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Agile working: considerations for businesses

It is estimated that the proportion of people working from home more than doubled in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many business owners, the pandemic has proven that many staff can work just as effectively from home as the office and many big UK employers have now revealed their plans to move to a mix of home and office working as we emerge from the pandemic. The introduction of a more flexible/agile way of working, it would appear, reflects the future world of work for many.

Whilst working from home has many benefits, such as reduced overhead costs, increased productivity, team flexibility and skills retention (that may otherwise be lost due to relocation); it does have its flaws. For example, many businesses have reported loss of control and reduced face-to-face collaboration amongst colleagues, often particularly impacting more junior employees who are faced with less on-the-job training opportunities. Home-working can also have a negative impact on employee mental health; causing feelings of loneliness and alienation from the team.

Whilst there is no single way to implement agile working and, at the very heart of any successful policy is a need for genuine flexibility, it is important that businesses seeking to implement agile working effectively give careful consideration to the following key areas:

  1. Agree an organisational strategy and develop policy/guidance on agile working
  • This may include updating any existing Flexible Working Policy to include Agile Working or introducing a separate Agile Working Policy. What is appropriate for your business will depend on your specific context. Any new or adapted policy should be issued with supporting guidance and information to enable effective implementation.
  • Businesses should also define hybrid/agile working with regard to their specific organisational context. This might include several different forms of hybrid working even within one organisation, depending on role requirements

    2. Communication
  • Engaging people managers throughout the organisation will be key in adopting agile working. It is important that employees are provided with an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. There is also a need to consider the provision of training and development to support successful agile working.
  • It is important for a clear communication plan to be developed to share the organisation’s plans for future agile working with all employees, including information on how an employee can request agile working.
  • A key point is to ensure that both staff and managers “keep in touch” if agile working is to be successfully implemented. Building in regular social and human connection opportunities to support employee engagement and team building is vital.3.Wider organisational considerations
  • There are, of course, wider implications of agile working which will require a review of existing systems and equipment that is available. Employees will also need to be fully supported in using available technology, as well as using technology in a way that supports health and wellbeing.
  • Careful consideration must also be given to putting appropriate security measures in place to ensure system and data integrity.4.Wellbeing
  • Some homeworkers find it more difficult to keep work and home life separate, not always knowing when to stop. Offering training to employees on managing work-life balance and on digital wellbeing, as well as providing on going mental health support is good practice for organisations to adopt.
  • Equally, ensuring managers are aware of the potential signs and symptoms of poor wellbeing and how to tackle these issues should they arise is important is an area not to be over-looked.

Legal Implications

With so many commentators on this topic focusing on the importance and implementation of an effective Agile Working Policy, the legal/contractual implications of can sometimes be overlooked. Where employees make a formal request for agile working through a Flexible Working Policy (and the request is accepted) this will amount to a formal change to terms and conditions of employment. Agile working (and indeed other forms of flexible working) can also be undertaken on an informal basis without a contractual change. You should make sure that employees and managers understand the differences and the implications of both.

Contracts of Employment typically state a contractual location from which employees are required to work. This does not necessarily change as a result of agile working, but employees who work permanently from home normally have their home address as their workplace.

Employees should be advised to discuss any implications of homeworking with their landlord or mortgage provider and house insurer.

At Napthens we offer advice on changing terms and conditions of employment and the implementation of flexible working processes, policies and procedures. If you are interested in further information on how the Employment Team can support you, please contact us.