Benefits from flexibility – agile working environments

Do you want your employees to be satisfied and productive at the same time? Research shows that agile working holds substantial benefits for employers – if they are able to provide several preconditions and to face the obstacles of managing a mostly absent staff. German academics especially see career opportunities for women deriving from flexible work arrangements, and a new example of agile working is now being implemented by a British law firm.

A recent study proves that working 9 to 5 in a traditional organization’s office is obsolete. According to the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei) more flexible work patterns foster efficiency, productivity, effectiveness and job satisfaction among agile workers. Data were derived from 584 employees and managers from six major private and public sector organizations who filled in related questionnaires.

Agile workers work wherever and whenever they like, provided that IT infrastructure such as laptops, remotely working database and application software as well as elaborated networks function smoothly. Clearly physical distance of staff is an obstacle to traditional ways of team work. By means of effective communication, structured diary management and conferencing facilities this can be overcome and contribute to the business benefits of agile work. These benefits can be even higher if employers as well as employees work together on the implementation. Managers not only have to be role models for agile working but also need to facilitate an employee-led initiative to flexible work patterns.

Project managers of the German project ‘Frauen in Karriere – Fokus Forschung und Entwicklung’ claim that amore collaborative approach to leadership can especially support women on their way to management positions. Additionally, agile working is supposed to offer opportunities for more individual career paths and an improved adjustment of working hours to family tasks. Overall, flexible work patterns and digitalization of work can be useful for the career development of women, according to the German academics. “While this may be true in some cases, we should be careful not to reinforce stereotypes that in the past prevented women from having as fast and easy careers as men”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments.

A different profile of agile working has recently been implemented by the International law firm DAC Beachcroft in the UK. Within their new office – a Victorian building in Yorkshire – none of the lawyers has an assigned desk. Due to the fact that normally, every single day a number of employees are out, off sick or on holiday, still everybody has a desk when needed. As an effect, those in the office have different co-workers every day – which also leads to different conversations and perspectives exchanged. In the long run, this should also foster collaboration and productivity. At the end of the day the lawyers leave their desks empty and different work settings are enabled again. After successfully implementing this workplace strategy in Leeds, DAC Beachcroft’s plan is an expansion of the setting to its global office network.

Despite the proven benefits of agile working, employers should not forget to consider the individual needs of their staff. The enei researchers also found that different personality types of workers require different handling of the transition to flexible work arrangements, i.e. dominant and conscientious employees may find it easier to adjust to this new situation than others. In order to benefit from the impact of agile working on productivity and job satisfaction it is not enough to simply provide more freedom to employees. Infrastructure and proactive communication are just two of the main success factors.