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The flexible work movement lobbies companies to redress the structural presented by presenteeism, to ensure that once marginalised groups are able to participate in their work places without the challenges and innate discriminations this practice entails. While progress is being made in some areas, too often, people managers still refer to agile working as “skiving”. Worryingly, this perspective appears to be the norm up and down the country. In a recent article released by the BBC, it was reported that presenteeism is on the rise as the CiPD found unhealthy trends in the workplace:
“The CIPD said more than four-fifths (83%) of its respondents had observed presenteeism in their organisation, and a quarter (25%) said the problem had got worse since the previous year.”
While it seems that many professionals on the front line are already persuaded of the benefits of agile working, businesses are still slow to recognise the negative impact presenteeism has on diversity, productivity and mental health. In this article we examine what agile working is, what agile working isn’t, and discuss how facilitating agile working can make your business more profitable.
What does agile working mean?
Agile working is the practice of empowering your staff to work where when and how they choose. This entails maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. This concept is designed to optimise performance and move the onus from where the action is performed to performance itself. A move that detaches workplaces from traditional limitations of desk-based working, agile working utilises modern technologies that aim to deliver on customer needs, reduce costs, and improve productivity.
Empowering organisations to work smarter not harder, agile working eliminates barriers to efficient working and instead prioritises workflow and performance. Ultimately, the aim of flexible working is to develop a staff who are able to respond to changing consumer demand and enhance cross organisational efficiency. While agile working is in the same family of flexible working, agile working refers to an organisation wide decision, whereas flexible working is more individualistic, and responds to circumstance of individual colleagues. Agile working is a longer term solution to drive success, and at its heart is typically a response to business need, rather than to unlock greater work value for employer and employee.
Why is agile working beneficial?
There are myriad benefits of agile working, not least for individuals. However, there are numerous benefits for business that provide meaningful fiscal return on investment through putting increased trust in staff, enabling them to work on their own terms.
1. Increased productivity and efficiency
In today’s global world, there is more competition than ever before. By providing work environments that enable your employees to work in patterns that reflect the global market place, rather than inflexible 9-5 hours, your business will be better able to respond to the changing market place. In addition, enabling workers to undertake their duties in their preferred environment will enable better work flow. In a study undertaken by BT it was found that absenteeism reduced by 63% when employees worked flexibly and, crucially, were, on average 20% more productive than their office-based counterparts.
2. Improved business continuity
While adverse weather conditions will continue to wreak havoc on our transport links, agile working can remove the weather’s ire from your business’ work flow. Factoring in the fiscal cost of days missed as a result of “bad weather days” or train strikes should begin to paint a compelling picture for the merits of agile working.
In a report undertaken by NHSEmployers, it was found that “employees estimate they could gain on average five productive hours per week through the elimination of commuting, which equates to around £4,200 per employee per year”
3. Increased motivation and engagement
Overall, there is an increasing demand for flexible work patterns, and the ability to work on your own terms. The London Business School’s 2009 research reflected this pattern, when surveying young professionals, it was found that: “in respect to work-life balance one thing was clear: the single most important element in relation to work-life balance is that they want autonomy over when and how to work”
4. Reduction in organisational carbon footprint
Sustainability considerations should be high on the agenda for business directors. In light of the diminishing state of our environment, employers need to be mindful of how they can prevent greater damage being wrought on our world. Agile working is a significant tool in making your business more sustainable. Resulting in fewer commutes per week, reduced costs for fuel and parking, reducing the need for office space, and mitigating the company footprint agile working can better control organisational environmental impact. In a more recent NHSEmployers report it was discovered that: Some 25 million commuters go to a fixed place of work every day and of these 18 million go by car, compressed into a few hours in the morning and evening rush hours. Imagine the impact on sustainability if you were to remove a portion of those cars from the road each week.
5. Improved performance
In a case study published by E C Harris, it was found that by transferring traditional business practices over to an agile work structure galvanized staff performance. EC Harris reported that their net profit margin increased by 13% from pre-move levels and the fee turnover per head increased by 7.5%. They also found that overhead costs as percentage of staff costs reduced by 14%.
Indeed, there is a statistically significant relationship between flexibility and performance, and when attributions were reconciled over several reports, it was found that 5% of net profits could be attributed to flexible work schemes.
While some scepticism remains over agile working, if you want your business to remain profitable, retain talented workers, become more productive the question is: can you really afford not to invest in agile working?
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