Thanks to new technologies, changing customer demands, demographic shifts and globalisation, the world of work has changed significantly. How can businesses respond effectively to this new reality and remain competitive?
As the context of business becomes more complex, traditional models of work will come under strain. New, more flexible models will be needed as “agility” becomes a key focus of the modern competitive company.
The Agile Future Forum (AFF), a business-to-business collaboration set up by 22 FTSE 100 chief executives, was established to consider how UK business might benefit from the extended use of workforce agility, more commonly known as flexible working. Its unique research has proven that, in the areas reviewed, agile working is currently generating value equivalent to 3-13 per cent of workforce costs, with the potential to generate further value of 3-7 per cent of workforce costs and a sales uplift of up to 11 per cent.
But the realisation of these benefits requires a different approach. Traditionally, workforce agility is often perceived to be a benefit for employees and a cost for employers, rather than a way for companies to meet their strategic business goals in a challenging business environment. This needs to change.
The AFF has identified five golden rules to help organisations implement agile working practices for competitive advantage:
Don’t leave it all to HR. The business needs to lead on the development of agile working practices. Collaboration between business and HR leaders will generate working practices that address business, customer and employee needs.
Understand Everyone’s Needs
Begin with a clear idea of business objectives, use this to develop a view of the ideal workforce, and then work out how agility can help to achieve both. Understand what employees value and work with them to develop agile practices. Different members of the workforce will have different priorities. For example, within one AFF organisation the idea that financial incentives would encourage take-up of less attractive shifts proved incorrect. Younger generations valued time at home more than financial incentives. Understanding value to both employer and employee will lead to balanced, and more effective, agile practices.
Develop the Agile Working Model Bottom-Up
When developing your agile business model, make sure you approach it at the right level – usually a single operation or business unit at a time, rather than across the whole organisation. When operations are similar (branches in a branch network, for instance), agile working models may be similar, but there will always be specific requirements that need to be addressed. In agile working, one size does not fit all.
Consider Big, Strategic Changes
In some cases small changes to agile working can have big impact – introducing a new shift pattern to meet increasing demand, for example. However, gaining the full benefits will require a larger change – a shift in planning philosophy, a change in operating model, or a new employee value proposition. Being more ambitious can increase potential benefits. For instance, applying home working throughout the organisation, rather than in just one division, could allow relocation to smaller premises.
Educate Leadership First
The attitude of management can be a barrier to introducing agile working, so getting senior business leaders on board is vital. Implementing new agile working practices is not easy, but the benefits of a more agile organisation – one that performs better and has a more engaged workforce – make this a worthwhile investment of management effort and time.