Agile working is becoming more commonplace, but you can’t simply implement it without creating an agile working policy first.

Over the last few years, more and more companies have started adopting an agile approach to work. This adoption has been sped up by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen companies having to send employees home to work. 

This forced adoption of remote working has led to many workers seeing the benefits of agile working, especially when it comes to creating a great balance between home and work. For many, this balance had been missing, meaning they are reluctant to give it up and return to normality. 

In fact, a recent survey found that 88.2% of those who worked from home during lockdown want remote working to continue in some way. This could be permanent home working or part-time, depending on individual circumstances. 

Companies need to pay attention to this trend, as remote working is likely to be a big factor when it comes to attracting future talent. This means that businesses need to embrace remote working and consider putting an agile work policy in place. 

What is the difference between agile and flexible working?

There is a difference between flexible and agile working, which means you need to consider which approach you want to take. 

Flexible working is defined by the UK government as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example, having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” This can cover working from home, job sharing, part-time working etc and may be considered by many as ‘agile working’. However, flexible working tends to benefit employers more than employees, which shouldn’t be the overall aim. 

In comparison, agile working empowers your employees to work when, where and how best suits them. It provides maximum flexibility with as few constraints as possible, allowing your team to be in control of optimising their own performance. Agile working shows that you as a company trust your team to make the right decisions for them and for the business, which usually sees better results. 

What should an agile working policy include?

If you are looking to implement agile or even flexible working on a permanent basis, you need to put a policy in place so employees know what the rules are. It will also provide guidance for managers on how to manage their agile teams.

The minimum standards of your agile working policy should ensure that employees have the tools they need, enable managers to continue to support their team and ensure the service delivered to customers doesn’t decline in quality. Your policy needs to include standards that:

  • Enhance the overall service being delivered to customers/clients without negatively impacting them. 
  • Maintain or enhances individual employee performance. 
  • Makes sure employees still have access to the facilities and tools that are required for them to do their job. 
  • Ensures managers can still set appropriate targets for those who are utilising agile working. 
  • Helps managers to manage their team’s day-to-day performance. 
  • Supports regular communication between employees and managers.
  • Allows for the creation of clear and realistic objectives that can be managed by each team and individual.

Failing to include minimum standards in your policy, or not creating a policy at all, can mean that both employees and managers are unsure of the right ways to do things. Although you want to empower people to work in a way that suits them, you still need to provide some form of structure so individuals or different teams aren’t following varying sets of basic rules.

These standards will also support team leaders and managers in finding the best ways of working for their teams. After all, some teams may be better suited to remote working while others – such as your customer service department – may not be able to have as much flexibility over start time if they need to be available to answer customer queries. 

Guidance for managers

When teams are utilising agile working, managers need to be able to ensure they are still supporting their team just as much as they would do if everyone was in the office at set times. As agile working can feel isolating for those who have not worked in this way before, your policy should also include guidance for managers. 

The most important factor for managers when it comes to supporting agile workers is communication. Regular team contact – both group and individual – is essential in ensuring that everyone feels supported. You will also need to make sure that managers have briefed their teams on reporting sickness absences, technical issues, etc. 

It is a good idea to put communication strategies in place, such as:

  • Email updates
  • Regular team meetings
  • Telephone/video call contact
  • Team live chat
  • Regular one-to-ones
  • Regular contact from management

On top of communication, rules covering general “housekeeping” should also be put in place so that everyone is working in the safest way and reporting any issues in the same way. This will ensure that productivity, quality of work and the service being delivered are all kept at a high standard. 

These rules should include:

  • Hours of work: While people will be encouraged to work flexibly, managers still need to be kept aware of individual working hours. 
  • Secure systems of work: How company documents are stored and what programs can be added to work computers etc. 
  • Backing up work: Is everything stored in the cloud or should employees be backing up work in another way?
  • Personal use of equipment: Are employees allowed to use computers for personal use? If so, is there a limit on what they can be used for?
  • Reporting sicknesses: A reporting system should be put in place, whether this is direct to an individual’s manager or if they also need to inform HR. 
  • Booking annual leave: A booking system will need to be implemented to ensure annual leave is handled correctly. 
  • Lone working: Is a system required to track an individual’s activity to ensure they are keeping up with tasks when working alone?
  • Equipment storage: Rules covering equipment storage outside of the office will need to be introduced, such as company laptops not being allowed to be kept in cars. 
  • Telephone routing and message handling: Will people require company mobiles to take calls or can calls be routed to personal numbers during work hours?
  • Printing and post arrangements: If people need to print documents off, how do they do this when they are not in the office? Similarly, where should work-related post be sent?
  • Office days: Are there certain situations that will require people to come into the office rather than work remotely?

Assessing effectiveness

As with any policy you put in place, you will need to assess the effectiveness of your agile working policy. While you may think that you have all bases covered at the start, there may be some confusion among employees as to how things are done or what the policy means in certain situations. 

It is a good idea to discuss the policy with your team when it is first introduced so you can answer questions and offer clarification. However, you may also benefit from running an employee survey about the policy after it has been in place for six months or so. This will give you an idea of what is working, where any issues may be and whether employees are getting the right results from this way of working. 

Your policy should develop over time in order to make sure that it is as strong as it can be and that employees are finding it as beneficial as possible. This means regular reviews and amendments, as well as adjustments based on individual circumstances. This should ensure you have an effective agile working policy that benefits employees and the company.