Pre-Covid 19, the business context in which we had all been working had been changing dramatically for some time in terms of the digital revolution, changing customer demands, demography and globalisation. These trends had created new challenges and opportunities and the traditional models of work were already coming under strain, with new more agile ways of working required for organisations to remain competitive. Despite this, there hadn’t been a wide adoption of agile working practices for a number of reasons. Most organisations are built on what you might call a 19th century model of work: 9 – 5; 5 days a week, commuting into the centres of towns on over populated transport systems. That model would need to change in order to meet the challenges identified and whilst many companies might say that agility was important, implementing it effectively was a challenge. In addition, agile working (most often called flexible working) had traditionally been positioned as an employee benefit (mainly to help women manage their work and home lives) with little articulation of the broader business benefits. This meant that organisations were not always willing to extend agile working beyond a certain point for fear of losing competitiveness. One of the greatest obstacles to moving towards more widespread adoption of agile working practices, however, was a cultural one, with a traditional view of agility within the minds of managers that was getting in the way of change and innovation.
Whilst the Covid-19 crisis has been intensely challenging for all of us, the future of work has become our new reality. Organisations have had to implement different ways of working at speed. We are using technology in unprecedented ways both to stay in touch at work and in our personal lives. The cultural mindset of ‘it won’t work here’ has been turned on its’ head. Line managers have had to learn to manage in a different way if we’re not in the office together. It’s hard to imagine that, having experienced this, we can go back to the old traditional ways of working.
Remote working, of course, has its’ own challenges and a wholesale adoption of remote working is not necessarily a good thing. Many people find it difficult to work at home and don’t necessarily have a conducive space in which to work long term. It can also leave individuals feeling disconnected from their organisation and colleagues. But, the crisis has profoundly changed our understanding of how organisations could work. The workplace will survive, but will hopefully cease to be a proxy for diligence and commitment, with more focus on outputs, rather than inputs. And there will be more innovative agile working practices adopted as we have all experienced working differently and can see what is possible.
We are not there yet, but when we begin to return to some kind of normality, there are tools and support available to organisations who want to continue to work differently. The Agile Future Forum (AFF) was established in 2011. A coalition of 22 organisations from different sectors, sizes and locations, the AFF conducted the first piece of business research which demonstrated that agile working was already realising value equivalent to 3 – 13% of workforce costs. We developed tools that we each used within our own organisations to implement agile working and these are available here along with examples of different ways of working. In addition, we have recorded two podcasts series that give examples of how organisations have approached agile working as well as exploring different ideas around public transport, property strategies and productivity.
The outcome of the current crisis will be a profound shift in what is normal workplace practices. Haven proven that organisations can be agile, agile working practices can no longer be considered a perk or the exception, but rather are a necessity for modern companies to remain competitive.
Director of the Agile Future Forum