My employers have got a remote working set up that really does work and my productivity has been high. It has been an eye opener about what a difference having a truly effective technology set up makes.

  2. Michelle Goff says:

    Love this article. Boris is an idiot and as Mayor of London should be advocating the digital evolution as the revolution has already happened! With Shoreditch as the new “Tech City” the majority of those cheese eating, fridge bandits cant’ afford the office prices and hot desk in shared environments to get their start ups started. They can’t get a bank loan as a freelancer due to the lending “crisis” so need to rely on the goodwill of digital hubs to share resources. I’d rather have cheese and tea and be productive thanks than attend numerous pointless meetings! I find my productivity and creativity flourish working from home when necessary. McDonald’s just launched a huge initiative whereby their drive thru’s are actually manned by stay at home mums, students etc and reduced their costs (no uniforms, no unions, etc). Go forth and make tea I say!

  3. Glad it’s not just me juggling the kids, a phone and a laptop! I’ll be honest I love the holidays as well but it’s not easy working with the kids. I work from home all the time generally and go out as I have to. I am productive. In the school holidays I can only get away with working in the morning a few hours and then spend the afternoon with the children while sneaking the odd glance of my iphone to check emails and twitter!

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