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Will Agile Working be the ‘New Normal’?

29 Apr 2020

The push from Government for everyone to “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives” has meant that large numbers of the UK workforce have suddenly found themselves working from home, many for the first time.  When life gets back to normal what will we take from this mass home working experience?

The Unplanned Home Working Experience

In these unprecedented times, a very large proportion of the workforce find themselves suddenly working from home, all previous concerns being sidestepped by the government’s drive to protect the health of the nation – a cohesive driving force if ever there was one!

Our current working conditions are probably not perfect, kitchen tables as desks, garden sheds as offices, sharing desk space with partners, inability to use virtual meeting technology, juggling childcare and the general underlying physical and mental health concerns of ourselves, our family and our friends.  Despite all of this we do seem somehow to be coping.  It’s not easy, but all different types of businesses and all different types of people seem to be making this work because we have to. 

When life gets back to normal, as it will, it will be easy to forget what we achieved during this massive unplanned home working experience and carry on as before but should we not learn something from these new working arrangements?  Something that can add to our daily work life balance and be an addition to our business continuity thinking and planning? Something that helps us as individuals, leaders and organisations be more agile?

Learning from this time

Business Leaders, whilst you will all currently have many challenges keeping your businesses going during these unprecedented times, you should still have an eye on the future, for when business resumes on a more normal footing.

Will you return to working in exactly the same way as you were before, or will you look at what has been learned from this mass home working experience and see what improvements you can make as a result? 

What’s happened to that mistrust of staff, that discomfort with managing virtual teams, that feeling that people had to be together to work effectively and that dislike of change?  We have either managed to resolve these issues or have at least found ways to work around them in the short term.  How can we take what we have learnt and make it work in the longer term?

We are in a really good position now to stop and think, to consider how we are still managing to achieve despite the challenges. To think about how current ways of working have impacted on relationships with customers and clients, how line managers are managing and keeping in touch with their teams, the inter-team relationships, the work life balance and the overall company culture.  Ask yourself and your teams:

  • what is still working?
  • what is working better?
  • what is not working?
  • what do you really miss about in office working?
  • what will you miss about the home working arrangements when you go back to office-based working?
  • what is it about the way you have all managed to work together now that you do not want to lose in the future?

It is also worth thinking that if, before we all sent our people home to work, we knew then what we know now, what would we have done differently which would have made this unprecedented experience more effective (other than the obvious more training on Zoom and Skype!)?

So, what to do with these learnings?

Now is the time to capture these key learning points and think about how they can influence future ways of working in order to ensure that staff are healthy and safe however, wherever and whenever they undertake work.  Consider:

  • which policies and procedures should be updated, developed or ditched?
  • how could you change your office environment to support more agile working and consider the inevitable post COVID-19 social distancing requirements?
  • how can you help employees change their home working environments to embrace a drive to a truly more agile working culture?

For those of you who see agile working as the primary way to reduce real estate costs the benefits of looking at this now could help better inform your next lease review or office move.

For those of you who see agile working as a way to improve productivity and engagement, looking at this now can start to deliver more immediate benefits, providing that more flexible approach which may be required from all of us.

Life after this period of lockdown is still likely to be challenging and a new state of ‘normal’ will come to play, perhaps with a view to reducing the daily commuter crush, to work more flexibly and / or more locally.

This is a time of upheaval and loss for many.  There may be few silver linings to this COVID-19 cloud but perhaps the way that we trust our people and the way that we undertake to deliver work in the future could be one area that wins.

Claire Hollister is the director of Hollister Consulting

Please note, this content is not produced by the IoD and therefore does not necessarily represent the views or thoughts of the organisation.

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