The way businesses operate is changing. Traditional working practices are slowly being changed as businesses begin to recognise that agile working offers a lower cost, more productive alternative. Agile working is an enabler for businesses to operate in a more productive and efficient way by empowering employees to work to a more outcome based model than the traditional office based concept of 9-5.

Agile working is very much a progressive way of working, and it doesn’t work for every business. For agile to be a success, it needs a strong culture of trust and very clear outcomes for employees to deliver against. But as more businesses look to take cost out then agile is one solution that can make a significant impact on the total cost of your workforce – so it is likely to become far more common place in the next decade.

A transition to agile working means new challenges for Internal Communication and a different kind of approach to Employee Engagement. The traditional communications model will need to evolve to make sure it keeps pace with different ways of working.

There are three key things to consider if your organisation moves towards agile that are:

The right story

Agile working is a new way of working that is in part driven by empowerment, but will likely be primarily driven by cost. Not all employees will be keen on a transition to agile, it places more emphasis on employees taking accountability and responsibility for working patterns, and it can mean that the line between ‘work’ and ‘home’ life becomes blurred.

It is important that you get your agile story right from the outset, the ‘why are we doing this’ and ‘how it can benefit you’. You will need to sell in the benefits of agile to your workforce, helping them to understand how it can benefit them both personally and professionally.

The likely concerns over agile may include less time for conversation in the office, and less interaction with colleagues, so you need to make sure you have the answers to those concerns in your story.

Agile can provide a risk to engagement as it can mean employees become more isolated if you are not set up as a business to make agile work. You need to make sure you have the building blocks in place, and help guide employees through the concept of agile in your business.

The right culture

If agile is going to work in your business, you need to make sure that you have a culture that encourages and rewards good collaboration. One of the risks of agile is that you risk losing a mechanism to innovate and collaborate by removing regular face 2 face interaction, so you need to make sure that your collaborative behaviours are well set into your culture.

The most effective way to make collaboration work through agile is to put it at the heart of your business, the ‘how we do things’. If you build collaboration into your values, behaviours and competencies it will help guide employees to the right behaviours.

The other key element to making agile work is a culture of trust; your leaders really need to empower employees to take accountability and deliver to outcomes.

One of the key benefits of agile is that it removes some of the hierarchal constraint that can sometimes be a barrier to employees having a voice in business. The hierarchal relationship still has a place in agile, but the collaborative culture you need to make it work gives you a mechanism for conversations that cut across all levels in a business.

The right tools

The final piece in the agile jigsaw is having the right tools. This is where social tools such as Yammer, SharePoint & Lync have a real role to play in the future.

With an agile workforce you need the right tools in place to enable your employees to collaborate, and tools such as Lync and Yammer enable individual and group conversations, with tools like SharePoint enabling collaboration through document sharing and discussion forums.

Digital is the key to making agile working a success; you need to make sure that your digital toolkit provides employees with the interaction and knowledge management they need to be able to work and collaborate from any location.

Another consideration is to make sure that employees are equipped with smart tools such as tablets and smartphones so that they can access tools quickly and easily through Applications. The likes of Yammer have an app that can be accessed through devices that can be an enabler to employees contributing to conversations whilst on the move.

The final piece in the toolkit is to not forget face 2 face communication. In a digital world, face2face is becoming more difficult, but by allowing your employees time to get together and interact on a regular basis you will retain the strength of your internal relationships and networks that can be supplemented through digital.

Summary

Agile working can provide real benefit to businesses, and looking into the future it is likely to become a significant change to the traditional way of working. It is important Communicators look at agile now so that the story, culture and tools are in place and ready to deploy as businesses evolve.

The traditional communication channels, metrics and approach are all still relevant in an agile world, but if the primary role of Communications is to facilitate conversation and share the organisational journey with employees it has a huge role to play in making agile work successfully.

If you can get agile right, it can be another driver towards high engagement.

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