27 March 2020 - Article
We've moved. Only two doors down along Old Bailey, but a world of difference. We're now open-plan, agile and paperless (or as paperless as it's possible for lawyers to be). When I'm not complaining about my earring getting stuck to the magnetic part of my new headset, I feel ever so modern carrying my streamlined laptop to our new 'Hub' (aka our café / workspace / meeting area). But is this sort of agile working really something that should be implemented for all?
Agile. I was flexible before I was agile. For years, I have worked a four day week, with one of those four days from home. Apparently, the terminology makes a difference – 'flexible working' focuses on the employee's individual needs, whereas 'agile working' focuses on the employer's, concentrating on business requirements to create a new norm where employees can work anytime and anywhere.
Whatever you call it, there can be huge benefits to employees in this way of working: greater efficiency, lower travel costs, a better work-life balance and less commuting (there's nothing like 'dead time' on a hot, delayed train in a tunnel to make you feel like you're wasting your life). Employers are also coming round to the fact that these arrangements can be a win-win. Many have moved (or are moving) to new offices to support this sort of agility, saving on expensive office space and other workplace costs in the process.
Sometimes, however, this trend of more 'enforced' agility can mean employees' needs are overlooked. Rather than adapting to these, it can feel as though employers are supplanting one set of fixed rules for another. After all, some employees like going into work every day and switching off at home. Some live near the office and would rather their employer pay for their heating, electricity and other infrastructure costs when they are working. Some like having a fixed desk they can personalise, or find hot-desking difficult, stressful or noisy.
You cannot please everyone, but here are five tips to help introduce agile working in a way that meets employee needs:
- Consult early: Ask staff for their views well before the move, both about broader, strategic issues (e.g. how employees work and what they value; the appetite for remote working) as well as the minutiae (e.g. layout, furniture, IT). Ensure everyone gets a chance to see the plans, sit on the furniture and use the new IT. Engage them early and often.
- Inform and explain: As is often the case with employment issues, good communication is key. Secure the commitment of a number of senior managers and ensure they keep staff informed as key decisions are made, preferably in meetings as well as in writing. Give employees at least one tour of the new office before they move in.
- Remember your duties: Some staff will have special requirements and one size cannot fit all. Adapt your proposals accordingly – e.g. if an employee has a disability that means they need an adapted or fixed desk, you should provide one if reasonable; if an employee has autism, they may need a desk in a quieter area. Failure to make these adjustments could result in claims. Bear in mind your duties to those working remotely as well (e.g. that their desks comply with health and safety requirements).
- Treasure your team: Shiny tech cannot replace the need for employees to feel part of a community. Recognise that team spirit is important and find ways to continue to foster this (e.g. short but regular team meetings; outings to celebrate successes).
- See the move as the beginning: By the time you implement changes, you will (hopefully) have buy-in from many staff. However, if you really want to change ways of thinking, working and behaving, you need to keep monitoring and evaluating the systems in place. Keep listening to your staff, consider any problem areas and determine where further changes need to be made.