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Is agile working more trouble than it’s worth?

Firms such as Sky and BT have adopted it, transforming their work environment

Ever since Toyota introduced agile working to improve production line efficiency, it has been touted as the holy grail of work life balance, benefitting employee morale, stress levels, productivity and travel costs, whilst also providing savings on infrastructure costs for the employer. Firms such as Sky and BT have adopted it, transforming their work environment. There are, however, legal and practical details that companies and recruiters should take into account before adopting agile as a working method.

Paul Allsopp, MD of The Agile Organisation, calls it focussing on performance not presenteeism, and, whether it’s allowing employees to work from home, or to be more flexible in their working hours, the increase in agile as a business model is clear to see. Statistics from the ONS bear the trend out: in 2014, 4.2 million people spent more than 50% of their working hours at home. In 1998, it was only 1.3 million.

Whilst advances in smart technology allow us to work from anywhere, increasing numbers of people are questioning the benefits of being always on. There is evidence that this lack of separation between work and home can actually increase stress and impact negatively on family life. Monitoring homeworkers is easier with new technology, but companies need to ensure that Data Protection compliance is effective and enforced.

Flexible working can be requested by any employee after six months service, but employers can use their discretion to turn down such requests based on specific business needs. However, the reverse is not true for employees, who can have flexible working enforced upon them. Change management is therefore critical for any company bringing in agile working methods.

Employers should start by looking at employment contracts: all contracts should specify a workplace. If locations are closed down, it can lead to place of work redundancy, which could mean redundancy payments. If this move affects over 20 employees, consultations on collective redundancy are also required. Ideally employers should include a mobility clause in contracts, so it can be argued that employment terms are being varied rather than terminated.

Employers should make sure that a consultation process takes place when introducing agile practices, and should communicate effectively why the change is necessary and what exactly it entails for the employee. This minimises the very real risk of claims for constructive dismissal from disgruntled workers.

One of the benefits of agile working is cost savings; it is reported that homeworking saves BT millions of pounds each year. These costs are, however, often transferred to the employee in the form of increased utility bills. Companies need to account for staff expenses in such circumstances, and ensure their policies reflect the new agile working conditions.

Homeworkers also fall under Health and Safety regulations, and employers still have a duty of care over homeworkers’ health – including mental health. There may also be issues with planning permission or tenancy agreements, which restrict employees’ ability to work from home. Effective and regular communication with homeworkers is the key to success when introducing agile working to any organisation.

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