Extending the benefits of agile working
Extending the right to flexible working has cross-party support, but employers need improved, evidence-based guidance about its implementation if the benefits are to be realised. Our research shows how agile working has the potential to benefit all workers (including those in low paid or low status work, or those with specific disabilities or neurodivergent conditions). This is because ongoing and customised working arrangements can take into account workers’ specific talents and circumstances, changing requirements, and real-time needs.
“I just felt valued, even though I was brand new, they were like well no, we’ll give you the nearest station, we’ll give you a part-time line and you can manage it around your children, and I was like ‘oh my God, this is amazing’. …I just felt like a totally valued person.”
(Emergency Care Assistant)
Further, adopting digital tools and technologies, and using these well, along with providing effective and inclusive management, is essential to optimise and make possible agile work. However, clear guidance on digital boundaries and etiquette are needed to ensure that a dispersed and diverse agile workforce remains connected and respected.
Key principles for effective implementation
Using agile working principles to go beyond pre- determined ‘flexible’ working solutions
In practice, true flexibility is seldom provided by organisations, who offer a restricted range of ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions (e.g. part-time working, flexi-time, 4-day weeks, work-from home options). These are rarely tailored to fit specific needs and nor do they offer the freedom to make real-time adaptations to emerging market, service and worker demands. In short, current flexible working policies are often not flexible enough. Our research shows how a more agile approach enables organisations to develop truly customised solutions that better meet changing needs—and encourages adaptations when those needs change.
“I think that’s one of the real benefits of this agile working is there is a much better work-life balance… so as long as you do your hours and get the work done, you know, if you need to go to the bank at lunchtime, go to the bank at lunchtime, or you need to go for a doctor’s appointment, just go for a doctor’s appointment.”
Agile working must go hand in hand with worker protections
Agile working does not mean removing regulations and long- term contracts that offer protections and security for workers. Rather, it means encouraging a revisitation of arbitrary rigidity so that – following consultation and with the prior agreement of both parties – workers and organisations can shift where, when and how they work. This needs to be carefully managed to avoid a move towards more precarious work, and to ensure that agile arrangements are rolled out equitably and fairly.
Flexible working guidance should include ‘Connectivity Policies’
Using digital tools and technologies to organise work and communicate across teams makes possible new ways of agile working. However, many organisations overlook the importance of providing guidance on how best to use these tools. Our research shows that in removing boundaries about where, when and how people work, it is imperative that new digital boundaries are instated, to guide people on appropriate digital etiquette, to protect people from being constantly connected and at risk of burnout, and to inform managers about the best ways to allocate and monitor work when operating digitally.