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Cultural challenges of Agile Working

The principle behind Agile Working is that by handing over trust and responsibility to choose where, when and how employees work, they are ultimately more happy and productive.

Agile Working is a relatively new school of thought and although it is quickly gaining popularity there are still cultural issues faced in working environments. The new working model can be hard for both employers and employees to adopt.

Public sector organisations follow traditional hierarchical management structures, which have become deep-rooted within government working culture over the years. This has been an obstacle in implementing Agile Working practices within local authorities, since it involves challenging the principles of traditional management strategies. A few weeks ago, the  Nowcomm team attended an event hosted by Middlesbrough Council on several shared service initiatives they were working on, Agile Working being among them. The presenters suggested several reasons that hinder Agile Working practices.  These included difficulties in changing long-held habits, transferring trust and control and socialising within the workplace.

Changing working habits and structure

The traditional manager-employee paradigm has existed since the working world transitioned to the hierarchical management structure. Many employees, especially  public sector workers have become accustomed to this structure and rely on it  as a rigid definition of job roles, location and responsibilities..  Agile working changes this, and with any work process transformation, it will take time and may face resistance from people who are accustomed to traditional working methods.

Transferring trust and control

Managers and their teams are having to accommodate a new working culture; one that involves not being able to see employees all the time. In the absence of trust, this can lead to difficulty in becoming ‘Agile’ as a core part of this practice is being comfortable with not being continuously monitored or incessantly monitoring employees. The project aims to empower employees with the choice of flexibility so they have the power to work where they deem  most suitable and take greater accountability of their work output. This in turns create more receptive and happier employees, therefore boosting productivity.

Socialising within the workplace

One issue that an attendee picked up on at the event held by Middlesbrough Council was employee isolation. Many employees enjoy coming into the physical workspace as it provides a point of communication with other people that aren’t family or friends. By working remotely, it may raise the concern that employees can become isolated and lonely therefore having a negative effect on their morale. The council worker presenting at the event countered this with the fact that collaboration products like Cisco Jabber meant that employees could remain in touch with one another, and that all employees were equipped with instant messaging, voice, and video capability to easily communicate to colleagues. The project at Middlesbrough council was voluntary, so only employees who wanted to work flexibly were transitioned into the workflow of people working ‘agile’. This also meant that employees weren’t forced to work in a manner that didn’t sit well with them, and could talk to their managers about how it would impact their work, team dynamic and other concerns they have. This avoids in-team conflicts, and allows teams and managers to see Agile Working being adopted by other teams, allowing them to weigh up the pros and cons of the arrangement and work through trust barriers with foresight from what they learn through Agile Working volunteers.

If these cultural challenges can be overcome, the benefit to organisations can be considerable. These can include but are not limited to increased productivity from employees who benefit from greater flexibility and are therefore happier, integrated communication methods allowing employees numerous means of contacting one another and immense cost-savings for councils who can sell and reduce their estate to accommodate those that do work in-office.

These are a few of the cultural challenges that lie ahead of organisations looking to adopt agile working practices. If you’d like to discuss them further, please get in touch with the Nowcomm team or look at our Single Point Access case study to learn about different kinds of shared service environments in public-sector.

If you would like to learn how Nowcomm could help transform the way you work with colleagues and customers, then please drop us a line here or give us a call on 01332 821100 and speak to one of the team.

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