Being an agile worker is still a work in progress…

Is flexibility now a reality in the workplace?  And is it really working?

We keep renaming it – remote, activity based and agile work being some of the current terms.

The assumption of control over one’s own time and deliverables does look like a great way to work and live, and it seems to be is a high priority for those entering the business world.

There is also the development of the agile work space, where people come to the office each day, but don’t have a fixed work area. We used to call it hot desking back in the day and it met with mixed success.  Today, office designers have started to create work spaces which are intended to encourage innovative thought, cross departmental collaboration and improved productivity.

My research indicates that the mix of engaged and disengaged employees in an open plan workspace does not always have the desired effect of the positive workers influencing the culture. In fact, a case study of a senior executive who was part of a recent move of a large corporate into a completely open plan space has given the following feedback:

Adding to the open plan is the agile philosophy. This has the effect of people arriving at work at varying times of the day.  There are greetings, personal conversations, smoke & coffee breaks at odd times, all resulting in constant noise and movement. Should you be off work for a day or two, everybody in your immediate area, no matter what time they arrive, pop over for a chat to find out why you were off work, was it leave or were you ill, possibly on a business trip. This conversation can happen 10 times over a period of two to three hours. In open plan space, you politely answer each non work related query and accept that you are going to do your real work before and after work hours.

One executive estimates that open plan space has added 3 hours daily to his work hours.

While both HR and line management are very much aware that both current employers and new recruits are looking for guidance and ideas as how to achieve work/life balance, productivity and negative disruption must be part of the conversations.

It is accepted that this balance has to form part of the workplace. Yes people still need to prove themselves, initiative is still expected, hard work and commitment are stillviewed as non-negotiable – but the dynamics of the employee/employer relationship is changing.

Innovation in ICT is enabling this. Mobile and wireless solutions, the latest in applications and devices, the focus on access to data and corporate network security, mean that knowledge workers can produce virtually from any place at any time.

The advantages of a mobile workforce include an increase in productivity, lower total cost of ownership and a wider, more direct reach to the market.

In this respect the corporate market has matured quite significantly. In essence an employee should be just as effective and productive within his or her own environment, working at their own time & pace as one who clocks in at an office every day.

Part of the design of an agile workforce is around designing an agile workplace, enabling people to work in the best place for the particular task, either in or out of office.

Very clear job specifications, requirements and a successful induction program are key, as is a reward structure based on deliverables.

Realistically, it does mean that there has to be a business model and infrastructure that supports flexibility, and this can create additional workload for already stretched management.  There are certain roles that easily lend themselves to agility eg Sales as the results are easily measured, others are more complex and require mature management.

In addition,  flexibility is a trend in the workplace but has to obviously adhere to Basic Conditions of Employment legislation.

When the term flexibility is used, what does it actually mean? And how are the parameters defined? This is something of a grey area because it really does depend on the nature of the business, the specific tasks assigned to that job portfolio and the market in which that business operates.

For example a part-time police officer cannot be expected to fulfill the duties of a fulltime official on the police payroll, especially not in accordance with fewer resources available and less remuneration but with the same deliverables expected.

At the same time an Information and Communication Technology support and service consultant/ technician cannot enforce terms of employment that guarantee fixed daily working hours – that criteria simply does not suit the environment.

Ultimately the level of flexibility has to be negotiated and decided upon by both employer and employee, with consideration over the parameters already discussed.

The costs related to permanent desking and travel inform the message that agile workers are a non negotiable.

How that is managed from the many different aspects that create effective results, including the interests of fellow workers, looks like being  a significant part of the work world of the future. 

Links, References and Notes Agile Worker Vlog - Conversations with Teryl & Cathie

Accsys provides people management solutions ie Payroll, Human Resources (HR), Time and Attendance as well as Access Control/Visitor Management.

The company develops, implements, trains and services our solutions. We provide readers, turnstiles, booms and CCTV.

We run both on premise and in the cloud, as well as mobile options for ESS. Recruitment, online education and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) are part of our offering, too.


twitter: @TerylSchroenn