In this guide we discuss what agile working is and discuss the pros and cons for employers and employees to help you decide whether it is the right approach for your organisation.
Agile working is a model that includes flexible and hybrid working. Flexible working is when people work hours that suit them, and hybrid working is a mixture of remote and office-based working.
What does agile working mean in practice?
Agile working means people can work from any location at any time. It is an informal arrangement that doesn’t change the terms and conditions of an employment contract. For example, if an employee needs to work earlier and finish earlier than their normal hours and work from home instead of the office during the school holidays, that is an agile working arrangement.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to agile working. The key is to ensure employees are happy, satisfied and motivated and productivity levels are maintained.
The good news is that most organisations have been using this model since the beginning of 2020 and have demonstrated that it works.
What are the pros and cons of agile working for employers?
- Talent attraction and retention. Offering agile working arrangements can make your organisation more attractive to potential employees and offer a competitive advantage. It can also help retain current talent by providing a flexible and appealing work environment.
- Cost savings. Employers can reduce overhead costs associated with maintaining a large office space. Smaller office footprints mean lower rent, utility bills, and office supplies expenses.
- Increased productivity. Many employees report increased productivity when working from home, as they have fewer workplace distractions and can create a personalised, comfortable work environment. Employees can choose the most suitable location for their tasks, which can result in improved efficiency.
- Wider talent pool. Agile working allows employers to recruit talent from a broader geographic area. This can be especially advantageous for businesses in areas with a shortage of skilled workers or for those seeking specialised expertise.
- Diversity and inclusion. Agile work arrangements can promote diversity and inclusion by accommodating employees with disabilities or caregiving responsibilities. It provides flexibility that can make the workplace more accessible and equitable.
- Business continuity. Having a workforce accustomed to remote work can help ensure business continuity during disruptions, such as pandemics, natural disasters, or transportation strikes. Employees can continue to work from home if necessary.
- Reduced absenteeism. Employees may be less likely to take sick days when they can work from home when feeling unwell but still able to perform their duties. Absence through sickness costs organisations thousands of pounds every year, and this can be hundreds of thousands for long-term absence.
- Possible environmental benefits. Encouraging remote work can contribute to a smaller carbon footprint as it reduces commuting and office energy consumption, aligning with sustainability goals. However, this issue is far from straightforward as someone working from home in the winter will be heating their house and may also be generating additional waste.
- Better use of office space. Employers can create a more flexible office layout, with collaborative spaces and hot-desking arrangements. This optimises the use of physical office space, making it more conducive to teamwork when needed.
- Employee satisfaction and wellbeing. Satisfied employees are more likely to stay with a company, be more engaged, and produce higher-quality work. Agile working can lead to improved job satisfaction and work-life balance.
- Customisation. Employers can tailor agile work policies to align with their specific industry, company culture, and business needs. This flexibility allows for a more personalised approach to work arrangements.
Agile working is not suitable for every organisation. It depends on the nature of the work and the technology available.
Communication can be a greater challenge when employees work remotely, and collaboration may be more difficult. There may also be cyber security concerns around protecting sensitive company information and data.
While agile working can promote work-life balance it can also do the opposite. Some employees may struggle to set boundaries and work longer hours than they would in an office, which can lead to burnout and reduced productivity.
When employees work from home employers are still responsible for their health and safety (see ‘Employer obligations’ below).
To address these drawbacks employers should carefully plan and implement agile working practices, provide training and support for employees, and continuously evaluate and adjust their approach to ensure both the organisation’s and the employee’s needs are met.
What is the best way to approach agile working?
To reap the benefits of agile working, it is important for employers to establish clear policies, provide the necessary technology and support for remote work, and maintain open communication with employees. A well-thought-out agile work strategy can contribute to the overall success and competitiveness of an organisation.
A single policy cannot cover every situation for individual teams and employees so it needs to be a set of guidelines with flexibility where each team can apply a methodology which is consistent and fair, but still considers on a case-by-case basis.
The best way to establish a policy is in consultation with the workforce and, if applicable, their representatives. If employees and managers have contributed to the policy, they are more likely to understand and by into it. It is vital to keep communication channels open and promote consultation around agile working.
Once a policy has been set then job roles need to be assessed to determine which model they fit into: workplace based, home-based or hybrid.
Our online workplace assessment tool supports employers to evaluate and implement agile working arrangements.
Enablers and barriers for agile working
For agile working to be effective early consideration must be given to enablers and barriers:
- Technology: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology for remote work, and this trend continues. Ensuring easy access to the necessary tools, information, and communication platforms is crucial for agile working.
- Trust: Trusting employees to deliver results without micromanaging their schedules fosters a culture of autonomy and responsibility. Recognising that people may be most effective at different times of the day allows for greater flexibility.
- Clear expectations: Setting clear and achievable expectations is essential. While agile working offers flexibility, employees need to know what is expected of them in terms of performance and deliverables.
- Pro-active management: Managers play a critical role in supporting agile working. Providing training and development opportunities to equip managers with the necessary skills to adapt to this new way of working is vital. Consistency in applying agile working policies across all teams is equally important.
- Family responsibilities: Different family situations can be a barrier to agile working. Employees with children may face challenges balancing their work and family commitments. Organisations should create policies that consider family needs and support a healthy work-life balance.
- Working space: Having suitable working spaces, both at home and in the workplace, is essential. Adapting workspaces to accommodate agile working models is necessary. The loss of in-person collaboration and innovation should be addressed by reimagining the physical workplace to promote virtual collaboration.
- Boundaries: With varying work patterns, setting clear boundaries becomes crucial. Employees should not feel pressured to respond to work-related communication outside their designated working hours. Establishing clear guidelines on when to expect responses helps individuals switch off and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Employer obligations – risk assessment
Employers have a duty of care to look after the health, safety, and welfare of their employees and must consider how this is impacted when operating an agile model.
Completing a working from home risk assessment will enable you to identify what hazards need to be considered.
Employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of employees’ home workstations by carrying out a DSE assessment. This will identify potential ergonomic issues, such as chair and desk height, monitor placement and keyboard setup.
Ensure employees have suitable equipment and ergonomic furniture to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. A risk assessment determines what measures are required to reduce the risk.
You may consider that until the measures are in place and can be demonstrated, agile working cannot be supported. A decision will need to be made about what equipment to provide employees for use at home.
Provide guidance to employees on identifying and mitigating physical hazards at home, such as tripping hazards, clutter or poorly maintained furniture. Include information on fire safety including escape routes and fire extinguisher locations.
Our Agile Working eLearning course for employees equips them with the knowledge to identify and mitigate hazards.
We also provide homeworking risk assessments to help you identify hazards associated with remote working and pinpoint areas your organisation can improve to enable employees to work safely from home.
Mental health and wellbeing
Recognise that mental health and wellbeing are important aspects of agile working. Offer training and resources to help employees manage stress, maintain work-life balance, and seek support if needed.
Encourage open communication between managers and employees about mental health concerns. Managers may also benefit from stress awareness training for their own wellbeing and to be able to support their teams and start conversations.
Reasonable adjustments must be considered for employees with specific needs or disabilities. This applies both in the workplace and when working from home.
It is important that reasonable adjustments are discussed with an employee so they can say what equipment and adaptations they need to be able to work safely.
Agile Working eLearning course
Our IOSH Approved Agile Working eLearning course trains employees to carry out their own checks and risk assessments to enable them to work safely and securely in all environments. The course explains what agile working is, so employees understand their health and safety responsibilities.
Employees can complete the course at their own pace and implement practical measures as they learn.