Investigators – University of Sussex: Dr. Emma Russell (PI), Dr. Zahira Jaser (Co-I), Jay McCloskey (RA)

This project explores the move into agile-working for NHS staff and how to lead an increasingly agile NHS workforce.


Following the Covid-19 lockdown, the 2020 NHS People Plan indicates that agile-working (e.g. moving beyond traditional work-boundaries of time, location, role) is now a strategic aim. Yet, little is known about the specific resource and management needs of agile workers in the NHS, how to effectively lead agile workers in the NHS to meet these needs, and how to ensure that the personal and organisational goals of both leaders and workers in the NHS are not compromised in the process.

In this research project we have four aims, to:

  1. develop understanding of NHS agile workers resource and management needs,
  2. identify the behaviours of effective NHS leaders in meeting the needs of their agile workforce,
  3. understand how to support NHS leaders so that personal and organisational goals are not compromised, and
  4. provide recommendations for developing ‘agile’ leadership training in the NHS. The research can be used to shape future training programmes and support leaders in an increasingly agile NHS.

Five NHS Trusts are participating in the research and we have received HRA approval (IRAS ref: 293851). Funding provided by the NHS People Directorate/Leadership Academy.

Methodological approach

Given the novelty of the research area, we are using a qualitative, inductive research approach. We are undertaking interviews with leaders and workers, especially relating to how agile working in the NHS has been managed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We use Multilevel Interview Approach: Researching how to lead effectively in complex healthcare environments (Curry et al., 2020; McAlearney, 2006) is best understood by speaking to different levels of worker, across different populations. We aim to interview: 20 direct reports, 15 middle managers and 5 senior managers. All interviews involve participants engaged in agile working (time, location, role variety), across clinical and non-clinical NHS roles.


  • Undertake qualitative research with leaders and workers engaged in agile working across the NHS
  • Produce a research report (and associated academic articles and presentations) to disseminate findings internally and externally
  • Work with the NHS to understand how best to support agile leaders and their workers, and to recommend best practices to be embedded into NHS leadership training.

Expected impact

On completion of the project, we will work with the NHS to identify how we can assist in the design of any future leadership training programmes, and the dissemination of findings from the project to stakeholders in the NHS.